Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Kerouac Alley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kerouac Alley. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


And so, I went up to San Francisco and headed for North Beach to walk along Via Ferlinghetti, the street named after Lawrence of that ilk, poet and begetter of the City Lights Bookstore.

It’s a short street and it’s a dead end.  Compared with the orgy of street art in Kerouac Alley, Via Ferlinghetti is an oasis of calm and restraint, and also seriously lacking in glamor, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  It looked like this from one end:

And this from the other:

And like this in the middle:

A stroll along Via Ferlinghetti was not the greatest walking adventure, but on the way there I walked past Kenneth Rexroth Place.  

 I'd never heard of that, and I can’t say that Kenneth Rexroth is an open book to me, but I do know he was a poet and probably a “good thing,” though until I came to write this post, I’d never read any of his poetry – I thought it was time I did.  His poem “The Silver Swan” contains the lines:

… I go out 

Into the wooded garden 

And walk, nude, except for my 

Sandals, through light and dark banded

Like a field of sleeping tigers.

Personally I’d say that if you’re going to walk nude you should probably ditch the sandals, but I can see this is a personal matter. 

 Kenneth Rexroth Way looks like a reasonable place to walk (that's it above) but I don’t suppose many walk there given the heavy gated arrangement (below). 

Go to the website for Zephyr Real Estate and you'll discover there's a two bedroom condo for sale there, for $1,186,00 which for all I know may be a bargain by San Francisco standards. "Walk score of 100!"
And then drifting around the area I came to Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard, named after what they say is the world's longest-running musical revue.  It’s a hard name to live up to, obviously.

The show looks a good deal livelier than the street.

Friday, January 8, 2016


Lawrence Ferlinghetti is much in the news at the moment:  he’s 96 years old and has recently published his travel journals, and his letters to and from Allen Ginsberg. 
So I decided to read his 1958 poem “Autobiography.”  I’m not sure if it’s a very good poem but I like parts of it a lot.  It starts out really well:

I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
watching the champs
of the Dante Billiard Parlor   
and the French pinball addicts.   

But then it gets a bit too “poetic” for my tastes – there seems to have been a point in literary history when few Americans could write a poem without name-dropping Ezra Pound.  But the part of “autobiography” I like best, for obvious reasons, runs as follows.

I am leading a quiet life
outside of Mike’s Place every day   
watching the world walk by
in its curious shoes.
I once started out
to walk around the world
but ended up in Brooklyn.
That Bridge was too much for me.   

That’s nice isn’t it?  And funny too – and of course you could walk around the world and still end up in Brooklyn.  And obviously it begs the question of which side of the bridge was he when he found it too much.

I’ve walked in Brooklyn, and certainly walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, and I’ve also walked in the alley than runs behind Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookshop in San Francisco - Kerouac Alley.  Ferlinghetti worked hard to get the name changed.

And Ferlinghetti also has a street named after him, Via Ferlinghetti, less visited than
Kerouac Alley I’m sure, but now on the list of places I have to visit next time I’m in San Francisco.

Mr Ferlinghetti is a much photographed fellow, but the only picture I can find of him actually walking, is this one, where he’s with Jack Hirschman.

Friday, March 14, 2014


For a little while now I’ve had that song “Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley” stuck in my head, the Robert Palmer version, written by Allen Touissant, though Lee Dorsey did a cracking version as well.  The words run:
Sneakin' Sally through the alley
Trying to keep her out of sight
Sneakin' Sally through the alley
When up pops the wife
The sentiments, and even some of the words, are borrowed from Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally.
Well, I saw Uncle John with bald head Sally
He saw Aunt Mary comin' and he ducked back in the alley

 But hey all’s fair in war and appropriation, right? I’m pretty sure that sneaking is a form of walking, ducking perhaps less so, and I have in fact been doing a bit of walking in alleys lately.

In San Francisco I went along Jack Kerouac Alley which runs from Columbus Avenue, home of the Beat Museum, City Lights Books, and any number of Italian restaurants, through to Grant Street, which is part of China Town. 

It’s not a long walk, but there’s a surprising amount to look at, some murals of course, some paving stones with lines of poetry and prose set in them. There was also, when I was there, a man sitting in a doorway with a walking frame in front of him.  He was looking at me with suspicion, and a Chinese man was looking at him with even more.  I of course was looking at the two of them thinking, "There's a picture in this."

The alley also contains some rather spectacularly hand-crafted electrical wiring.  Do the city’s health and safety inspectors say to themselves, “Forget it Jake, it’s the edge of Chinatown.”

The day before I went to San Francisco, I’d been in Berkeley, op cit, where I found and walked along Jeronimus Alley which runs between Virginia and Cedar Streets, between 5th and 6th. 

This was a long alley, several times the length of Kerouac, but here was an interesting thing: down at the southern end which has a lot of anonymous industrial fencing and walls, the graffiti crowd had gone nuts (not necessarily in an altogether bad way, though not the greatest):

But up at the northern end, there was this building, this wall, completely graffiti-free.

Now for all I know, it’s perfectly possible that the wall had been painted just the day before I got there, and maybe by now it's covered with tags and slaps, but I like to think not.  I prefer to imagine that some sort of truce has been arrived at, that even the least sophisticated street artists recognize the joys of a color field when they see one.  I know I could be wrong about that.

And I realized I’ve done a fair amount of walking in alleys in my life.  There’s something about them that draws me in.  Part of it, of course, is that they’re usually free of vehicles and traffic, and a lot of the time they’re pretty free of pedestrians too.  There’s something intriguing and not quite reputable about them (hence the sneaking), and if there’s also sometimes a vague hint of danger or threat, well that’s always good for sharpening up the wits of the pedestrian.

Here’s an alley in Hollywood.  If there’s one thing that can that makes an alley even better, it’s a metal building, especially if it’s Quonset style:

And here’s one in my old home town of Sheffield, right in the city center, little considered and little trod, but I had to go down it.

And here’s one in London.  I went out of my way so I could have the pleasure of walking down a street named Tinderbox Alley, this one is in a suburb rather than a city center.  

I can’t really understand why you’d dump a dead tree, roots and all, in a suburban alley, but at least it’s biodegradable.

And here’s one in Ventura, California, and again it’s the name that makes it.  I sometimes wonder if rest and aspiration are opposites, but maybe not.  Sometimes it’s good to rest before you aspire, and sometimes maybe it’s good to take a rest from your aspirations.