If you have some reputation as a walker, a lot of people assume you can’t or don’t or won’t drive. In my own case this isn’t true. As I often say (in fact I’ve said it so often I’m not absolutely sure I mean it anymore), “I love driving. It’s parking that I hate.”
On the other hand I really do like walking in parking lots (that’s car parks to my English readers). It feels vaguely transgressive to walk in a place that’s designed for cars not for walkers, although of course people have to walk at least a short distance once they’ve found their parking spot.
And of course most people want that parking spot to be as close as possible to the exit or to the store they’ve parked in front of. I try to have the best of both worlds by parking in some distant, empty spot so that even though I’ve driven to a place I still get to do a certain amount of walking; a small thing, but my own.
I’ve discussed Ed Ruscha elsewhere on this blog, and I don’t know what his walking habits are, but since he published an artist’s book titled Thirtyfour Parking Lots I think we do know a little about his attitude to parking lots: detached, ironic, blank, subversive, romanticizing the mundane.
And I did just read an interview with him that originally appeared in Ruscha and Photography. Sylvia Wolf asks, “Was the idea of mapping a motivating factor in your work? I see this in Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) and Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967) and Ruscha replies. “The first pictures I made of the Sunset Strip were taken by walking along the street. Only when I could see that it didn’t produce works that I approved of … did I decide I should maybe try something with a motorized camera. That’s how that idea was born: with Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles when I realized that I wanted aerial photographs of downtown. I thought, wouldn’t it be great of they were professional pictures.” He went up in a helicopter with the photographer Art Alanis. He continues, “It was astounding that, for less than five hundred dollars, we went out in a helicopter one Sunday morning – Sunday being the proper day because all the parking lots are empty – and photographed all these works in a matter of maybe an hour and a half or something. You can cover a lot of ground in an hour and a half in a helicopter.”
To be fair not every one of Ruscha’s lots is completely and utterly empty, a vehicle pops up here and there, but even so they’re some of the most denuded parking lots I’ve ever seen. You definitely can’t see any people walking in them either but maybe we’d be too high to see them even if they were there.
Empty and abandoned parking lots are wonderfully attractive, and of course perfect for the perverse pedestrian. It’s even better if the lot is attached to a business that’s no longer functioning. The cars are gone and nature reasserts itself trough the tarmac.
Thanks to Google earth the parking lot enthusiast can easily make any number of faux Ruscha images, although generally there are plenty of cars visible. Here’s the parking structure at the Arclight Theater on Sunset Boulevard:
Here’s the parking lot at my local Vons supermarket:
And here’s lot at the LA Zoo:
I became unwillingly reacquainted with the parking lot at LA Zoo just last week. I was driving up the 5 Freeway when my car started madly overheating and by the time I got to the exit and found the zoo lot (much emptier than in the pic above) the small quantity of coolant that remained in the reservoir was boiling fiercely.
I coasted to a halt in an empty part of the lot, and called the AAA who said they’d send out a tow truck. While I waited I paced up and down the lot, but it wasn’t exactly “real” walking, and then a cop in a truck pulled up to see what I was doing. He could see that the car hood was up and he seemed pretty sympathetic (I guess cops who work the zoo beat don’t get too embittered) and he said he’d send the AAA man in my direction if he saw him.
And then, in one of those “Only in L.A. moments” he said, “Wait a minute. Don’t I know you? Don’t I know your face? Are you an actor?”
I said I wasn’t.
“Well in that case, did I ever arrest you for something?”
How we laughed.
The tow truck came, my car ended up in a repair shop in Glendale where it would have to stay overnight, and I had to find a way of getting home, which was about ten miles away. I knew the route pretty well and had walked every section of it at one time or another and so I set off walking. And after I’d been going for a short while, in considerable heat, not dressed for it, in shoes that weren’t good for walking, I suddenly thought, “Are you insane?” And then I saw a bus that said “Hollywood” on the front and I got on. In fact the bus didn’t go all the way to my part of Hollywood so I still ended up walking a couple of miles, which somehow seemed appropriate, the end of a thoroughly imperfect day. And of course my car remained, parked (as it were) since it wasn’t going anywhere, in a repair shop ten miles from home. From above it would have looked much like this (not really impressive enough to be a Ruscha).