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 Walking Hollywood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Walking Hollywood. Show all posts

Friday, January 31, 2014


When I was out and about walking, beating the bounds of Hollywood a couple of weeks back, I came across an interesting bit of ruin – an abandoned gas station on a strangely large plot of land, on Western Avenue, just south of Sunset Boulevard.  There were fences all around the lot, but in any case it was the end of the day, it was getting dark and there were no lights in the place.  But I was intrigued.  This is how it looked on Google earth.

 So a couple of days ago, I went back.  Still, thinking I might do my “every street in Hollywood” project, I didn’t go directly.  I walked down Wilton intending to turn left at Sunset but I dunno, I guess I was enjoying the walk and found myself a few blocks south of Sunset on Lexington (“drunk and dirty more dead than alive” as they say, though not about this Lexington) and I had to back track.  My eventual route looked like this:

Well, in daylight the place wasn’t much more visible than it had been in the dark.  The fences were at just the right height to prevent you looking in, and although there were gaps here and there I could only get a very restricted view. 

Yes, the place was definitely an abandoned gas station, but it must have been abandoned a very long time ago because there were palm trees growing up between the pumps. There was also a huge area of space behind the gas station, with sheds, bits of furniture, multiple garbage cans, and although it didn’t look exactly lived in, it didn’t look like it had been left completely to the elements.  Somebody at least went in there and swept up once in a while.

I still couldn’t see over the fence, of course, but this is why a camera isn’t such a bad thing for the urban explorer to have. By holding up my arms and pointing the camera over the fence I could manage to get some pictures.

They’re not exactly the most revealing pictures about who, why, when, or how, but then I did some zooming in, like Decker in that scene in Bladerunner that once seemed unimaginably futuristic, all that “Track 45 right.  Stop. Center and stop. Enhance 34 to 36. Pan right and pull back. Enhance 34 to 46. Pull back. Wait a minute …” Wait a minute indeed.  Was that a person sitting in there?

 Well, the more I look the more I’m sure it wasn’t a real live person.  I think it was an inflatable or perhaps a solid rubber version of the Hulk.  Incredible.  Another ruin deity presiding over his domain. 

I did a circuit of the streets around the whole of the ruined lot and found myself around the back of some brand new building project that’s going up on Sunset Boulevard.  I think it’s going to be a new Target but I could be wrong. I rather liked what I saw.  It looked like some sort of medieval fortress, crenellations, bizarre fortifications.  I’m going to bet it doesn’t look nearly as good when it’s finished, but I’m sure it’ll look better in a couple of decades when it’s in ruins and being demolished.

On a final note, I know that Hollywood has some reputation as a sexy, if not a sexist, place.  I encountered two rather dubious examples of the male gaze on my walk.

First, above, another manikin, some company for the Hulk perhaps, offering to buy junk TVs.  You can see there’s been some serious amateur breast enhancement here, but I think I’d have to say I’ve seen worse boob jobs in this town.  The women on the left look disapproving, though whether of the manikin or of me taking the picture it’s hard to say.

And secondly there was the above example of street art – a “slap” – of Frida Kahlo, kind of nice in its way, but then somebody had drawn a mustache on her.  I still can’t decide whether this is needlessly and superfluously cruel – I mean nobody needs reminding that the lady’s top lip did sprout some serious growth - or whether it’s some cleverly subversive reference to Duchamp’s Mona Lisa.  I hope it’s the latter, but maybe it’s both.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


 On Saturday October 22nd at 6 pm I’m leading a walk in Sheffield as part of the Off The Shelf Literary Festival. In order to make life difficult for myself, and I hope to make the walk more interesting, I’ve decided to turn it into a “project” that invokes mapping, memory and “emotion recollected in tranquility” – all the great Romantic pedestrian virtues.

The project is an apparently simple one.  I go for a walk near my current home in Los Angeles.  Then some weeks later, accompanied by festival-goers, I go for a walk in Sheffield, the city where I was born and brought up, and where, in my time, I’ve done a great deal of walking, but which is now partly (and increasingly) unfamiliar to me.

The idea is that the two routes should, in one sense, be as similar to each other as possible: the same length, taking the same amount of time, walking the same “shape” on the map of each city. 

I decided that the two walks should be as “circular” as possible, i.e. beginning and ending in the same place, and attempting to carve a circle through the geography of each place.  You can make up your own mind about the deeper symbolism of this.

So I began with a map of Los Angeles, specifically of Hollywood, and I traced a circle on the map, using the very latest hi tech cartographical methods – I drew round the rim of an inverted martini glass.

Of course you can’t literally walk in a circle on the streets of Los Angeles because much of the city is built on a grid, but I designed a route that was as close to circular as possible.  In fact, as you see below, it wasn’t really very close, or very circular at all, but that’s the nature of the enterprise: the best laid walking plans are always confounded by the situation on the ground.  The map (as they say) is not the territory.  This map, like all the others, is clickable and will then enlarge.

The Hollywood walk is now done, things have been seen, notes have been made, photographs have been taken, some of which are visible below.

The walk was arbitrary to a degree and it isn’t exactly a tourist route, but I thought it best to include one or two places that people are likely to have heard of even if they’re unfamiliar with LA: Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, Vine Street, and it was a route that from time to time gave views of the Hollywood Sign.  

Having done the Hollywood walk, I traced the shape of that route on a sheet of transparent plastic.

I then placed that sheet over the map of Sheffield, and that will be the route I’ll try to walk there on Saturday the 22nd.

Of course the geography of Sheffield, the layout of the streets, doesn’t conform to the geography of Los Angeles, so the shape of the walk will have to be modified again according to local topography.  The circle becomes ever less circular.  So here’s the route I’m actually proposing for the Sheffield Walk.

The idea, always subject to change and decay, is that as I walk the route in Sheffield I’ll consult the map, the notes, the photographs of my Hollywood walk.  I’ll be able to say things like, “If you were at this point on the route in Hollywood you’d be looking at the Capitol Records building or a marijuana dispensary, or whatever.  And we’ll compare and contrast this experience with conditions on the ground in Sheffield.

I realize that in many ways this is walking made needlessly complicated, perhaps even made absurd, but in the end, on the day, in Sheffield, we’ll simply be going for a walk, seeing what happens, seeing what there is to see.

Below is another map of the Hollywood walk, this time with numbers that correspond to the specific points where I took photographs. 

OK, I admit it, not all the photographs were taken on the very day of the walk, and one of them was “borrowed” from an online source because I couldn’t get a good shot.

1 – Why a lot of people like it in Hollywood: sunshine, palm trees and the Hollywood sign looming in the distance and legal medical marijuana. 

2 – An actual Hollywood walker – pushing (I imagine) a large proportion of his worldly goods in that rather stylish pram.

3- The Capitol Records building – one of Hollywood’s most famous “programmatic” pieces of architecture.  It looks like a stack of 7 inch vinyl singles, if anyone knows what that is anymore.

4 – A graffito painted on a wall under the Hollywood Freeway.  I walk past here all the time, graffiti appear regularly and within days city crews come and paint them over.

5 – Right in Hollywood, right by the freeway, the Vedanta Church, sometimes called the Vedanta Temple, the home of the Vedanta religion in Southern California – Aldous Huxley was a big fan.

6 – The coming together of concrete and greenery.  I always wonder how long it would take “nature” to reassert itself if mankind miraculously disappeared from the face of the earth.  Not long at all, I’m imagining.

7 – Pla-Boy Liquor – I love the name, I love the signs, and this is supposedly where Ed Wood bought booze in the later years of his life.  People who’ve live nearby also assure me it’s one of the more scary, crime-ridden corners in Hollywood.

8 – The question of when graffiti become murals, and when murals become street art is a vexed one, but I think most of us would call this one art, but on the other hand, we now know that every damn thing is art if somebody says it is.

9 – Mannequins in one of the many stores on Hollywood Boulevard designed to satisfy all your stripper needs.

10 – A movie theater in a geodesic dome, and an inflatable Spiderman on the roof.  Does it get more Hollywood than this?