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 manhattan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label manhattan. Show all posts

Friday, July 22, 2016


A few days before the 4th of July 1932 a fifteen-year-old boy named Louis Thomas Harden was walking along beside the railroad tracks near Hurley, Missouri.  The local mill pond had recently flooded, and pieces of inscrutable debris were left beside the tracks when the water receded.

Louis was a tinkerer, the kind of kid who made wooden models and built projects out of Popular Mechanics magazine.  So when he found an especially intriguing piece of debris there where he was walking, he picked it up and took it home with him.  The object may have have looked something like this:

Or I suppose this:

On July 4th itself he examined his new find more closely.  It proved to be a detonation cap left behind by a construction crew some distance away, and transported trackside by the flood.  As Louis looked more closely at the object it exploded in his face, and despite some desperate and painful surgery he was left permanently blind.

In due course Louis Thomas Hardin (1916–1999) became Moondog; an all-American original, a composer, musician, and poet, who between the late 40s and the early 1970s could be seen in various locations around Manhattan.  At one point he was a fixture in Times Square, but more often he could be found on 6th Avenue between 52nd and 55th Street.  He looked like this:

Sometimes he played music, just like any busker, sometimes he tried to sell merch, and other times he just stood there looking like a Viking.  I’m sure he was photographed many thousands of times, by gawking tourists as well as by serious photographers.   The classic image shows him as the still point, as the other walkers of New York swirl around him.

I’m always slightly surprised by how many blind people there are walking the streets of Manhattan, especially when you consider how many sighted people claim to be terrified at the prospect. 

I’m sure Moondog had friends and helpers but he obviously did get around the streets under his own steam.  Philip Glass, in his essay “Remembering Moondog” (which is the preface to Robert Scotto’s authorized biography Moondog, The Viking of 6th Avenue) writes, “he was so confident in his walk you wouldn’t think he was blind.  I wondered how, as a blind man, he managed to cross the street without an instant of hesitation until he showed me how he listened to the traffic lights; I had never heard them before in this way.” 

   I don’t suppose Moondog ever had much use for a printed map of New York, but he had a sound map in his head.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


 I’ve been doing some walking in Manhattan.  I didn’t go there specifically to do any walking but, as I’ve said many times before, New York is a place where people end up doing a lot of walking, whether they intend to or not.  And I think there’s something suitably Zen about this, that some of the best walks happen when you don’t intend to do a “walk.”

It was when I lived in New York that I first started carrying a camera with me full time, sometimes walking the streets pretending to be Garry Winogrand, or someone.  Of course, New York explodes with quirky, unexpected, eye-catching details, and characters. Even so I was slightly surprised to find this sign on a street in Hell’s Kitchen, on a day in mid-May when the temperature was pushing 80 degrees F.

It reminded me of my favourite bit of New York street art, this wonderful faux Ed Ruscha piece - not quite a mural, since it's not painted directly on the wall  - at the Gaseteria at the corner of Houston and Lafayette. 

Obviously it didn’t always have a pile of snow in front of it, but having taken the picture, that’s the way I always remember it. There’s still a gas station on the site, but it’s no longer the Gaseteria, just a BP station, thriving as far as I could tell, with many yellow cabs using it, and the faux Ruscha has gone - perhaps even to a loving home.  This is not surprising and it would have been absurd to "preserve" it in perpetuity, but still, I sort of miss it.

My wife and I were walking down Fifth Avenue and we were discussing the women and high heels in New York.   She said that she wasn’t seeing any New York women in high heels.  This surprised me.  When I lived there my impression was that the streets were full of them, and then as if to prove my point, up ahead I saw a very well-dressed woman wearing extremely high heels, a woman, it must be said, who looked amazingly short, which was perhaps why she needed the heels.

And then, a split second later, I realized this was a “famous person” – Nina Garcia – one of the judges of Project Runway (yes, yes, my wife sometimes makes me watch it) and also Creative Director of Marie Claire Magazine, whatever that might involve. Nina was struggling to find the right shiny black SUV that was there to take her wherever she was going next.  There were quite a few of them parked in the vicinity, and the streets and traffic of New York were unrelenting.  The first shiny black SUV she went to wouldn’t let her in.  She did some yelling, both at the driver and into her cell phone.  I reached for my camera. 

I got a shot, though alas I couldn't get the shoes.  I felt like Garry Winogrand, or maybe Ron Galella.