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 parking lots. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parking lots. Show all posts

Monday, February 2, 2015


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).

Sunday, August 17, 2014


I’ve been reading and thinking about rooftopping; a highly specialized form of walking, and an essential part of a certain kind of urban exploration.  Like all great ideas it’s essentially very simple, you get up to a high place, usually by some quasi-illegal method, you find some thin girder or ledge or parapet - and then walk along it.  Photography seems always to be involved whether skilled or not: somebody generally takes somebody’s picture up there or maybe somebody takes a selfie.  At their best, the results are equal parts awe-inspiring and terrifying.

It’s a worldwide trend and it can’t be all that recherch√© given how many references there are to it online.  Still, I’m amazed that there are people who can do this stuff, and just looking at the photographs is enough to give me an attack of vertigo.  Below is a picture Tom Ryaboi, the best rooftopping photographer I’ve seen:

I think the guy in the picture is Vitali Raskalov, and I think the picture is taken in Hong Kong, though I stand to be corrected on both counts. Tom Ryaboi’s flickr page is here:  

Certainly some people die while rooftopping, but when you consider how inherently lethal it seems, the numbers appear surprisingly low. Perhaps it’s a self-limiting group.  If you feel safe walking on rooftops you’re probably going to be safe doing it, if you don’t feel safe walking on rooftops you’re probably not going go up there.  I certainly know where I stand – firmly on the ground whenever possible.  I’m definitely not a rooftopper.

And yet, and yet …  Thinking about this has reminded me of an incident from my generally all too well-spent youth.  I was a student at Caius College, Cambridge, and a group of us had been to the late-night bar.  Drink had definitely been taken but not so much as to lose all reason.  We went back to the room belonging to a Scottish lad named Tony Kidd.  His room was on the top floor, actually in the eaves, of a building on Trinity Street; the third floor if you’re in English, the fourth floor if you’re American. It's the building in the picture below with the street sign on it.

And as you can see, there were a couple of windows that opened out onto the roof, and there was a parapet running along the front of the building.  It was summer, the windows were open and I suddenly got the urge to climb out of one of them.  Once on the roof I began walking back and forth from one end of the parapet to the other.  I wasn’t showing off. I didn’t do any fancy antics like balancing on one leg or dancing around.  It was just something I felt I had to do at the time.  I did a few lengths (nobody took a picture) and then I went back inside again.  I think I may have had one more drink and then went home quietly.

         At the time it didn’t seem I’d done anything very extreme or foolish, and by rooftopping standards I very definitely hadn’t, but by my own standards I’d done something scarily out of character. When I thought about it the next morning, the full surprise and horror hit me. Even as I write about it now I can feel the cold sweat gathering and the tide of vertigo washing in.  It’s not so much a case of “What was I thinking that night?” rather a case of “Who the hell was I that night?”

         I’ve remained pretty much myself ever since, not  completely avoiding high places, but only going to them when I was absolutely able to feel safe there.  And to be fair I felt perfectly safe on the parapet in Cambridge while I was up there.   
            Here’s a picture I took from the roof, or rather where the roof once was, of the Old Hardwick Hall, in Derbyshire. 

The view was great, both of the landscape and of the ruined structure of the building.  I was there on the regular tourist visit, there was a firm platform under my feet and there was a rail to hold onto, but the fact is, I still felt a bit wobbly.

Of course some rooftops are far more walkable than other.  One of my pedestrian quirks is that I like to walk in parking lots.  They’re places not made for walkers, where walkers are not wanted or considered, although of course sooner or later everybody has to walk to their car.

         And the other day I parked up on the top of a parking lot here in Hollywood  - one of only three cars there – (wide open spaces – we got ‘em) and I walked around, looked down, took a few pictures.  A female security guard appeared at the other end of the roof, and I thought she was coming across to ask me what I was up to, but it was a hot day, and I was a long way off, and she apparently couldn’t be bothered to walk all the way over to me.  You can just about see her in the picture below.

         This, of course, is not true rooftopping, though I was certainly on a roof, and when I looked down at the building next door there was another guy walking on a rooftop: a working man going about his business (below), whatever that business was.  I guess rooftopping, true or otherwise, comes in many forms.