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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Sticking with the concept of “where the streets have a name, and a pretty good one at that,” I found myself last Friday in downtown Los Angeles walking the really very short distance between Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street to Traction Avenue.  Unlike some fancily named streets there’s plenty of interest in both these places.

Ellison S. Onizuka was an American astronaut of Japanese descent, who was one of the crew of seven who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.  That’s him above, standing beside a model of the shuttle.  And here in Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street there’s a very much bigger model:

It looks good, even reflected in a puddle in the rain.  Yep, it rained in L.A. last Friday:

Traction Avenue is in the Arts District, a terrible name for a district if you ask me – as though art needs to be corralled into some ghetto.  In any case we’re given to understand that artists can’t afford to live there anymore.
Of course the whole area has art coming out its wazoo – graffiti, street art, decorated dumpsters (I intend to publish a short monograph – or at least a blog post - on “the decorated dumpster”) and murals of course.  There’s this one of Ai Weiwei:

And I thought this was very fine, and a new one on me, a kind of totem pole made using rubber tires:

This part of the perambulation was something of a delaying tactic. I was in downtown to take a look at the Triforium, a piece of “polyphonoptic” sculpture, built in 1975, with 1,494 multicolored glass cubes designed to glow in synch with music from a 79-note glass bell carillon.  It’s located well outside the Arts District.

It’s the work of Joseph Young, and it’s located in the unexotically named Fletcher-Bowron Square, and actually sits on top of the incredibly bleak Los Angeles Mall.  The mall’s architect Robert Stockwell was responsible for commissioning Young.  These days the whole place looks like the mall that time forgot.

I admit that until recently I’d never really been aware of the Triforium, and the Angelinos I’ve talked to, the ones who have any opinion about it at all, seem to regard it as a likeable, though unserious, 1970s folly, and I’ve yet to meet anybody who actually saw it in full functioning son et lumiere mode.  It’s certainly been neglected, and by some accounts it never worked properly even from the beginning.  It was, arguably, ahead of its time and required some serious computer technology that it didn’t have.

On the other hand, the basic structure seems to be in pretty good shape and if you stand in the right place as the sun is going down you can see those glass cubes glow (kind of), although last Friday the sun was long gone before I got there.

This was a special day for the Triforium, a 40 year anniversary, and there was to be a “launch party” for its restoration.   Festivities started at 4 pm, and when I arrived, at 4.30 or so, a dj was laying down some cosmic space rock but the Triforium itself was unlit.  I assumed they were keeping it this way so that at some point it could be turned on, lit up and the music would be pumped through it.  Was this terribly na├»ve of me?  Perhaps, but I wasn’t alone in my foolish hopes.

Some official-looking young uns were sitting at a table in the square, and from time to time people would come up to them and say, “So when do you fire it up?” And the reply was that they weren’t going to fire it up.  The Triforium doesn’t work, not the sound, not the lights, nuthin.  Which was why they were having a fundraiser.  Oh.  I was not alone in my disappointment.

But at least I did get to step into the Triforium control room.  It all looked very Cold War.  The guy there said they’d had in various electricians and computer guys and none of them could make the thing work, and as far as I could tell they didn't know how it had ever worked. But as one of my fellow visitors pointed out, the system must be in some sense “on,” since there are glowing lights, so obviously there’s power getting in there, and somebody must be paying the electricity bills.  How does that work?  I have no idea.

Among the crowd was top LA photographer and visual chronicler Gary Leonard, a pleasantly chatty man, and he said he’d been there in 1978 for John Cage’s 75th birthday party.   Did Cage perform or conduct or use the Triforium in some way, I asked.  Maybe 4'33'?  No, said Gary, but there was cake:

As I slipped away the Triforium looked like this:

The Triforium Project website is here:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Meanwhile while drifting  in East Hollywood in December …

Is it just me or is there always something incredibly melancholy and mysterious about seeing abandoned women’s shoes lying in the street, whether singly or in pairs? You assume there always has to be a story there, and depending on your taste in stories it may be incredibly banal – woman finally got fed up with her fancy shoes, found them too painful, decided to throw them away – and maybe she had a pair of sensible shoes with her.  Or maybe it's evidence of some noirish narrative – a chase through the night, escaping from real or imagined demons, shoes cast aside to increase mobility.

So what’s the story with these rather elegant, and as far as I could tell, perfectly serviceable black suede, high-heeled boots that had been carefully placed at the base of a tree?  A gift to the neighborhood?  They were certainly gone when I walked by again later in the day.

Of course it goes dark early in Hollywood these day.  When I first arrived here a decade or so ago it seemed that the neon of Hollywood was something very spectacular.  I seem to think there were organized bus tours.  Now I either don’t see it or the whole neon thing has dimmed.  Consider the Hollywood Downtowner Motel, which in neon form has become the Hollywood Downtowner Mo.  Is that a joke?

And just round the corner from there one of the apartment buildings has decided to make it a prehistoric Christmas.  I think this is just wonderful, while also being fairly glad that I don’t live in the building next door.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


My upbringing was both weird and boring. And one of the weirdnesses was that I’ve ended up with a strangely extensive knowledge of the lyrics of dreary show tunes.  (Stick with me here.)

And some of the lyrics that always confused me as I was growing up were in the song “On The Street Where You Live.”  It’s by Lerner and Lowe, from My Fair Lady though I didn’t know that at the time.  Lyrics run:

I have often walked
Down the street before,
But the pavement always
Stayed beneath my feet before.
All at once am I
Several stories high,
Knowing I'm on the street where you live.

I was baffled – because all the streets I knew consisted of two up, two down terraced houses.  If you were “several stories high” you’d be floating around somewhere up above the rooftops.  What was good about that?  What street DID this woman live on?

In fact the only people I’d ever met who didn’t live in a terraced house were Uncle Oliver and Aunty Kath who lived in this block of flats in Hillsborough,  in Sheffield.  It’s Regent Court, now regarded as a classic of (admittedly rather watered down) modernism.

It was built just before the war, and during the Sheffield Blitz people used to run there to take shelter, because metal plates were supposedly used in its construction, and it was therefore safe.  I only ever had my mother’s word for this.

If you walked a few hundred yards from Regent Court you’d be in Penistone Road, and it says much for the innocence of those times that nobody I knew ever referred to in as Penis-tone Road, which everybody surely would these days.

In Hillsborough there was also Dyke’s Hall Road, though as far as I knew there was no dyke.  And for that matter there was Swamp Walk, again with no evidence of a swamp. 

But I suppose it’s in the nature of being a kid that you accept whatever’s in front of you, and I walked those streets without much surprise or curiosity about the names.  Well, times and sensibilities change.

The fact is – and I admit this is not a very serious psychogeographic reason for walking anywhere – I find there is a certain thrill that comes from walking along a street with a cool or odd or curious name, even if the street itself is fairly ordinary.

I can hardly tell you how much I enjoyed walking along Tinderbox Alley in Mortlake:

And in Lewisham, there's the very wonderful-sounding Fossil Road – it did no harm that the street sign itself looked a bit fossilized.

Walking anywhere in Guadalajara was pretty interesting, but things perked up even more when I got to walk along Cometa, Astros, Atmosfera, Nebulosa:

And right now this is my current favorite – Uranium Avenue, in Moab, in Utah:

I did walk along it earlier this year, and it was  a very ordinary street to walk on, no evidence of uranium, running between a supermarket and a tourist information center, but even so wouldn’t it be great to be able to say this was the street where you lived? 

Oh and just so we don’t forget that this is in fact the Hollywood Walker, here’s Cosmo Street – a very short street that runs south off of Hollywood Boulevard. I’d lived here for years and walked along Hollywood Boulevard scores of times before I noticed it.