Friday, September 14, 2012

This Pedestrian Life



In the English language, the word "pedestrian" has two very distinct meanings: both on foot, and prosaic, dull. In the late 18th century, they were used practically interchangeably, because walking was considered, perhaps, common. Since then, walking has transformed from a mode of transportation to a recreational activity (hiking, which has recently resurged in popularity though not to the extent of its Golden Age in the late 19th century) and to a present-day Olympic sport (racewalking). A friend of a friend has walked back and forth between LA and Boston several times. People have walked across the entire U.S. and (more or less) all around the world. Fundraisers walk for charity, and in memory of those they've lost (to cancer, AIDS, and other illnesses).

I simply walk because I can. I walk to get to the other side.

Walking is decidedly uncommon in LA.

Yet, since my car won't be released from the repair shop until at least the end of next week, I have been relegated to exploring LA on foot (and by bus) for another week.

Although not dull, it is getting a little tiresome for me.

But it's also getting easier.

I recall that walking three miles in Manhattan was a relatively regular occurrence for me, inappropriately shod, without sunblock or water, either as a replacement for hiking after returning from Joshua Tree, or merely as an alternative to going to the gym.

But Los Angeles is a very different city.

As a pedestrian, it's difficult to figure out how to enter some of LA's buildings from the street level, on foot. Malls, shopping centers, and grocery stores are often built around a parking garage, which has no pedestrian entrance, requiring a bit of investigative ambling to reveal a course for entry.

I arrive, face dripping, back soaked, breathless and beaming. "How are you?" the clerk or hostess asks cordially, perfunctorily, cringing at me as I head into a dressing room or onto a barstool declaring, "I'm great! I walked!"

I've always been the odd walker in LA, sparing myself a drunk drive home or a rage-inducing search for street parking when I can. In my car, I almost always stop 0.2 miles away from my destination and pull into the first parking spot I can find, foregoing the potential rock star spot right in front of my destination. (My fellow Angelenos are aghast at this technique.) But now that I have no recourse other than to walk, I've lengthened my distances and loosened my itineraries. I leave early and take my time, meandering into random storefronts, examining menus of new restaurants and bars, planning for future excursions along the same path.

You can't do that in a car. (Though, in truth, I have been known to unsafely pull over at the last minute because something has caught my eye...)

You can't pet the dogs out for their afternoon walks in a car.

But I don't like experiencing LA in a way that's reminiscent of New York. I want LA, not New York. But the familiarity of walking (and taking public transportation) has made this (temporary) adjustment easier for me than it would be, I think, for a California native, or for anyone from any other road-reliant community.

I know that I can do this, for a while. I don't want to, but I can.

What is there that I can't do? I haven't figured that one out yet. I just keep trying....

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