April 13, 2011 § 3 Comments

I recently walked from Los Feliz to Culver City. For those of you who don’t reside in Los Angeles, that’s a trip of around nine miles.

I didn’t plan on doing it. I was due to meet a friend a couple of miles from my apartment at the time and on my way they executed the classic LA manoeuver of cancelling at the last minute. Since I had dinner plans in Culver City after the planned rendezvous, I decided to just keep walking.

Often upon boarding an aeroplane it has occurred to me that, in this era of miraculous technology enabling us to move through space and time at a literally breathtaking speed, we have lost the appreciation of the journey. I think of all the people since time immemorial who have travelled great distances over many weeks, focused on some inward lodestar, and how great the sense of wonder and satisfaction must have been when they, exhausted and overwhelmed, arrived.

My grandparents boarded a boat in Alexandria and travelled six weeks before arriving in Sydney, Australia in the 1940s, having been thrown out of Egypt for being Jewish.  How must they have felt when land was finally in sight? Anyone who has visited the Statue of Liberty and has seen the exhibit underneath which tells the stories of untold numbers of people’s first glimpse of the Great Lady after a perilous voyage escaping unspeakable hardship will have gotten a sense of the same experience.

Today one has to create one’s own voyages. I’ve never run a marathon but as someone unaccustomed to walking nine miles I can tell you that something interesting started to happen as I, beginning to tire, found myself crossing into unfamiliar neighbourhoods. My ego began to surrender, my conscious mind giving way as I took in all of the new information and something else, a childlike fascination and wonder, overtook me. I was no longer getting somewhere and as a result the journey itself became an adventure; no detail was outside the realm of my interest.

Los Angeles, as a giant conglomerate of small cities, must look very different depending on who’s driving through it. For most relatively affluent people it can seem like a dark ocean with patches of light spread across it, in this case the light representing the “good” parts. Or, as someone else I know puts it, “you’re in a good part of town and then shit… then another good suburb and then shit….” .

Sounds harsh, I know. But if you live here, you can understand what they mean. For me, on that day, I got to experience some of that terrain which isn’t as brightly lit as some of the areas of LA most people would be familiar with. Being on foot is entirely different to being in a car, even if it’s stopped for a considerable period of time. When actually walking on the street, one has to deal with the reality that’s existent. Take it in. What did I see?

A lot of closed storefronts. I know there are tens of thousands of people living here. They now go elsewhere, and probably pay more, for their products and services.

Except for fast food. These gas stations pumping toxic waste disguised as food were the only businesses that seemed to be thriving. And we know where that money’s going. Certainly not back into the community.

A large man in a broken down truck playing deafening yet crystal clear rap music. I imagined different scenarios whereby I would find myself in that car with him, going wherever he’s headed.

An occasional building, more modern, with fences around it and security cameras, with no name or title attached. What goes on in these places?

Sometimes there’s a door left open and, as I pass, I get to project myself into that home and catch a sense of a life unknown and foreign to me. It’s so easy to forget that no matter how small and dilapidated the house, how poor the circumstances, there are people within who, in their heart of hearts, have exactly the same kind of essential aspirations that the rest of us do.

A huge homeless man in front of me, lumbering along like a sauropod, his left index finger the only thing moving quickly. That itchy finger hypnotised me for an entire block before I decided to pass.

And then there’s the palm trees, still vainly trying to convince me of a tropical paradise.

The 10 freeway is like an earthquake when you walk under it. There’s a used car lot under the freeway! One also gets the sense of the slant of the road, pushing the cars around the curve. Just like a race track. I imagine the unspeakable horror of a real earthquake bringing it down.

Psychics in broken down storefronts, neon lights surviving. Somewhere, someone’s making a killing manufacturing neon hands.

A few recollections.  I can confidently say that a flight to a new country, followed by a taxi to my hotel, would not have produced more vivid impressions than did my brief time walking these new streets of a poorer section of LA.

I’d be betraying the theme of this post today if I said that I didn’t feel a great sense of contentment and satisfaction upon arriving at my destination. I did.

But I also felt just a hint of sadness that the journey, the adventure, was over. This is why we travel: new adventures, new tastes, a chance to place ourselves in new surroundings and be changed.

In the age of technology, it’s more important than ever to find it in our daily lives.

Every day.


§ 3 Responses to EARNING THE ARRIVAL

  • John D says:

    M – this is the best piece you’ve written here that I’ve read. It’s the first draft of a potential magazine/newspaper article. Tying in your grandparents journey gives it gravitas. Very nice.

    Interesting remark about the 10 freeway. During the large 1994 Northridge earthquake, the 10 freeway DID collapse, at the junction with Fairfax Ave (close to where you were walking, I assume). The earthquake hit at about 4:00 am…the only thing that saved many lives. There’s a story on its rebuilding here, in which the contractor famously earned a $14 million bonus.

  • Anjali says:

    This is beautiful, and so true! It’s so easy to forget to actually be PRESENT when we’re flying/running/speeding from one place to another, and definitely in L.A., where walking to Culver City from Los Feliz is as strange to people as riding a pogo stick from Los Angeles to Vegas. I love how you encourage people to see the world, Marc. More more more please!

  • Lucretia says:


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