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Sunday, November 18, 2007

walking THE walk

last friday morning, while checking my saturday to-do list, i realized there was a whole slew of things i had planned to do (or at least wanted to try to do) that day:

~ join my running buddies for our usual saturday morning training run in santa monica at 7am.
~ take the thanksgiving donation-based yoga class with bonnie johanson at lululemon el segundo at 8:30am.
~ pick up thanksgiving potluck ingredients at the santa monica farmers market before it closed at 1:00pm.
~ attend the kirtan/live music exhalesoul yoga benefit with bhakti ma and isabelle du soleil at sacred movement in venice at 4:00pm.
~ meet up with some long-lost friends for dinner in marina del rey at 6:30pm.
~ listen to snatam kaur in concert at golden bridge in hollywood at 8:00pm.

obviously, there was no way i could be two places at the same time, so by noon, i had narrowed down my list -- the westside options remained; el segundo and hollywood were out. i called my friends to confirm my run and dinner plans.

later that afternoon, though, i found myself rethinking all my plans, thanks to the thrillist email update that i happened to read right before heading home from work:

Great LA Walk
Begins 9am Sat at Pico and Central, Downtown; ends at 6pmish at Cha-Cha Chicken at Pico and Ocean, Santa Monica
The unfortunate reality of our live-by-car, die-by-car lifestyle means the only thing you know about the streets you drive is that six presidential administrations'll come and go before you can make a U-turn. Shed your metal exoskeleton for Great LA Walk.
Now in its second year, Great LA Walk is the brainchild of a Variety scribe determined to get Angelenos to interact with their city by way of casually deathmarching an entire East-West street. This year covers all 16 miles of Pico, starting at Downtown's retro-cool Coca-Cola Factory and ending with a BYOB party at Santa Monica's tiki-cheesy Cha-Cha Chicken -- a trek that bears witness to both the richness around Hillcrest Country Club and the gettin' richness around MacArthur Park. Thanks to recs by Pulitzer-winning food writer Jonathan Gold, you'll have the option of chowing at El Birrion (Carne Asada Tacos), El Colmao (Fried Pork Leg w/ Onions), or Roscoe's (ill shiz).
Walking the length isn't mandatory; the lazy can join up along the route, while the extremely lazy can just enjoy the bus ride back east -- to the Walk's starting point, or wherever they abandoned their car in frustration waiting to make that U.
For all the info, check out GreatLAWalk.com

ok, call me impulsive, but i just had to do it. after all, when would i ever get the chance to traverse the entire length of pico blvd ON FOOT?

besides, i had planned to run/walk 11 miles anyway that morning, so what was a handful more? the food shopping could wait until later in the week, while the yoga benefit... well, there'll always be a next time. and as for dinner plans with my friends, it had taken us over a year to finally get everyone in the same city at the same time, so there was no way i could bail out of that one. but if the walk were to end as planned at 6pm, i had just enough time to freshen up a bit and still get to the marina before the appetizers were served. perfect!

of course, that would require that my car be parked near the endpoint, so the logistics were a no-brainer; i'd park my car near pico and ocean and take the bus to the start at pico and central. i checked the mta website for the bus route and schedule, printed it out, and set my alarm clock for an early wake-up call.

but i didn't count on my hitting the snooze button a few times too many :(

by the time i got dressed and gathered my belongings (including my camera and some bandaids, just in case), i realized that i didn't have enough time to drive towards the beach, find a parking spot in an unrestricted area, and walk to the closest 720 rapid bus stop. not a problem; the 720 traveled along wilshire boulevard, a mere 4 blocks from where i lived. so i hightailed it to wilshire and kept heading eastbound, looking for the closest express bus stop. after trekking for almost a mile and a half (what's another 1.5 when you have to do 15.5 anyway?), i finally reached the express bus stop. less than five minutes later, i was boarding the same bus i had planned to catch at the other end of town. so far, so good. right on schedule!

after a painless bus transfer at broadway and 6th, i arrived at the historic coca-cola bottling plant with a good half hour to spare. no one else seemed to be there, so i took the time to look around and take some pictures. apparently, that camera must have been a clear sign to everyone else camped out in their cars; within minutes, people were walking towards me from every direction.

we all signed in as mike schneider, the organizer of the walk, handed us sheets with his cell phone number (which i did need at least once during the walk) and a list of eateries worth checking out along the way.

with a good fifty or so of us now gathered on the sidewalk (prompting the security guard to venture outside to see what was going on), mike announced that it was time to start the second edition of the great LA walk; we were off!

westbound on pico we walked, through the deserted warehouse district (after all, it was a saturday morning), through the bustling fashion district with all its clothing deals (and sadly, no time to stop and shop), with a short potty stop at the convention center (where some were tempted to check out the LA auto show). once we crossed under the harbor freeway, we entered the pico-union neighborhood. we started splintering into smaller groups, with some speeding up to see what lay ahead, some slowing down to catch their breath, and some stopping at the taco stands and panaderias to sample the culinary delights.

i was one of those walking at the front of the pack; the handful of us were so busy chatting that we didn't realize that the main group was no longer behind us. thinking that they had stopped to eat, we stood and waited for them to reach us. after it became apparent that they were nowhere to be found, we put in an SOS call to mike. and found out that in their quest to check out the neighborhood, they had veered off onto alvarado terrace for a mini-architectural tour of the houses built at the turn of the century (the 20th century, that is) then cut back onto pico just ahead of us. by then, they were a good half a mile ahead of us! we picked up the pace to catch up.

less than a quarter mile down the road, we spotted a man lying face down on the street, his face in a pool of blood, his wheelchair close beside him. it appeared that he had rolled off the sidewalk, landing face-first on the ground. it seemed like no one had actually witnessed the accident, yet all of us ran to his side to help. a motorist parked her car right in front of him to block oncoming traffic. one of the spanish-speaking men in our group walked up to the victim as he started to stir and told him to remain still until help arrived. by the time i got through to 911, i was told that someone else had already called it in, so we waited until the paramedics got there to make sure that he was in good hands. by the time the first responders arrived, we were back on track, trying to make up even more time.

we eventually caught up with the group at pico and la brea, right outside roscoe's house of chicken and waffles. mike informed us that it was time to break for lunch, and that we were free to explore the options available to us. we had an hour and a half at our disposal, more than enough time to eat and recharge our batteries.

not wanting to do the fried chicken thing -- been there, done that -- i started asking others about their lunch plans. my ears perked up when i heard someone say "soul mexican food"... i knew i had to follow him! when others found out where we were headed, they joined us as we walked four more blocks down the road to sky's tacos to feast on tacos and tortas with an african-american twist. yum! while waiting for our orders to be served, i made a quick stop at la maison du pain across the street to pick up dessert as well as to patronize the bakery owned by two filipinas -- my people! :)

stuffed and anxious to get moving, we gave up waiting for mike and the rest to reach our outdoor eating spot and resumed our journey. continuing on our trek towards the ocean, our team of eight (including two pairs of newlyweds!) quickly bonded as we made our way through the various neighborhoods. past the closed stretch of pico between crescent heights and la cienega where a massive crane lost its balance and fell on top of cool baby, a kids art, music, and yoga place (a place that once offered adult yoga classes but no longer does). through pico-robertson with its synagogues and kosher establishments. up and down the hills of century city with its high-rise buildings and the 20th century fox studios. past the rancho park golf course and the westside pavilion in west la. when we reached the busy intersection of pico and sepulveda, we gathered around to listen to an iphone play a rendition of the bizarre tune which paid homage to the street corner where we were standing. we were having too much fun...

by now, muscles were starting to ache, blisters were starting to form, but we kept on. once we crossed the border into santa monica, we knew it was all downhill -- literally -- from there. with one last stop at the unurban coffee house for a shot of caffeine and a potty break, we made a beeline for the finish. we were quickly surrounded by other participants as we zoomed past santa monica college, the woodlawn cemetery, samo high, and the santa monica civic auditorium. not content with just reaching the scheduled terminus at the corner of pico and ocean, we kept heading west until we actually set foot on the sand on the beach. mission accomplished!

later that evening, as i dined in marina del rey with my old friends, i couldn't help but think about all the merrymaking going on at the cha cha chicken in santa monica. and that i was missing all of it -- the stories, the photos, and all the new friends i had made :(

one thing's for sure... not only will i plan on joining them again next year as they make their way down yet another LA thoroughfare, but i'll be sure to block off the entire day so i don't miss a thing!