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Sunday, November 23, 2008

getting my kicks on route 66

on a typical saturday morning, i'd usually be out on a training run with my marathon training group.

but yesterday, i chose to skip it.

and later on that day, depending on how tired i was after my run, i'd usually take a yoga class -- vinyasa flow, power, restorative, anything -- somewhere.

i chose to skip that, too.

and no, i wasn't sick. in fact, i was full of energy and my back felt fine (or at least acceptably fine).

so why the change in routine?

this year, just like last year, i decided to participate in the third annual great LA walk. originally conceived by mike and maria of franklin avenue, the walk was neither a race nor a fundraiser. the point of the walk was to experience the streets of LA via an unfamiliar mode of transportation: on foot (remember the song lyrics "... no one walks in LA..."?)

so while the inaugural walk traversed wilshire and the subsequent version followed pico, this year's route was a bit more ambitious; with mike at the helm, over a hundred curious and/or adventurous angelenos -- including yours truly -- walked the length of santa monica boulevard, with a portion of sunset thrown in for fun. as it turns out, the walk followed a good chunk of the old route 66 as it made its way through los angeles, west hollywood, beverly hills, and santa monica.

If you ever plan to motor west,
Just take my way, that's the highway that's the best.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.

It winds from Chicago to LA
More than two-thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.

* from route 66, music and lyrics by bobby troup

according to the historic route 66 website, if you were to follow route 66 from pasadena to santa monica, this is how you'd do it:

Westbound on Colorado Blvd.
Cross the Arroyo Seco on a historical bridge that was built prior to Route 66 (1912).
Turn left on Figueroa St.
Turn left onto the southbound Pasadena Freeway (CA-110) at Avenue 22.
Follow the Pasadena Freeway (CA-110).
Exit at Sunset Blvd.
From the off-ramp, turn left.
Cross the freeway, turn right onto Figueroa.
Turn right onto Sunset Blvd.
After 3 miles, turn left onto Manzanita Blvd.
Follow as it changes into Santa Monica Blvd.
Continue through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Turn left on Lincoln Blvd. (Just after 9th St.)
Route 66 ends here at Olympic Blvd.

(The above end is the real historic end, but it wouldn't be complete without a visit the Will Rogers Plaque in the Palisades Park at the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd. and Ocean Ave. and a stretch of the legs on the Santa Monica Pier.)

from the starting point at union station in downtown to the terminus at the pacific ocean in santa monica, the plan was to cover 18-plus miles. that's a fairly long stretch. of sidewalks and crosswalks. mom-and-pop shops and chain restaurants. discount stores and designer boutiques. and in my case, a combination of neighborhoods i rarely find myself traveling through and those i regularly walk/bike/drive past.

in the interest of cost, convenience, and an effort to "go green", i caught the big blue bus #10 -- the freeway flyer -- from my home in santa monica to union station. once there, i mentally attempted to sort out the commuters from the walkers to figure out if an impromptu gathering spot had been established. but with almost an hour to go before the appointed start time of 9am (don't ask me why i chose to show up that early), most of the walkers were either in the snack bar line waiting to get their caffeine boost for the morning, or walking around the train station checking out the architecture. i looked around to find mike or any other familiar face. nada. so i made my way to the snack bar, grabbed a toasted bagel to keep my belly entertained, then walked around outside to while away the time.

eventually, mike and maria showed up with their son evan comfortably seated in his stroller (lucky kid got to ride while their parents walked. and pushed.) mike led the group outside to the courtyard. while he gave out instructions and waited for everyone to sign in, i helped hand out the maps he had printed out. a hundred and fifty signatures later, shortly after 9am, we were off.

first stop, olvera street, the birthplace of los angeles. the vendors of the mexican food and souvenir stands were busy arranging their wares as we walked past. it had been many, many years since i had last visited this tourist spot. i was tempted to hang back to reacquaint myself with the area, but since i didn't want to miss any side trips like i did last year, i kept mike in sight and kept moving.

a left at the end of olvera street landed us on cesar chavez avenue. shortly after we walked past the chinatown arch on broadway, we found ourselves at the intersection of sunset and figueroa, right where route 66 merges in from pasadena, on the edge of elysian park, the home of dodger stadium.

by now, i'd struck up a conversation with will campbell, an LA-based blogger and bicycle activist. if there's anything happening in LA that has anything to do with bicycles, whether it be bike access routes, bike tours, bikes in the news, or places to buy or repair bikes, chances are, will knows all about it.

so pair up a chatty marathon runner with an equally chatty bike tour rider, and what do you get? a lively conversation on why the organizers of the LA marathon are completely out of touch with the running community (not to mention out of their minds) when they decided to move the 2009 race date from the traditional first SUNDAY in march to presidents' day, which falls on the third MONDAY in february. why? supposedly because there were a few influential churches who complained that their congregations were greatly inconvenienced by the sunday street closures. if that weren't bad enough, with only three months to go until the revised race date, just when everyone had pretty much gotten their travel and training plans finalized, the marathon committee sent out this update:

In an effort to create a world-class runner experience, we've moved the 2009 Los Angeles Marathon to Memorial Day, Monday, May 25th...


who would choose to run a race in LOS ANGELES on memorial day, when they'd rather be spending time with their friends and family barbecuing in their back yards or hanging out on the beach? not only that, but who in their right mind would want to run a MARATHON when it's warm and sunny enough to sit around in shorts and flip-flops?

to make things worse, what about the non-refundable airline tickets? the vacation plans already made? the training schedules that had each runner ready for 26.2 miles by february 16th?

the race is obviously so screwed up at this point that the website provides nothing of value -- no course map, no runner information. instead, it merely displays two buttons labeled "Click here to register" and "Click here to contact us". nice job, guys!

getting back on track...

we walked past neighborhood after neighborhood along sunset. the victorian homes in angelino heights (which we really didn't get to see much of because we were short on time). the spanish-language signage over small storefronts in echo park. the trendy cafes and boutiques (as well as urth yoga and the ashtanga yoga shala -- namaste, y'all!) in silverlake. soon, we reached sunset junction, where santa monica boulevard (and route 66) splits off from sunset and continues on to the ocean.

at this point, we were entering the lesser-known district known as east hollywood. sadly, the initial section along santa monica was just one unremarkable stretch of concrete. things didn't pick up until right around vermont avenue, where we were suddenly surrounded by pedestrians making their way to the metro red line station at the corner, LA city college just a block south on vermont, and a whole slew of businesses up and down the street. thanks to the nice couple from jackson-hewitt tax service, we were handed bottles of water somewhere along the way to help keep us hydrated.

we walked past the armenian-run stores in little armenia. past the hollywood forever cemetery, final resting place of many hollywood celebrities, where outdoor movie screenings are held during the summer. by now squarely in the heart of hollywood, we walked past theater row, a cluster of small buildings where an eclectic array of plays and musicals were being staged, including one called lysistrata: make love not war (no peace, no pussy). verrrrry interesting! :)

shortly after we passed the last theater, we reached the city limits of west hollywood at the intersection of santa monica and la brea, where a target-anchored shopping center occupies an entire city block. i peeled off from the group for a much-needed potty break at the starbucks store in the complex... then had to hightail it down santa monica to catch up with mike, will, and the rest of my companions. i finally caught up with them almost a mile later, just as the store windows started to tempt me with an array of russian breads and pastries. yum... was it time for lunch yet?

crossing fairfax, i recognized the familiar orange sign of city yoga and realized that i wouldn't be able to make the release party for hillary rubin's new DVD later that evening. there would be prizes, massages, free food and drink. and i was going to miss all the fun. and the food. by now, my tummy was screaming: feed me!

according to mike's map, we would break for lunch somewhere near the blue whale (aka the pacific design center), where there was a good variety of places to eat. since the group was so spread out that we had no idea where the front and the back were, mike decided to walk past all the west hollywood restaurants and fast food joints to pass the word along that we would regroup at the beverly hills border at 2pm. will opted to stay by mike's side, so i continued to tag along. maybe i should have eaten something more substantial than that bagel for breakfast...

we eventually reached the end of the string of outdoor cafes, and mike announced that we were ready to sit and eat. yay! miraculously, maria showed up with evan in tow. apparently, they both hopped on the subway at the vermont station, rode it home, then drove out to west hollywood to meet us for lunch. such troopers! we all piled into the champagne bakery and chowed down on sandwiches and french pastries. as soon as we cleaned off the last crumbs from our plates, we were up and out.

we gathered by a little park at the beverly hills border and waited for the others to join us. and at 2pm, five hours into the great LA walk, we trudged on. 8 more miles to go.

by now, i was in familiar territory. i had commuted up and down the remaining stretch of santa monica blvd so many times that i could easily picture in my mind all the streets and buildings that we'd be seeing along the way. like the narrow parkway that lined big santa monica all the way to wilshire. the imposing beverly hilton hotel (and the soon-to-be demolished trader vic's restaurant). the high rises and the high-end shopping center in century city.

as we were walking along the newly rerouted, relandscaped, and resurfaced santa monica blvd, will noticed what appeared to be the bust of abraham lincoln mounted high up on a lamppost. huh? what did lincoln have to do with century city? strangely enough, there didn't seem to be any other presidential figures anywhere nearby. then all of a sudden, we spotted something that oddly looked like the sears tower. by now, our little group was puzzled. lincoln and the sears tower? chicago? what did chicago have to do with century city? it then dawned on me that chicago was the start of route 66. and sure enough, there were 66's on those lampposts as well. god, we're good!

It goes through St. Louie down to Missouri
Oklahoma City looks oh so pretty.
You'll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona,
Kingsman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

Won't you get hip to this timely tip
And think you'll take that California trip.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.

as we continued on our journey to westwood, past the mormon temple (the site of a recent NO on prop 8 rally), we kept an eye out for other lamppost artwork. SHOW ME for missouri. mistletoe for oklahoma. the alamo for texas. kokopelli for new mexico. i forgot what we saw for arizona. EUREKA for california. and then there were the ones we couldn't quite put our fingers on. thistle? a bust of an unknown female? this LA art website has pictures of some of those oddities. looks like we missed some...

by the way, unless you're stuck in traffic or walking by like we were, there's no way you'd spot this supposed art installation as you're zooming down the street. in fact, this was the first time any of us had noticed any of this in all the years we'd been traversing santa monica. just more of your tax dollars at work :(

as we approached the 405, i pulled into another starbucks for another pit stop. will continued on to the 7-11 on the other side of the freeway for a much-needed soda break. i found him standing at the corner of sawtelle with a big gulp in hand. he was happy, i was happy. we kept on. past west la to the border of the city of santa monica. just over two more miles to go! just then, a big blue bus stopped to let a passenger hop off. i was so tempted to just hop on, drop 75 cents in the fare box, and ride it to the end... but no, i wasn't going to quit now, now that the finish line was less than a 5K away!

as we approached 5th street, we zoomed past the radio shack, right below bryan kest's power yoga east studio. i envied the yogis who were powering through their sweaty class, because at this point, i had no power to spare.

it didn't take long before we reached the third street promenade. and the power yoga west on 2nd street. before we knew it, we had reached our final destination at palisades park, overlooking the ocean. we did it! after a commemorative group photo with the setting sun at our backs, we all made our way to the britannia pub a few blocks away and toasted our achievement with ice cold beers. at around 7pm, many of us made our way to the bus stop at the corner; many boarded MTA buses for downtown while i hopped on the big blue #1 for my short ride home.

i mapped out our walk on mapmyrun.com. click here to see all of the 18.37 miles we covered that day. but duh, silly me was so busy checking out the sights that i missed a lot of photo opportunities. so if you want to see what we saw, check out mike's great walk post, where he's been compiling what everyone's been sending him.

many thanks to mike and maria for putting together this memorable event. thanks, too, to will for keeping me entertained along the 18-plus mile route. and i challenge siel (aka the green la girl), who spent the day monitoring the twitter posts then partied with us at the brittania, to join us in our journey along next year's still-to-be-determined route. hey, if i can do it, you can too! :)

sign me up for the 4th annual great LA walk, because i'll definitely be there!


Blogger Will Campbell said...

Joni, back atcha for keeping us moving throughout the walk. It was awesome sharing the day with you and I look forward to future treks!

3:34 PM  
Blogger joni said...

hey will --

and all the time i thought i was keeping up with YOU! after seeing the food shots that the others took, i think i'm going to have to take more munchie breaks next year :)

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I accept that challenge -- as long as the walk doesn't start at an unreasonably early hour (i.e. before 10).

3:28 PM  
Blogger joni said...

hey siel --

but keep in mind that the earlier we start walking, the earlier we can start the after-walk festivities!

6:30 PM  

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