Defining Moments: A Project

I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile: create a chrono-log of my memories as a native angeleno. From my earliest on up be it a recollection fuzzy or crystal clear, paragraph to novella in size, mundane or meaningful, it’s important that I attempt a compilation of my memories.

And so we begin with the earliest concrete bit of recall, and it is indeed a moment — and a fleeting one at that. Probably pretty mundane as well. Definitely fuzzy on the details such as when. I’m going to say it was 1967 mainly because I have pictures of me during my third birthday that year taken in the courtyard of the Hancock Park adjacent  apartments on Westminster Avenue just north of 4th Street. In one picture in particular I’m sitting in one of those old  pedal cars and holding a popgun rifle and not looking very thrilled.

If it weren’t for that photographic record I’d actually have no memory of my third anniversary, so thanks to those black-and-white images I can bracket an inexact timeframe for this memory. In other words I was either a pre-birthday two or a post three. Enough about that.

The memory is a simple one. After a bath, my mother had put me down for the night, but for whatever reason I was restless and unable to go to sleep. I was already well conditioned about crying and that it should only be done if there was pretty darn good reason and not being able to score some shut-eye on queue was certainly not one of them. Goodness knows I’d tried to add it to the list but all it brought was loud stomping up the stairs and a thrown open door where my mother’s backlit silhouette would ask what’s wrong and in telling my shadowmom I wasn’t sleepy she would respond gruffly and most seriously with the demand that I figure out a way to keep quiet and get sleepy and quick. That’s not meant as some sort of attack on her child-rearing skills, she just didn’t have the inclination to baby me and in retrospect I actually can appreciate that.

So instead, I kept my trap shut and my eyes dry and decided to just get up and grab a look around.  Having at some previous point mastered the art of climbing in and out of the crib I had long outgrown I clambored over the rail and down its side to the floor of the bedroom whose door was open a crack allowing in light from the hallway.

Mother was downstairs talking on the telephone and nothing beyond the door — the bathroom, my mom’s bedroom or the top of the stairs — held any interest for me so instead I padded across the floorboards to the window, which faced east, and looked out into the night.

And there it was that I saw a big blue bird off in the distance. It wasn’t a real bird, just a large lighted sign on the wall of a tall building however far away that had a bird’s head sideways atop a big round moneybag body.  There were some words around the sign, too, but I didn’t know how to read yet.

I have no clue how long I stood looking out the window at the sign and the night and whatever else might have caught and held my attention. Same goes with whatever thoughts might have been provoked by the view. But I do remember that when I got bored or sleepy or both I padded back across the floor, climbed up carefully as I could into my crib and drifted off perhaps to dream of giant glowing birds.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized what I was seeing was Union Bank’s long-extinct logo high up on what had been their 22-story mid-Wilshire building on the southwest corner of Wilshire and Western. For awhile in the 1990s it was famous for its huge murals of Shaquille O’Neal and now the murals are gone and the high-rise is in the latter stages of being renovated into contemporary loft housing. When I was 13 I learned the apartments were torn down to make room for a box of condos; my first exposure to the erasure of landmarks to my personal history.

Below is a Google Earth still that depicts the line of sight between my toddler eyes at the proximity where the long-gone window would have been on Westminster and the sign’s location on the tower’s woefully windowless west-facing wall (shown here):

(click to enlarge)

Distance had little meaning to me as a child and I always thought the floating bird as far away as the moon and twice as big. Instead, it was but a half a mile away as a bird might fly.

And until this moment I never realized my relative proximity to the assassination of Robert Kennedy that took place another half-mile’s further flight away at the Ambassador Hotel a week after my fourth birthday — a date I happen to share with his brother John. Had I looked out the window that night? Or maybe the faint sirens stirred me in my sleep? Who knows. But I do know that after the shooting, Bobby Kennedy was taken to the nearby Hospital of the Good Samaritan. Where I was born, he died.

Gimme A Sign!

At the 405 overpass around the seventeenth mile of our Sunset Boulevard Walk, I found this sign stashed behind some weeds and fellow walker Lisl obliged me by recording its discovery:


Whoever was using it to augment their roadside panhandling, well… I may have my doubts as to whether they’re truly destitute or just sponging whatever handouts they can. But at least they have a sense of humor about it and I dutifully re-filed it in its previous location for obvious re-use.

More of Lisl’s pix from the walk are here.

Catching Up Is Hard To Do

In the wake of the Friday night’s awesome Midnight Ridazz ride, followed by me staying up so late that I only got about an hour’s sleep before needing to get up and ready to go walk Saturday away along the entire length of Sunset Boulevard from downtown to the sea, I’m peering up over the resulting wall of exhaustion this Sunday morning and looking out upon all that should and could be written about the events and instead I’m just going to point you to their corresponding Flickr photosets and leave it at that:

The Power Of Expected Showers

Tomorrow’s the big stroll-o-thon along the length of Sunset Boulevard, from its original beginnings* at Union Station downtown to where it meets Pacific Coast Highway at the continent’s edge.

And the weather stands a good chance of not cooperating.  Prognostications up to Wednesday evening left me hopeful of dodging any raindrops, but since yesterday the forecast has been holding steady at a 60% chance of showers for Saturday. And as I wrote in an email update this morning to the small group of people interested in joining me, while I don’t usually pay attention to anything less than an 80% opportunity for precipitation I also don’t usually go on 24-mile walks in potentially inclement weather. Or in any weather for that matter.

The pro and con of it is that the showers are expected (at this point; who knows about three hours from now) to be of the “off and on” variety and aren’t supposed to descend until later in the day. That’s good because we’ll be more than likely to get a dry start. But that’s also bad because this is going to easily be a 12-hour march and it would suck to get soaked somewhere in the vicinity of the 405 and then wrestling with the decision to keep going or turn back.

But whatever. I’m doing the March 4 marathon rain or shine so I’m not going to let any bad weather  keep me from giving this a go and I’ll just make that choice to retire from the field where and when and if the time comes. And in the meantime I’ll just add a disposable poncho to my backpack along with a travel umbrella and an extra pair of socks.

To accentuate the positive, tomorrow’s conditions are conducive to such an endeavor. Cloudy skies and temps around 60 degrees are actually quite ideal for such a trek. I would be much more worried about doing the walk in “freak” conditions like the sun-drenched mid-80s that L.A. experienced just last weekend then doing it under a threat of rain.

But I expect the power of potential precipitation might keep all but the stalwarthiest of that handful of those interested from joining in. If so, at least they can be with me in spirit and keep tabs on whatever progress is made via the phonecam pixs (and hopefully audio) I’ll be posting along the way at this blog:

*With the stretch of Sunset Boulevard between Figueroa and Alameda streets renamed in 1993 to West Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, Sunset technically no longer begins at Union Station, but it once did and it’s a fine historic landmark to travel from which to commence.

The Destination Is In The Journey

I want to preface this by saying that the group of 13 other hikers (and three excellent dogs) with whom we ventured to the Bridge To Nowhere up San Gabriel Canyon in the Angeles National Forest above Azusa yesterday are a great group of people. They were personable, lively, congenial, conversant, interesting… for the little time within the 7.5 hours we actually spent with them. By that I mean that in the wake set by their pace, Susan and I were relegated to the extreme rear guard. Therefore we were an actual part of the interior half of the 10.5-mile roundtrip at the beginning of the journey and for brief respites somewhere around the three-mile mark, and at the bridge itself. The rest of the time we were left to our own devices. On the way back, things slowed down a bit so that Susan and I mostly never completely lost sight of them up ahead some distance in front of us. Mostly.

I’ll be honest here. I went through some pointed emotion along the way in. First off as it seemed to me that Susan and I were the least cross-acquainted throughout the assembly (with me having never met any of them in person before and only knowing some through our online photo posting exploits), frankly I was bothered at being left so decidedly behind and thus much further removed from the anticipated social aspect as we already were going in to this gathering.

Of course, a peanut gallery suggestion would be for us to have gotten our little doggies along and kept up! And there may be some validity to that, but then again this was not a forced march. We weren’t on some accelerated time limit.

The fact is as evidenced by yesterday and with past jaunts with friends, Susan and I apparently just step out a whole lot less lively than other people. Those hankering to put not too fine a point on it can call us molasses-assed if they want but while it might be a shame in some circles that we’ll never break any land-speed records, we actually enjoy a more leisurely pace during which we do strange things called “taking our time” and “looking around” and “experiencing the outdoors.” We even stop to watch and take pictures of lizards, and bees and rock formations and vistas and each other. And shocking of all: on top of all that lackadaisicality we take breaks along the way, just to stop and shut up and listen and smell and see. Nuts, I know.

Adding to all that slow-motion were further delays thanks to the nature of the rugged trail itself. Traversing some of the more disjointed and poorly marked sections of the trail by ourselves made it easy to lose and to force backtacking, especially around a couple river crossings, and distinctly undeveloped or washed out parts required extra-effort scrambles the likes of which Susan and I had never before seen together.

Ultimately what it comes down to is a fundamental difference in hiking philosophy. They didn’t subscribe to ours and we didn’t subscribe to theirs and everything worked out in the end, which is fine. But whereas yesterday’s operation was all about everybody keeping up, the way I operate is that groups should soooo stick together. Whether it’s two people or 20, longtime friends or almost complete strangers, one mile or 10, you go as fast into the wilderness as the slowest person. As fast as you move on up trail, the pace is ultimately going to be controlled by who’s bring up the rear so if nothing else hanging back and keeping everyone together is not only common sense but it does something silly like foster an environment that consists of inclusion rather than over-the-shoulder glances wondering how far back the slowpokes are — the increasing resentful slowpokes like me who couldn’t completely reconcile being so deserted out where where there were 4,000 ways to sprain an ankle, a couple opportunities to go spilling off-trail down steep terrain, chances for exhaustion, and let’s not forget the venomous snakes, spiders, insects, and plants one might be unlucky to encounter.

So here’s how it’s gonna be from here on out. Susan and I are going to hike by ourselves. It’s our own private hiking club and only we know the password. Because beyond wanting to do things our way and soak in the surroundings and not just get as quickly as we can to a destination and back, what we don’t like is the grandeur of a hike like the Bridge to Nowhere to be diminished by being led to feel rushed and inadequate and unimportant and no matter how nice everyone involved was, Susan and I felt all of those things yesterday.

UPDATED (10/03): After hearing back from a couple people who were part of the group I do feel it important to add that I do feel at least partially responsible for how the hike developed. At the beginning of the hike I could have taken any of several opportunities to light-heartedly mention how speedy everyone else was going. And even before that I had actually considered discussing it on the drive to the trailhead just to put out the alert that Susan and I tend to go slower than most or at least get a sense of what hiking style we might be in for. But instead I just kept my mouth shut figuring (hoping) it would all work itself out. It could’ve made a huge difference had I piped up and I do regret not doing that.

Some of the 100-plus pictures my molasses ass took yesterday are up here in a Flickr set. My love offers a much more lovely and polite version of the hike with pix here.

Get Out!

Yay! Susan and I are up early this morning and getting ready for a hike this morning to the Bridge To Nowhere with some Flickr pals, Echo 29 and Hexod and their wives. Last time I was there was July 2002 with Cybele and The Man and their friend Christian and his girlfriend at the time:

Bridge To Nowhere

Expect mucho pix on the other end.