When I moved to Los Angeles, I naturally wanted to explore my new city: on foot. Happily, I discovered that despite its reputation, Los Angeles is eminently walkable. Almost the entire metropolitan area is graced with sidewalks that will take you wherever you need to go. I decided to go from my front door—Mile 0—near the Pacific Ocean to the farthest edge of this sprawling megacity, San Bernardino at the foothills of an eponymous mountain range. It was not an athletic feat, but an exercise in urban hiking with all the amenities La-La Land has to offer.
An aerial view of the city inevitably features a maze of Interstates but I carved out another artery, a nearly invisible footpath, that traces a route through the undulating cityscape that is Los Angeles. That footpath, on sidewalks and rough berms, won’t appear on a AAA or Google map but it has been seared into the life of the city. The route was southern, quite a distance from the elegant boulevards of Santa Monica and Hancock Park. Gage Avenue has few, if any, luxury stores and a curious absence of America’s most recognizable retailers. Thus the route pulls you through a marginalized Los Angeles, only visible to tourists and apathetic drivers from the elevated highways that cut above these neighborhoods.
On the surface streets, the monotony of the highway has no home. I walked from predominantly white to African American to Hispanic neighborhoods where the Spanish language was the local currency. West of the Los Angeles River, these tightly packed neighborhoods were a mix of urban and suburban. I passed just north of the intersection at Normandie and Florence, the site of riots in 1992; two decades later, the external wounds were invisible in the neighborhood.
Time passed between each mile but not as measured by my watch; the time between two points was determined by unexpected markers such as a rail-way crossing or the rare sighting of another pedestrian. As time slipped by, I passed sun-bleached and stuccoed homes with empty front lawns; no one was on the porch ready with a friendly wave as I walked by. The walk was, in fact, an exercise in solitude because few Angelenos take advantage of their extensive sidewalks. Walking in the day, the streets were basked in glorious sunshine, though I later learned of the gun violence in neighborhoods I had passed through.
Moving further east, the walk revealed the railways and rivers of Los Angeles. The Alameda Corridor, a massive railroad, speaks to all those international goods entering into Southern California. While the Los Angeles River has an iconic presence in Grease, the San Gabriel River further east, no less grand, ‘flows’ anonymously from the mountains through Baldwin Park down to the Pacific Ocean. Following convention these rivers appeared as blue on a map, but the trickle of water was not enough to soothe my tired feet.
About thirty-five miles east of home, the land-and socio-scape opened up with wider avenues and the peaks of mountains looming to the north. Endless rows of bungalows, chirpier than the ones along Gage, pulled the route east. The city was soon replaced by endless warehouses and the faded industrial glory of Fontana, where the abandoned Kaiser works took thirty minutes to pass. Trucks roared by heading for the I-15, the I-215, the I-10, and any other interstate they could find. I just plodded forward to Mile 72.5 at the San Bernardino train station. Seemingly abandoned, it stood there with all the grandeur of the central station in Milan. On arrival, I sat on a bench; in my mind, I started to knit together the tapestry of the incredibly diverse city I had just crossed.
Nigel Raab, October 2019
Extracted from 'Seventy-Two and One Half Miles Across Los Angeles' by Mark Ruwedel, published November 2020