Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Day 173: The Highway Walkingest Man
Hollywood to Pacific Palisades. 15.8 miles/3339.6 total
Tuesday, February 7, 2011
The last day.
Today I will begin my narrative before I begin walking. It is 7:21 a.m. and I am departing for the freeway in Duarte. I have to get on the 210, take it back east to the 605, and take that to the 10, which will carry me through fantastic L.A. and out the other side to Santa Monica, where I’ll get on the Pacific Coast Highway, California Route 1, and go north for a couple of miles to Will Rogers State Beach.
In case anybody wonders, when driving a motor home pulling a dolly carrying a car, an important thing to remember is to make wide turns at intersections and in parking lots, and to be sure there’s plenty of room behind you when changing lanes. It takes some getting used to, but when you consider how many old farts are loose on the highways driving things much bigger than this, it’s not difficult.
I’ve had no more problems at Walmart since Upland, but after tonight I’m going to begin looking for a more permanent mooring place for the motor home, perhaps until the end of February.
My old friend I-10 will be my companion this morning. I’ve been traveling on or near it for much of the time since the middle of New Mexico, and before that it was with me through parts of Texas and Louisiana. First off, though, I’m on I-605, going south through Irwindale. I get a good look at all the gravel pits from up here, and can readily see how little else there is in the town. Of course they need places like Irwindale everywhere, to turn big rocks into little ones, for gravel and aggregate for concrete, as well as for trap rock, rip rap, and all the other gradations of stone. In fact, Irwindale stone is probably in most of the many miles of concrete roads in Los Angeles County, so the mark of this tiny place on the area is indelible.
To put it mildly, I’m not the only person going into Los Angeles on I-10. Within a mile of getting on it I’m in wall-to-wall, bumper-to-bumper traffic across six lanes. It feels as though all the cars I’ve ever seen on this interstate for the past 2,000 miles have converged at this spot. After 20 minutes of slow and go, things pick up for a few minutes and I get up to 55 mph as I round a bend and enter L.A. I can see the cluster of tall buildings that is the skyline of the city.
I suddenly see signs saying I’m on the 101, and I momentarily think I’ve taken a wrong turn, so I get off the freeway. This is a mistake, since I now see from the map that the 101 and the 10 merge and that I was okay all along. But it affords me the opportunity to take a slow trip around the center of the city. Finally, through the dumb luck I'm often blessed with to offset my bad judgment, I find my way back onto the 10, and now I’m west of downtown. Again the traffic is light, but soon it starts to get heavy and stop and go as I approach Santa Monica.
At 9:07, one hour and 46 minutes after I left, I arrive on the PCH. But hell, traffic is part of the experience of living in this area, so why shouldn’t I have it, too? Now I have to drive from here back up to Hollywood to begin the walk.
10:16 a.m. I’m setting out from the parking lot of Trader Joe’s on Santa Monica Boulevard and Greenacre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, heading through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, then through the high rent districts of Bel Air and environs, ending at the ocean in Pacific Palisades.
This end of Hollywood is strictly business, where people live, walk their dogs, and drink coffee. I soon cross into West Hollywood, which is a separate municipality abutting Beverly Hills. Together these two cities are surrounded by Los Angeles. Just like Hamtramck and Highland Park are surrounded by Detroit, except, well, different. West Hollywood, a city of about 35,000, is predominantly gay, although so far I’ve seen nothing but old Russian immigrant husbands and wives—short people hobbling down the sidewalks speaking in tongues. There are numerous little grocery stores apparently run by Russians, too.
At Sweetzer I pass the West Hollywood City Hall, a nondescript modern building about a block long. Santa Monica Boulevard, by the way, is historic Route 66, so I’ve found my way back to that. On down Santa Monica I go, past La Cienega, past coffee shops, past drug stores, past health and beauty stores, past places with male mannequins dressed only in thongs, past shirtless handsome boys, past people taking clean cars to get them washed, past busy Latin Americans tending to bushes and trees, past small men walking small dogs.
At 2.9 miles on this warm morning I enter Beverly Hills. And yes, you can immediately tell the difference. Gone are the businesses that thickly line Santa Monica. Now there’s a broad shady linear park on one side of the street. Plenty of benches for the homeless to sleep on in relative coolness and comfort. The streets and avenues are filled with the kinds of houses you’d expect. Nobody has exaggerated the level of affluence in this town. Nevertheless there is a range of income here, from moderately wealthy at the low end to fabulously wealthy at the top. The internet says the average home price is $2.2 million.
At the corner of Santa Monica and Rexford, sitting up there like a smooth white western Kremlin, is the Beverly Hills City Hall, together with the police department and library. The original part of this architectural gem was built in 1931 in what is called the Italian Renaissance style, with lots of frilly rococo concrete scroll work around the windows and doors against a white background. But I see elements of Art Deco and Spanish colonial, too. I go inside to visit, and although there’s a small rotunda on the second floor the building is best viewed from the outside, with its tower rising about eight floors above the first two.
South of where I’m walking is the central shopping district of Beverly Hills. If I look that way I can just see that bank where Mr. Drysdale works and where Jed Clampett has his millions. And isn't that Miss Hathaway? At Rodeo Drive I head south for a couple of blocks to look for a Diet Coke and some of those two-for-a-dollar bags of peanuts I’m so fond of.
Some of you might have thought I was kidding about the peanuts and Coke on Rodeo Drive, but I did find a Rite Aid drug store a block off of Rodeo with both those items. Fortified with supplies for the next few miles I strike north on Wilshire, up and out of the city and back into Los Angeles. This isn't the mean streets where Rodney King was brutalized or even where the hopefully untalented come to have that fact made brutally clear to them; it's the Los Angeles of the well-established rich and famous. To my left loom several gigantic bank buildings and ahead is the Beverly Hilton Hotel, a remarkably ugly place, looking more like a hospital than a hotel. Unfortunate 50s or early 60s style. On the other side of the street is the continuation of the linear park and an Art Deco fountain with a yellowish gold cast, depicting a kneeling Tongva Indian.
At Beverly Glen I turn off Wilshire and strike north into the hills past more mansions. At Sunset Boulevard I turn left. I’ll be taking Sunset for most of the rest of the walk today. It runs up and down hills, curving around through lots more rich neighborhoods, going past the UCLA campus, winding its way to the sea.
Bel Air, where I am at 6.5 miles, is a district of Los Angeles, as are Westwood and Brentwood and Holmby Hills, other neighborhoods up here past Beverly Hills. Up by the 405 intersection the Getty Center stands high up on a hill, another museum on my list.
At Woodburn and Sunset, I think I’m now in Brentwood. It’s time for a statistical wrap up for California. I came into this state on January 13 and walked 272.4 miles here over 14 days, averaging 19.5 miles per day. California is my 13th state. Though filled with an abundance of nearly everything, in some of the areas known to my readers California has been remarkably deficient. The road kill, even in the vast desert spaces, was paltry. I ended up recording only 5 dogs, 5 cats, 3 rabbits, 2 birds, one raccoon, and one bobcat. I received only one ride offer other than a few inquiries from policemen, and found only four measly pennies on the road.
At the end of today I will have walked 3339.6 miles over 173 days, an average of 19.3 miles per day. I will have taken about 6,680,000 steps since I left my front door in Cedar Springs, Michigan. How many churches, liquor stores, barking dogs, refuseniks, and cemeteries I’ve seen God only knows. I left on September 8, 2009 and am finishing 17 months to the day later.
I am told, and have no reason not to believe it, that there are very few wealthy people in relation to the number of middle income and poor people in this country. Nevertheless I am impressed here in southern California by how damn many rich people there are. Who lives in all these houses? Where does the money come from? They can't all be movie stars or business magnates, or even lucky hillbillies who find bubblin' crude when they're shootin' at some food.
At about 10 miles I pass Bundy Drive. This is the street on which Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were stabbed to death back in 1994. O.J. still hasn't found the guy who did it, but he's currently looking for him in a Nevada prison.
My more delicate readers will wish to skip this paragraph. One of the things I’ve done several times each day of the walk is to urinate outdoors—in cornfields, behind buildings and trees and bushes, off a bridge over the Mississippi River once, and sometimes in the middle of the road. When going through settled areas I use facilities in gas stations and museums and train stations and other public places, like a non-rock star should, but for the most part when nature calls I make for the nearest sheltered spot outdoors. I laugh at the idea of 1.6 gallons per flush, or even of the so-called flushless urinal. Pissing outdoors means never having to flush, and never having to look down at a plastic thing that says "Don't do drugs." In that spirit I take what may be the last pee of the journey behind a large sycamore tree here in Brentwood. I whiz as the traffic whizzes by.
At Billie Bob’s suggestion I’ve given some consideration to what music I’ll listen to in the latter part of the day here. I’ve decided to dance with the girl that brung me, so to speak. I go with the song that inspired me in the first place, “Key to the Highway.” So I’ve loaded nine versions of it into the iPod—two by Big Bill Broonzy, the man who is credited with writing it along with Charlie Segar; two by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry along with Big Bill Broonzy; three by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry only; one by Brownie McGhee only; and one, the Excalibur of all renditions, by Eric Clapton from the Derek and the Dominoes album. There are many other recorded versions, but that's all I have available.
They all start out this way, more or less:
I got the key to the highway, billed out and bound to go.
I got to leave here running because walking’s most too slow.
I’m going back to the border, where I’m better known,
You know you ain’t doing nothing but driving a good man away from home.
After that, variations abound. Some talk about Texas, some about other specific parts of the country, some about certain highways. I play all nine, enjoying the differences and the similarities. For the music my favorite is Clapton’s version, but lyrically the best one is a recording of Brownie McGhee by himself, after his old partner Sonny had passed on, which contains this bit:
From the Golden Gate of San Francisco to the rocky shores of Maine
I’ve walked the highway so long till the highway is my middle name.
I’ll eat my breakfast in your city, I may get my dinner in New Orleans,
I’m the highway walkingest man the world have ever seen.
I’ve gone about 13 miles now, and I’m nearing the Pacific Palisades district of Los Angeles. Down one hill and up another and I’m in the last two miles. I come to a downtown and a bustling business district that comprise Pacific Palisades. I stop at a gas station for one last Diet Coke.
I'd like to mention a few things that have stood me in good stead on this journey. One is my tiny white Olympus digital voice recorder, not much bigger than a cigarette lighter, which runs on one AAA battery. Another is my Canon PowerShot SD780 IS camera, another small device that has been with me the whole time. I've probably taken 6,000 pictures with it so far. Then there's my iPod Shuffle, filled with tunes and recorded books. Oh, and the St. Christopher refrigerator magnet I picked up in New Iberia, Louisiana. And I especially want to thank my family and friends and all the loyal blog followers who have encouraged me to keep going. Without the knowledge of your presence and support I most certainly would not have gotten this far. Most of all I want to thank the Academy....
At 14.8 miles I turn left off Sunset onto Temescal Canyon Road for the last mile of the walk. On the way down the hill I pass Pacific Palisades High School, home of the Dolphins.
After a bend in the road the Pacific Ocean comes into view. I am reminded that back in Cairo, Illinois in the fall of 2009 I crossed the path of Lewis and Clark and their intrepid company. When they reached the Pacific in November 1805, Clark penned these words: “Ocean in view! O! The Joy!”
About a quarter of a mile from the water I reach the motor home, parked here on Temescal Canyon Road. But that’s not my destination now. I go beyond it down to the Pacific Coast Highway, cross the road and enter Will Rogers State Beach. I’ve got another fifty yards of sand to traverse now. The smell of salt fills my nose. Far down to my left I can just make out Santa Monica Pier with its ferris wheel in the afternoon mist.
Suddenly I realize that this is it. I take off my shoes and socks, roll up my pantlegs, and step into the cold Pacific. Journey's end, at 4:22 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.
So I let my feet dry and wipe off the sand and put my socks and shoes back on. After resting for a few minutes on a bench overlooking the water I cross PCH and trudge back up to the motor home. Put a fork in this sucker, it's done. As I walk these final steps I think of the last lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men.”
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Today didn’t end with a bang, but then again it didn’t end with a whimper. After all, it’s not the end of the world. Just the end of the journey.