“…almost hit by a car while legally crossing the street, with the smell of jasmine my anger wanes.” Carrie McIlwain’s Los Angeles, and yours
Almost two years ago I came to this city broken. I am not alone in arriving here in such conditions, as Los Angeles is often titled the home of the homeless. My return to this city marked the end of a period of transience in which I had crossed the European Continent by bicycle and hitchhiked across America. I have always found a poetry between two of the defining characteristics of Los Angeles and their symbiosis. Without the near constant sunshine, Southern California would not attract the fort architects who surreptitiously decorate the city. The boon of this land is also the bane, the climate allows for year round outdoor occupation and a definitively visible transient population. What remains unseen are the migrations made within this city by these citizens. In my preparations for an indefinite movement east to Berlin, the most graceful way I could think of to say goodbye to Los Angeles, was to perform a continuous walk from the most western point of the city to the most eastern. I have long been resistant to the climate and culture of Southern California as my place of birth. Yet I have also longed to exist in the city in a way that brings me comfort or joy. The cities I have fallen in love with in my travels, are the streets I have drifted through without expectation or ownership. To meet a city from the position of outsider and in so doing I hope to generate a history of intimacy and acquire the evidence to grow and change. To search for the vulnerability of the Other requires me to be vulnerable myself. To walk away from my sense of knowing this place.
“What can be written down serves only as a password in this great game” Guy Debord, Theory of the Dérive
May 3, 2012
6:30 am-7 pm
Valley Circle Blvd/ Roscoe Blvd
(Most Western Point of Los Angeles City Limits)
a start labeled the end. Roscoe boulevard continues past a locked gate advising against trespassing. it is a caged field of mustard grass. a southern road leads up into a neighborhood. steep and lined with a horse trail, an abandoned plaid armchair by the curb. a public park without public. private property prevents the sense of civic ownership one could feel about a city or neighborhood. an empty but not unquiet space. i walk past dark and closed strip-malls, falling down fences hide residents from the traffic that is unawakened. poppies by the side of the road. across the street is another public park and orchard. Orcutt Park is not yet open, i can see the orange groves through the fence, while on my side of the street stands a solitary and bucolic orange tree. its limbs gnarled and black. the fruit looks wholly inedible. dusty.
neighborhoods in which the only indication of age are the cracks and fissures in the streets. pristine fences start as i cross the street to pick up the beginnings of a new sidewalk. traffic awakens, transitioning from a fluttering of eyelashes, to the unconsciously regulated blinking of eyes as the movement becomes consistent. the ground is marked with signs warning not to dump as the gutters drain to the ocean. A desert anchored to the sea. canals connecting to the river are forbidden to enter. homes with gated front yards. the alleys behind houses are as straight and as unending as the streets i walk upon. Owensmouth. behind strip malls there are indeed neighborhoods. horizontal sprawling architecture makes it appear as though their presence is final. walking east into the sun. pass a Sikh temple and Punjab school. street becomes commercial. dark store fronts wait until 10 to open. looks like a studio back lot of a small town Main Street. Sherman Way mountains to the south. steady flow of cyclists on the sidewalk, they come upon me from both directions. tanned unshaven men occupy a bench together. my first sighting of members of the homeless population. a shopping cart full of belongings close at hand. the younger man says good morning to me. this sidewalk is lined with benches facing away from the street, that is, inward towards the parking lots of shopping centers. these benches are singularly unique in this environment, both in their orientation and without a middle bar, they welcome sleeping bodies.
i see my first billboard of the day and a colonnade of palms only half visible above houses. Oso. the grey in the sky is clearing up and blue is cracking through. grapefruits abound. Vanowen. an exploded sprinkler relieves a thirsty sidewalk. i begin to tell time by the regular intervals of abandoned shopping carts. experiencing more pain and much earlier than expected from my feet and legs. nearly everyone I encounter is doing something in relation to their environment. i am just passing through, occupying time in a progression through space. Tampa. a front yard of wish-weeds and dandelions. hard to stay focused on just this city, as it triggers memories of other places. the concrete path falls away, the sidewalk becomes overgrown, dirt, crabgrass. gophers pushing ground out to the surface. Victory. walk a tightrope of shadows, then close my eyes and walk an elevated block. arrive upon construction, asphalt laying. honking and frustrated drivers that cannot have their way. i have more mobility in this instance. Van Nuys. i pass a man sitting on the stairs of an apartment complex. his shirt unbuttoned and open wide. reveal his chest covered in scratches and wounds. the shoulders of his shirt almost pink with dried blood. as i first approach i try to ascertain what exactly is the scene, is this man bleeding? as i physically pass in front of him, sensing that he is drunk, deranged. it is evidence of a incident, not itself the crisis. the streets are so wide that crossing from the north to south side almost constitutes a new psychological locus. rather than having to dérive through streets and neighborhoods, in Los Angeles i can weave from side to side of the same endless street.
never really noticed the extent to which old chewing gum impacts visual terrain until today. increase in signs and billboards. visual static. feels like Los Angeles. Oxnard. palm tree fronds, twisted and trapped in the barbed wire of the peach colored auto body shop. the paint in the creases are frayed pockets. this is a street i would not want to walk alone at night. blight. a maroon wall guards power towers, transformers and a whole lot else i do not understand. Tyrone. a neighborhood provides shelter from the noise and activity.
Burbank. as i approach North Hollywood i see the first American Apparel ad of the day, and the disappearance of cyclists. it is 3:00, i have been walking for 8 and a half hours. my pace slows. Lankershim. every time there is a breeze it makes it all worth while. arrive at a place i can recognize for the first time today. walk under a freeway overpass and see the evidence of a pigeon eviction. the ground near the wall is littered with bits of concrete, perhaps blasted from the top of the wall with a high pressure hose. splattered in with the pebbles and dirt are feathers, shit and many smashed eggs. i look up to see a pair of pigeons sitting on their ledge. find lavender and rosemary growing in front of a corporate office building. pick some and keep it in my pocket. Cahuenga is long and winding, i believe that this street will take me through the mountain on a graded and level road. i sit on a strip of grass in front of a car dealership, take off my shoes and try to rest my feet. my entire sole feels bruised and raw, it is not bleeding but feels like it should be. i wonder if it is possible to walk my bone directly through the skin of my sole. every time I stop and rest for a moment, the start up pain of walking is almost so unbearable that I begin to question whether I can continue to walk across the city.
Cahuenga pass is a high speed road without a sidewalk, no space to accommodate a pedestrian safely. not wanting to double back on my course, the only clear path would have been 5 miles back on Cahuenga to Laurel Canyon which also crosses the underrated Hollywood Hills, a continuation of the Santa Monica Mountains. mountain range within a city. i receive an opportunity to honestly dérive and wander with little ability to navigate. i attempt to follow the pass, by walking against traffic in the median separating Cahuenga from the 101 freeway. my footpath is just a curb on the edge of a hill. the slope is towards the freeway, i use the chain link fence to balance and support when my walkway grows impossibly slim. to my right speeding cars. as i emerge from around the bend i see a police car 100 feet ahead, concerned about getting arrested for where i am walking i step into traffic as the light turns from red to green. i hold my hand out in front of cars in a purely symbolic gesture to guard my body and scamper up the sloping intersection.
Mulholland Drive, still has no sidewalks. now more lost than at any other point in this walk. exhausted, my left ankle is strained by the inclines. keeping to the right of the guard rails. taking note of signs with poles bent in the shape of car impact, they still stand at enough height to not necessitate repair. surely at times walking on people’s properties. there is nothing but privately owned houses, and road. after sometime i reach a summit and capture the skyline view, my reward for walking up a mountain. the rest of my journey a descent, passing the Hollywood Bowl overlook, a parking lot full of Starline tour vans, oversized chevy vans with the tops and sides removed except for the driver cab. PA system announces the significance of the sites. i am passed in the street by a handful of vans during my descent. the lack of sidewalk places me in the road with traffic. feeling exhausted, pained, disheveled, and dirty from my last hour of mountain scrambling. i fantasize that the bus driver will explain my presence to the tourists as just one of the many disoriented, and troubled homeless that adorn the city.
Outpost road still descending, a tireless and seemingly unending journey. still without a sidewalk, feeling at the mercy of automobiles. thinking of all the dangers, and deaths that occur in the winding one lane roads of these hills. often the green, blue, black recycling bins occupy the road, so that i must move further into the middle of the lane. the road twists, pregnant with blind turns and corners. cross from side to side to allow myself better sight of the bend and to position myself in a place where i can be seen rather than a surprise to cars speeding around. a harrowing journey. i feel very self-conscious as i stumble and limp past expensive cars and dream homes. because these places have no sidewalks is a very clear non-invitation to the public of the city and it isolates neighbors from each other, as strolling or dog walking are both foolish endeavors.
begging reality to let this road end, for a sidewalk to return. to be somewhere public and pedestrian. a sidewalk is provided, heralding the return of dog walkers and stop signs. i stumbled with a fleeting lightness into Hollywood, once again to a place i can recognize. Franklin. Orange. my gait a shameless limp. exhausted by the pedestrian traffic upon the Avenue of Stars, i cross the street after Grauman’s Theatre. walk south on Highland to Sunset. become unable to calculate the spectacle or record details. Gower. i walk an hour more, concentrating on every step and the agony. waiting for my threshold. i answer a phone call and the distraction makes it easier for me to continue. this is the end of my journey, no longer am i present in the atmosphere of the city. lost in pain, and the disappointment of giving up the goal. to force myself to go further would be vanity and an unintended exercise in masochism. i walk to the Metro Station at Hollywood and Western and take the red line to Downtown.
May 9, 2012
Huntington Drive/Alhambra Blvd
(Most Eastern Point of Los Angeles City Limits)
a man on the train raises out of his seat and lunges at people as they walked down the aisle. after an hour spent in the metro, i pick up my previous path on Hollywood. Thai town emerges and quickly falls away. the sky white at the horizon, disintegrates to blue. today the sun will be my master. boarded up vacant lot. more shops than i can imagine people to shop in. i pass an apocalyptic scene. a partially destroyed and abandoned structure behind a fence. the awning lays beside the building rather than affixed to it. dark forest green with thin red and white stripes. i try to decipher the familiar, what ruined business is this? i pass the front door and see the residue of vinyl letters. Sizzler. mustard and dandelions grow at the base of palm trees. Alexandria. Armenian charter school across from an Armenian church. i think of long aimless walks through suburbs in my youth. often these were days spent with friends in make-believe missions and scenarios and as I grew older, mischief.
i see the nearly Ives Klein blue of the Church of Scientology and walk away from it towards Sunset. Edgemont. walk behind a doctor in green scrubs. Kaiser Permenente owns this street. i buy a double tiered yellow fan of dominican bananas from a street vender, her thanks so full of grace and sincerity. i am moved to say the same, and glad i bought them. walk past fenced in and condemned properties. Hollywood. pass a homeless man with a paper and pen. he is using a newspaper stand as a writing table, i cannot resist the opportunity to mirror him. i stop and take notes. Vermont. an affluent village with a view of the Griffith Observatory. feel repeated surges of adventurousness, must be the good weather. Los Feliz. almost hit by a car while legally crossing the street, all this before a cop. i bemoan the psychological barrier of the car. why not drive the way one walks? with the smell of jasmine my anger wanes.
as i cross over Hillhurst i look south down another endless street. i realize my altitude as hill upon hill disappear into smog. already a dull ache in my left ankle. pine trees line the street in homage to the small forest within the city. apartments and castles with pointed spires atop pink buildings. north are the bungalows. a euphoric taste of jasmine and rose in the still heat, the scents strike in unison with the relief carried by the cool air. 1000 smiles to anyone that plants or maintains aromatic plants. still there are streets like a third world country. potholes and steel bandages. lack of time. lack of resource crossing over the 5 freeway on foot, like standing above rapids or fast moving water. the river a trickle is only 200 feet east of where i stand immobilized above the freeway. vibrations on the concrete bridge. traffic close and behind my back as i face the underfoot traffic in both directions. feeling dynamically pulled into all three streams as the cross currents of air surround my body. relief from the heat bestowed by a freeway.
Seneca. palm trees and power lines. elevated yards fenced in. every address assigned its own palm. the inescapable role of the heat in my day, again releases the scents of roses, cut grass, and plants. just enough breeze to carry fluffy seeds in the air. in-disparate palms rustle like plastic bags. the quiet interrupted periodically by the breaks and ignitions of autos. Glendale. parrots harping, the calls of interlopers in the odd environmental balance. i know what I want to think about LA. it is hard to express what to think about LA. this neighborhood triggers a nostalgic sense of my own childhood spent laying on the lawns of a similar climate. the atmosphere is something i connect to, dry temperate heat and light breezes. an incalculable sense of knowing. snow is exotic. La Clede. Atwater. i follow a dead end perpendicular to the railroad track, to get a better view of a chapel in Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Casitas. the west side of this street are homes in varying degrees of maintenance. one yard is full of partially assembled cardboard boxes and degraded objects. the trash escapes the yard onto the sidewalk and the public lawn. on the fence, a tattered document from the city levying a fee. the east side of the street side-by-side warehouses and indecipherable industry.
distress sinks in as Fletcher drive is bisected by a train track, and the street i follow also dies. resting in the shade I consult the map for the first time today, hoping to find a solution. at the most fortuitous moment, i look up and see a boy behind the fence on the tracks. why it did not immediately occur to me to cross the tracks illegally must be influenced by my failure to conquer Cahunega Pass a week ago. my railroad crossing has all the ambiance of a secret passage. i walk around the corner of the building, and step into the shadows that reveal an opening in the fence. here a man sits upright and unconscious, at his feet more bottles than could be his alone. hoping not to wake him as i pass, i step upon the broken glass that paves the way. i see the original boy peek out from behind another wall. all his mannerisms indicate he is preparing to piss. i cross over the tracks, a joyful short cut. on this side there is cloth and clothing spread out in a clearly methodical installation. the material looks as though it was laid out wet and sun baked hard to the ground. stiff and heavy wrinkles, an odd skin for this environment.
following San Fernando Road. commercial buildings and the large parking lots thin out. the sidewalk ends on the west side of the street. the area along the LA river is now the Metrolink train depo. i continue along the east side. exposed to the elements. no trees, no shade, no benches. a constant flow of semi trucks, and high speed traffic is grating. i walk towards a man smoking in the shade of a red building. i take a break in the same shade. opt to walk on Alice through the neighborhood to Cypress and continue with the hills of East LA as my guide. Ave 26, my turf. a day devoid of benches. i take another break and sit on the sidewalk my back against the wall. i remove the shoe from my left foot and massage my wounded sole. as i sit a short man in his 50′s wearing a straw hat stops and asks what I am doing. he tells me it is unsafe to walk in LA because of the homeless people. even during the day it is unsafe. he brings his hands clasped together to his face and cocks his head, this was a joyful reaction upon discovering that I am a girl. repeatedly he tells me that my short hair made him think i was a boy, that i should have long hair. now that he knows i am a girl he is delighted. says i am beautiful that he will love me and be my boyfriend. unintentional comedic timing, he asks if i am 18. i tell him that i am 26 and already have a partner. he says that my boyfriend can not love me or else he would be here with me now. i am unable to determine if these simplistic expressions are due to a language barrier or if he is just a delusional representative of a past generation.
growing weary of the back handed compliments and instructions i receive from this man. i put my shoe back on and stand up. somewhere in my face it is written i will listen patiently to desperate and lonely people, will be polite even. i attribute this attention to the fact i was raised by a therapist. Broadway is the heart of Lincoln Heights. it is where i do my own shopping. the restaurants, shops and markets are busy all day with families, teenagers, pedestrians both young and old. not the gentrified promenades i walked earlier today but a thriving hispanic neighborhood. buildings never more than three stories high, most maxing out at two. this is not a place people arrive at by car. Pass Lincoln high. end of school day. teenagers everywhere, in blue and white uniforms, we walk the streets together.
Huntington Drive. heat, sun, pain. my ankle directs me towards my goal and away from the freedom of wandering. El Sereno is another world. my impressions here are influenced by the comically steep hills with houses tucked in and sitting atop. the abruptness of these hills remind me of dioramas, fantastical and absurd. the windy dirt roads carved in by tires alone leading up to a mixture of new fine houses and dilapidated shacks with chickens running around the yard. i conclude my walk, i sit at a bus stop awaiting a friend to retrieve me by car. i roll my film to remove it from the camera and from behind me passes a man weighted down with bags, criss-crossed on his back. he is walking in the direction from which i just came and i know he is making my migration in reverse.
Carrie’s walk across Los Angeles is part of an action series called Artist Non Talks, organized with To the Lighthouse, an exhibition at JB Jurve.
Come to JB Jurve Saturday, May 19 from 7 to 9 pm.