The Long Walk
The Secret City on

Features column: Two friends take a 24.6 mile hike from one end of Sunset Boulevard to the other. Here's what they witnessed.

A couple of months ago, my friend Colin told me he had walked the entire length of Sunset Boulevard. Colin said it was a great way to experience the city. I wanted to believe him; I wanted to prove that it was possible to get along and get around without a car, the way I had back in Boston. So I persuaded Colin to do the walk again, and take me with him.

We set out at 7:45 a.m., Monday morning, April 24. We parked our car at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Figueroa Avenue, where Cesar Chavez Avenue ends and Sunset begins. We stocked one small backpack with two sandwiches, two T-shirts, sunscreen, some anti-chafing powder and a couple of tape recorders. The trip was 24.6 miles from the parking lot to the beach. We weren't in a hurry -- our only goal was to make it to the end of Sunset before, well, sunset.

We did it, concluding our day with plenty of aches and pains and far fewer epiphanies. From a pedestrian's point of view, our animated metropolis feels more like a ghost town. Colin and I saw, at most, 250 people who were not inside their cars. One hundred of them were eating at sidewalk cafes. Seventy-five were sitting outside hardware stores waiting for a day's work. Fifteen were in a public park. In a city full of indoor health clubs, only six people were jogging. Pedestrians are invisible here; only one person approached us and started speaking. And guess what? He wanted spare change.

Our second major observation won't shock: Los Angeles is enormous. On one hand, it's remarkable we crossed through so many neighborhoods in a single day. On the other, we skipped downtown, East L.A., South Central and the Valley.

I kept a diary as we crossed town, Eastside to Westside. Here are a few of the highlights.

The Eastside

Breakfast: We stop at the Celaya Panaderia, a bakery near Echo Park Boulevard. We spend $1.90 and purchase four items: a churro , a cuernito, which is a little horn-shaped croissant, and pineapple and apple empanadas. Outside the shop, embedded in the sidewalk, is a bronze plaque honoring Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger baseball player Sandy Koufax. Nearby are plaques for another baseball player, golfers, track and field athletes, and, oddly, a polo player. It turns out we're treading on the Avenue of Athletes, a tribute installed to coincide with the 1984 Olympics.

Signs of Echo Park Gentrification: Near Alvarado Street, we encounter a Starbucks even before we encounter a pool of urine on the sidewalk.

"Obey": At Benton Way, we spot our first "Andre The Giant Has A Posse"-type sticker. San Diego-based graphic artist Shephard Fairey has been producing these non-commercial, Heiddegger-influenced squares for a decade. We'll see scores more Andres of all styles and sizes during our journey.

Blood in the Streets: At Micheltorena Street, outside an auto collision center which has the area's nicest facade, there are blood stains covering a dozen squares of the sidewalk. There are similar stains running for 20-30 feet down the gutter. There are three rubber gloves, two 1,000-milliliter bottles of .9% Sodium Chloride Irrigation USP and also a box for a Tender Absorbent Pad. The proprietor of the business says he doesn't know what happened.

Angelyne on Canvas: At Love Silverlake Home Decor and Gallery near Maltman Avenue there are about 20 acrylic paintings created by Angelyne, the improbable L.A. icon seen on Hollywood billboards. I think Angelyne's Barbie Doll-looking works are flat. Have the words "flat" and "Angelyne" ever been used in the same sentence before?

Short Cut?: We arrive at the MTA subway station at Vermont Avenue and consider boarding. We reconsider when we realize the system doesn't go anywhere near our final destination. Too bad we didn't need a ride to Vermont and Wilshire Boulevard.

Waiting for Work: At 10 a.m., 55 men are gathered on both sides of St. Andrews Place, next to the enormous Hollywood Home Depot. The men are hoping to get a construction job for the day. They wear blue jeans and T-shirts. They sit on waist-high walls. Since we're not driving a pick-up truck, they ignore us as we stroll by.

Motion Pictures: Our first and, surprisingly, only entertainment industry moment. We're in front of Sunset Gower Studios. Extras sit in a holding area under a white tent. A Honey Wagon and other big rigs are parked nearby. We don't encounter any celebrities.

Signs of Hollywood Decay (Abridged): Below a sign that says "No Littering" are paper towels, aluminum foil, a gum wrapper and a Q-Tip. A woman wearing headphones moves a step sideways to avoid a man sitting at a bus stop bench who is rocking back and forth and speaking incoherently. A boarded-up hotel has a marquee announcing, "New Management." Makes us wonder how the place must have looked under the OLD management.

The Westside

Money Talks: We hit the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood and immediately spot a billboard advertising a dot-com company. It's our first of many; even the stickers affixed to backs of street signs turn out to be web site promos.

Sin City: In front of the Hustler Hollywood store, there are handprints of porn stars and pornographers Seka, Ron Jeremy, Larry Flynt, Marilyn Chambers and Al Goldstein. I make a predictable joke: "Thank God they're just HAND prints."

Green Acres: We reach Beverly Hills. The boulevard has morphed into a parkway with a grass median. Trees abut the sidewalk. Intersecting roads have bucolic names such as Elm, Foothill and Mountain. Gardeners whack weeds and mow estate lawns. "I love the smell of fresh cut grass in the afternoon," Colin says.

Will Rogers Memorial Park: There are 15 people here. George Michael is not among them.

Run Me Over, Part I: A man driving a Rolls Royce and cradling a cell phone against his left shoulder arrives at an intersection close to Canon Drive and never looks to his right, where we are standing. Colin walks behind the car; I remain in front. I wave and tap on the car's hood. The driver still won't look. He pulls out and I curse at him. I hope he didn't injure somebody else later.

Run Me Over, Part II: Around Greenway Drive, the sidewalk ends and we're forced to walk through brush and on the road. I turn the tape recorder on, figuring it will serve as an airplane-style "Black Box" in case we're run over. Later, when I play the tape back, onrushing cars sound like gales, and we hear ourselves say "whoa!" more often than a cowboy to a pony on acid.

Delirium: At Beverly Glen Boulevard, I believe I see an ice cream truck and start celebrating. It's a mirage -- there is no such truck. I wonder how do Bedouins walk this distance every day. How do marathoners RUN it?

Star Maps: By Hilgard Avenue and the UCLA campus, we chat with a Star Map salesman. He says he sells 10-15 of the $8 maps on an average day. He says he can do 20 on a good weekend day. We talk with two other Star Map vendors who say they sell only five maps per day. This must be a prime spot.

Run Me Over, Redux: I can't believe this; someone almost crashes into me again, this time a woman in a Jaguar near Bristol. Like the guy in the Rolls, she never bothers to look to her right. After another series of swears, I mention the fact that our three close calls (a blue BMW convertible almost clipped Colin back in WeHo) all occurred on the Westside and involved luxury cars. Is there some socioeconomic correlation or is this mere coincidence?

Sadness: For all our melodramatic talk about death, here is the real thing. We stop to look at what appears to be a roadside memorial for a child named Sean Hartley Francis. A bouquet of flowers and a photograph of a boy make up the tribute. Colin and I look at each other and move on in silence.

Pain: Colin has a blister and it's bothering him. My right heel feels horrible. We come to Topanga State Park at Temescal Canyon Road and Colin comments about our progress, "This is our last leg!" Limping like a zombie from a horror film, I say, "No sh--!"

Nice Digs: Ten minutes later we arrive at The Self-Realization Fellowship's Lake Shrine. This is an enormous compound with features such as a building shaped like a windmill and a pond with abnormally green-colored water. This is the second Fellowship venue we've encountered today; the first was back in East Hollywood near Edgemont Street, next to L. Ron Hubbard Way and the Church of Scientology.

The End: At 5:50 p.m. we cross PCH and make our way to the sand. I am so tired I forget to kiss the ground the way the Pope does. There are a lot of tourists around and I consider kissing one of them. Colin and I take off our sneakers and wade into the ocean. Colin's open cuts get mixed with salt water and I find that my right big toe has a blood blister the approximate size and shape of a human heart. No matter, though, because we've made it 24.6 miles! Colin and I walk into Gladstone's 4 Fish and at his urging, I purchase him a beer.

We clink glass against bottle. Colin grins. "Next time," he says, "I buy."

"That's funny," I say. "Now, let's walk back home."