I Tried Walking in Los Angeles for a Week

What it’s like hoofing it in the car-centric city

06.28.16

You know that scene in Annie Hall when, prompted by Annie’s very far-off parking job, Alvy jokes, “Don’t worry. We can walk to the curb from here”? In LA, is it really a joke?

No. One of the most cliché-for-a-reason phenomena about living in LA is that people truly do not walk. There have been days, according to my phone’s “Health” app, where I maxed 200 steps.

This is nuts. It’s especially jarring after living in New York, but it’s a fact, and shortly after moving here I ceased to even notice it. A year and a half later, this realization so disgusted me that I inflicted a set of rules upon myself for one week — the main one being that I wasn’t allowed to drive.

But speaking of things that are nuts: LA is exceptionally large, and knowing that my friends would have likely had nothing to do with me that week if they, too, were not allowed to be in cars, I allowed myself to ride with people to things, so long as I would’ve involved myself in that activity with that person anyway. Also, they had to be the ones driving. I was also allowed two solo Uber rides over the course of the week.

The final rule of this walking project was a little more meaningful and mindful: I had to spend as much of the walking time as possible practicing walking meditation.

Much like every other form of meditation, the walking kind is difficult. But in a weird way because — unlike silent, sitting meditation, wherein your objective is, in loose terms, to bat away or let go of the plods of stuff your own brain ceaselessly creates, chews, churns, throws at you — the point shifts to evading distractions that the outside world throws at you. The goal is to allow your thought process to shift toward the sensations brought on by movement.

On Sunday, I *walked* to my curb, only to be picked up by my friend Tyler, who drove us about eight feet down the block for to-go coffees from Winsome — though to “save up” my walking, I waited in the car while he ran in. We then went to the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, where we *walked* for several hours through stimulating, consuming and exquisite environments like a proper rose garden and a Bonsai tree zoo. We got a little bit day drunk by accident — good thing I’m not driving — then walked up some stairs for oysters. For dinner I went to a sushi place by my house and eventually made my way — though by friend and not foot — to a Game of Thrones party comprised of my friends in their sweatpants.

I probably would have walked the same amount whether or not I was doing this walking project.

On Monday, I strapped on a pair of very funny and flat vintage Prada sandals and was off like a herd of sloth to get a cup of coffee…but I live with my best friend, Nathan, and he was driving to work so he dropped me off because, you know, LA.

I’m lucky in that I can work from “wherever” so today I worked from the cafe. Later, I canceled plans with friends who don’t leave their neighborhoods or don’t drive, then walked to Ostrich Farm for dinner at the bar and spent the night with friends and their cars. Total walking time was about an hour and a half, most of which was spent semi-meditating.

Tuesday began with an hour-long coffee and water excursion. Since it was a work morning, I produced enough stress hormones to entirely negate the benefits of walking meditation. Caffeine nailed the coffin shut. And since it was day three, I’d become wise enough to carry two bags, like a camel: a satchel plus a tote filled with the former contents of my car (a gallon of water, a computer, KIND Bars), and to wear sneakers. I was grounded that night (again, self-inflicted), but took a break from work to walk alongside — and faster than — Dodger’s Stadium traffic as it snailed along Sunset. This felt like a cool way to really stick it to an LA cliché. Total walking time was about three hours, most of which was spent yelling over street sounds into my phone and not meditating.

On Wednesday, I walked to pick up coffee and then to CVS for water, and it took forty very long minutes. If I’m one thing, it’s honest, so full disclosure, I big-time cheated on Wednesday and used my car for two work-related excursions. I also stopped to pick up lunch — sue me. But then I dutifully returned my car to my house, worked and later walked for an hour and a half on Sunset. I passed things like The Olive Motel (infamous for murder!) and a lot of ramen slingers while on my way to Cafe Stella.

I’d intended to walk to the warm, ancient, very French lounge that we were going to afterwards, but my friends have cars and I am, as you may have realized by this point, lazy. Total walking time was about two hours, but had I not cheated, I would “literally” still be walking.

On Thursday, after getting a ride from Winsome to my house, which is literally on the same block, I had intended to pick up an ice cream cake on Sunset Boulevard to give to my friend for his birthday. Have you ever carried an ice cream cake, on foot, in the summer? I did not pick up the ice cream cake.

I DID walk to dinner later to meet Nathan — and his car — all the while blissfully avoiding the Health app. Total walking time was probably half an hour.

On Friday, we were scheduled to shoot for this story but the car, in a fit of irony, wouldn’t turn on. We rescheduled. Normal work day resumed. Later I went to a performance — by way of Tyler’s car — at Maccarone Gallery. We tried to walk to the LA river after but couldn’t find it, so we got dinner and then fell asleep on the patio of a bar, next to our friends, and never walked home. I probably took 100 steps that day and tried to cheat.

On Saturday I walked to lunch, then drove to The Grove with Tyler. We *walked* around, and later, again by car, went to Cecconi’s for a drink. People meet there to have affairs and/or talk business over long, flavorless breadstick-crackers, crudités and pastel-toned cocktails served in stemmed crystal glasses. We then drove downtown for dinner with friends, went out in Silver Lake and didn’t walk home. Walking mostly only occurred between parking spots and destinations — but it was the weekend.

The week drew to a close. I learned that walking meditation, when practiced outside of a designated arena like the Shambhala Center in New York (where I learned to do it) and instead amidst murder motels and garbage, is more difficult — yet still effective. I have very severe anxiety and this week it wasn’t so bad. Which means the rumors proved to be true: meditation and exercise, even of the mild variety, are good for you.

Two more suspicions confirmed: a person really cannot get around by foot in this city, and I am very lazy.

And yet, as I write this three weeks later, I still haven’t had my car fixed. Life by foot, Uber, boy and friends has lifted the sense of isolation that I once struggled with and assumed came with the territory of living in LA. I much prefer living here without a car and I am, it turns out, happy to walk to the curb from here.

Follow Alexandra Malmed on Instagram, @alexandramalmed. Photographed by Katie McCurdy. Check out her website and follow her on Instagram @katiemccurdy_

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