But this is not L.A. So, I’m walking every street in Santa Monica. Every last one. Also every avenue, boulevard, court, drive, dead end, dead man’s curve, cul-de-sac, circle, way, roundabout (we have a couple that pretend to be, but aren’t), lane, terrace, place. No alleys. (That’s a whole different trip. Maybe later.)
And since I’m a music guy, of course I have my walking soundtrack.
“I’m Walkin’,” “Walk This Way,” “Walk Like a Man/an Egyptian,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Walking on Sunshine/Broken Glass/the Moon,” “Walk on By,” “Walk Right Back,” “Walk Away,” “Walk Away Renee,” “Walk—Don’t Run,” “Walkin’ the Dog” (I don’t, but it seems like the rest of Santa Monica does), “Walkin’ Blues” and of course, “Walking in L.A. (Nobody Walks in L.A.).”
What device do I use? My iPod, iPhone? Walkman? Boombox on my shoulder? (Hey, I’m old school.)
No. Nothing, actually. It’s fun to see how many great songs there are about walking (that’s just my short list, above). But I decided at the beginning of this project that I wouldn’t listen to music while I’m doin’ the stroll.
Tunes off to tune in
There seems to be lots of people who can’t walk to the bathroom without being plugged in to their sounds. I’ve never rock and rolled that way. Because I value music infinitely and supremely, I like it upfront of everything, being able to listen with focus and without interruption. Listening in the car is almost perfect for that. Background music? An oxymoron. That says I’m not really listening. Do I ever? Yes, sometimes, and it’s often classical. (Don’t read too much into that.)
But even if you consider yourself a great multi-tasker, everything that’s input demands some attention and has to be subtracted from your 100 percent. I have two goals when I walk: to observe what I see around me, and to take advantage of the time and isolation to be able to think.
Before I started I wondered if I shouldn’t have some specific goals in place: comparisons of architecture, landscaping, trees, neighborhoods, traffic and pedestrian flow, business groupings. But that looked like it would mean consistent areas of focus and note-taking and follow-up, and I wanted to just see what showed up, that I might not even imagine at the beginning. Not so much that I was looking for some grand scheme to reveal itself, but that I wanted to be open to whatever came my way.
And I knew that when my thoughts weren’t on what was slowly passing before me, I’d have plenty of time to think about other things. Sometimes there’s something personal that is pressing, and it’s great to have a long stretch of time to be able to sort things out. Other than that, I have a couple of books I’m working on and this is the perfect opportunity to ruminate and let structure and characters reveal themselves.
I had an initial fear that repetition and boredom would torpedo this effort, but after 75 “map trips” out (I mark my route each time with colored markers on a map so I’ll know when I’ve finally covered every single street), everything’s cool. Oh sure, there are some times I have to force myself out the door to get that exercise, but who hasn’t?
So at this point I can say with assurance that this was a good idea, and I recommend it to anyone. We all need that alone time, and most of us have to make a real effort to find it. With a routine like this, it’s built in, while you get your exercise, fresh air, walking tour, sunshine and cool sea breezes. Ah, Santa Monica. Don’t try this in Duluth.
Sippin’ wine with the guru
Of course I didn’t invent this, and I finally got to hang out with my guru! My inspiration for walking with this particular methodology was the one and only Mr. Blatz. Berkeley Blatz has been a legendary figure at Santa Monica High School for a quarter of a century. Ask any student who has taken a class from him, ask them 10 or even 20 years after the fact: no one forgets Mr. Blatz.
I’d be surprised if the numbers who rate him an exceptional teacher aren’t in at least the 80th to 90th percentile (you can’t please everyone), certainly among what you might call good students.
Mr. Blatz (it’s hard not to call him that, based on my daughter’s knowing him that way, and all her friends, and besides, he just has that demeanor that commands a Mr.) is on his sixth circumnavigation-by-foot of Santa Monica, so I pestered him to meet with me to share his walking wisdom.
That was just an excuse. I really just wanted to get to know him a little better. No real artifice intended; you can’t fool Mr. Blatz. But when we finally convened in the lounge atop the roof of the Shangri-La Hotel, with views all the way to Catalina or maybe Hawaii, I was surprised that three-fourths of our conversation was about music, a wide range of music, and not walking.
One of Mr. Blatz’ fortes is the piano, and for some years he has been accompanying individual talented singers at the school, working up enough material with each to be able to go into local hotel lounges that have pianos (fewer and fewer, he said) and run through a couple of sets of jazz and pop standards. I’ve not heard him play but I’m familiar with some of the singers he’s worked with, and they are really good. But most concentrated on choir director Jeffe Huls’ ensemble programs, and I’m sure it was an empowering experience for those young singers to step out on their own and see how they could command a room solo. Yes, walking is only one of many activities Berkeley Blatz pursues with excellence and a unique style.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org