I make a concerted effort to walk these days, testing the LA pavement with each weary step. The streets are dirty and unfamiliar, but it’s the best way to learn how the city breathes and moves, ebbs and flows. I usually drive around town, which doesn’t give you much of a sense of how the street feels at ground level. With driving, it’s almost like you’re flying over some speck of a town in an airplane, the minutia of everyday life dissolved into a solitary dot on the landscape. You don’t concern yourself with your immediate surroundings, but rather what’s going on in front of you, and behind you. But, given the currently obnoxiously high gas prices, I prefer to hoof it nowadays.
Walking can very nearly be surreal at times. It forces you to notice or face things you normally wouldn’t or would just as soon ignore. You are forced to acknowledge the harsh realities of the urban world; the cracks in the sidewalks; the junk piled up against buildings; toothless bums on dirty street corners, howling to some unseen entity for forgiveness. The prayers fall on deaf ears and hence, go unanswered. “I’m no saint,” I want to say these poor, wretched, hollow souls, “I can offer no salvation.”
Walking makes you face your own mortality in a way. As you pass the lurkers and the workers and the single mothers with kids hanging off of every possible extremity, it dawns on you that no matter how different you are from these people, they are no worse, no better. We’re all pretty much the same. They share concerns about the same things, but maybe have less time to dwell on them. “I worry about the environment and high taxes,” their faces seem to be saying. “Just not right now. Just not right now.”
You can see the pain in the contorted confines of concerned faces; struggling towards hope, grasping at some sense of purpose and deluding themselves into denying the immediacy of death. It almost makes you wonder: how many failures, how many glowing successes and disappointments, highs and lows can one soul take before it all dissipates into one general and all-encompassing concern for general humanity?
We are all like ghosts, I suppose. But we can all see and hear and feel each other. And we walk amongst each other as apparitions, spectral shadows, eyes cast downward nobly disregarding each other, politely damning one another to ignorance of self. But we trudge ever onward, through the dirt and the smog and the garbage towards those golden arches…of McDonald’s.