On a noisy street west of the Harbor Freeway, a man called Chief walks to clear his mind.
James Enox--known by most of his neighbors only as Chief--was forced to stop driving after some hoodlums pummelled him a while back. They fractured his skull and he has had blackouts ever since. So now he walks, sometimes for miles, all the way from Vermont and Manchester avenues to 7th Street and Broadway.
"I just can't sit and dry up. I walk to keep alive," said Chief, an old man in a fedora, dapper in stripes and suspenders.
Chief does not walk alone. In a city known for its symbiosis with the automobile--and, more recently, for the kind of random street-side violence that befell Enox--there are still many people who travel by foot, by choice or necessity, along the sands of Santa Monica beach, through the streets of Central Los Angeles, in the canyons of the South Bay.
Some of these walkers say a stroll through Los Angeles reminds them of country summers and child's play, of a time when their bones didn't ache so much and they didn't have to work so hard. Others walk to forget--that they are jobless, hungry or alone. Some walk because it gives a sense of community--they sometimes connect with those they otherwise might never meet. Or, they say it reunites them with nature, offering a sense of solitude in the midst of millions.
This being Southern California, there are legions of fitness buffs, their ranks at the vanguard of what some people maintain is a genuine, if hardly novel, trend: Walking.
"What's happened with walking is kind of like a quiet storm," said Jake Steinman, editor and publisher of City Sports magazine. "It's not like running where you have a few people at the top. This is really an activity that's worked its way into the mainstream."
Fifty-thousand Southern Californians chose to walk to work rather than drive last year, a number that should increase as employers and transportation officials advocate alternative means of commuting, said Peter Hidalgo of the Commuter Transportation Services, which promotes and develops new commuting concepts.
Carol Luttrell, an Echo Park real estate agent, said many of her clients desire homes in neighborhoods where they can feel safe walking: "I know a couple," she said, "who, before they do anything--before they make dinner, before they take their shoes off and put their feet up on the coffee table--they pick their children up from the baby-sitter and take them out for a walk."
Barbara Cadow, a USC psychology professor, said the stress of city living and the need to connect with fellow travelers is driving people to the sidewalks.
"When you're in your car, you tend to fade out," Cadow said. "You're very isolated. . . . When you're walking you notice the smells, the temperature, the breeze."
Pedestrian numbers are hard to come by. No one is in charge of counting sidewalk traffic. But trust your eyes: It's not difficult at any hour, in any corner of the city to find serious walkers.
In South-Central Los Angeles, men stroll the streets in the late afternoon and meet for a moment of laughter and camaraderie on a bustling corner.
In the Fairfax District, the air sweet with the smell of fresh fruit and baked bread, giggling children and bustling shoppers stream up and down the street--an elderly man named L.G. among them, dispensing wisdom to a passerby as he does his morning shopping.
Across town in the Glendale Galleria, a collection of elderly men and women gather as early as 7:30 a.m. many days for brisk walks through the mall, the center's carpeted walkways and thick walls separating them from the smog and crime some fear lurks outside.
Some evenings, just before sundown, a group of professionals can be seen hiking deep into the hills of Palos Verdes, until the McDonald's and mini-malls below disappear. Only five miles of mountain trails remain.
"People have always walked in Los Angeles," said Robert Greene, director of education for the Los Angeles Conservancy, which provides walking tours of downtown Los Angeles for about 20,000 people a year. "What they haven't done in the last few decades is walk from one area to another. This is what we are trying to do, not just introduce tourists to parts of Los Angeles, but introduce ourselves."
Of course, there are some people too afraid to walk in Los Angeles at all, even in their own neighborhood and especially at night. A Times Poll in February showed that only a slim majority--55%--of Los Angeles County residents are not afraid to walk. Broken down geographically, the poll results showed a growing fear citywide about walking after sundown--42% of the Westside respondents, 41% in the San Gabriel Valley, 57% in Central Los Angeles.