When I was 16, my first car, an ancient Oldsmobile convertible, was stuck for days in a rural Indiana snowbank. It was then I decided the ideal lifestyle must include walking to work.
But that perfect commute didn't materialize until I joined the Los Angeles Times 27 years and 6 months ago and moved to Bunker Hill a mere six blocks away. I've walked to work ever since. It's quick (10 minutes), cheap (zero cost, unless you count shoe leather), improves my health and soothes my soul.
"Even in the rain?" incredulous suburbanites ask with a shudder.
Especially in the rain.
Those traffic-clogged, oil-slick streets look dangerous to me, and I feel safer sloshing down the hill on foot. An assortment of very large umbrellas and seamless rubber boots keep me dry, and I'm usually the first person to get into the office.
"Well, what about the heat?" comes the other question. Caught by the recent Santa Ana winds without any of my usual wide-brimmed hats or even sunscreen, I pulled the spare umbrella from under my desk and walked slowly up the hill home in 102-degree heat. There was no fear of any air conditioner overheating any engine.
After years of trial and error, assorted stuff is now carried in a combination purse and briefcase that works like a backpack. The boarding over of Hill Street for subway construction in 1990 was death to high heels. So I finally switched to flats for commuting and keep the heels at the office.
"Oh, you're so lucky," naysayers may finally concede. Not luck. Design. And paying the necessary price--not in dollars but in downtown's smaller living space.
The short walk helps me make the mental transition from home to work and to unwind at day's end. Like all commuters, I run errands occasionally--go to the post office in the morning or pick up fast food at Central Market on the way home--but with nary a worry about finding a place to park. If I need a special antidote for stress, I take a longer route home or spend a quarter and ride up Bunker Hill on my beloved Angels Flight.
And no, the commute is not lonely. Contrary to those who decry the lack of foot traffic in Los Angeles, the downtown streets do teem with people--mostly getting on or off buses and walking from parking lots to offices or courts.
Lawyers, judges, clerks I haven't seen since I covered courts years ago, and neighbors I see only on the elevator, often stop to chat.
One special morning, a little old man approached me, materializing almost out of the blue and later receding into the misty marine air like a figure from Brigadoon. He held out his hand, proffering something, and said: "This is the only flower on Bunker Hill, and I think you should have it."
Commuting on foot can make even gargantuan Los Angeles seem like a small town.
Distance: 6 blocks
Time: 10 minutes