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Reflections on walking

July 26, 2008|Diana Wagman

An occasional series on getting from here to there.

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I walk a lot. An hour a day is standard rain or shine, and I never take my cellphone, so it is great thinking time. I can almost convince myself -- and my husband -- that I'm not just walking, I'm working. I am planning, figuring things out. And it makes my dog happy.

From where I live, it takes me five minutes to drive to wonderful Elysian Park surrounding Dodger Stadium. Fern Dell in Griffith Park is 15 minutes by car. Dog-poop central, Runyon Canyon, is only 20 minutes. And Fryman Canyon, off Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the Valley, is half an hour, depending on traffic.

I used to divide my time among these places, putting the dog in the back of the car and driving to wherever I most felt like walking. I laughed as I drove by health clubs and saw people trudging on the treadmill. Sure you could shower afterward, but you never got anywhere.

Then gasoline got so darn expensive. Suddenly even Griffith Park was an issue. If I had to get in my car and drive, I might as well join a health club and pay to walk. Then I realized, from my 'hood I'd have to drive 20 minutes to the closest gym. I'd be paying twice and still have to come home and exercise the dog.

Finally it dawned on me. What if I walked from home? Out my door and then kept going? True, walking through my eclectic neighborhood would not be as beautiful as a park hike, but it would definitely reduce my carbon footprint and my gas money. And so, one morning, I left my car keys in the house and headed out. I had to tug Bo, looking confused, past the car's hatchback door. But then she was happy sniffing the new smells and peeing on my neighbors' fence posts.

The only problem was the hills. I live at the bottom of the steepest hill in Los Angeles. And there is no way to get from my house to Elysian Park without huffing up a couple of slopes that would be black diamonds at a ski resort. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but I quickly broke a sweat. Still, that was what this was all about, right? And then there were all the new things I began to see and do. After 12 years, I met "new" neighbors. I noticed changes in plantings and home improvements. I realized the house with the yard filled with junk had a method to the madness: round objects in one corner, animal items in another.

Tuesdays became especially interesting. Wednesday is trash day, and Tuesdays the scavengers were always out. Recycling Rooters looking for cans and bottles in the blue bins; Metal Men throwing any scrap tin, aluminum or metal into pickup trucks; and the more general Trash Pickers.

I came to know two women by sight, an older Asian woman with beautiful gray hair and a Latina who might be younger than I am and, from her interest in toys and stuffed animals, a mother and maybe a grandmother. I passed them each Tuesday at roughly the same place and time. We said hello and how're you doing? The Latina commented on Bo's summer haircut.

Not long ago, as I looped back toward home, I saw a full-length mirror leaning up against a trash can. It was in perfect shape with a price tag on the back from IKEA. My teenage daughter had been asking for a mirror. I picked it up and began to carry it home. The first person I encountered was my Asian friend.

"You got that mirror," she said to me. "I thought it looked good."

"For my daughter," I replied.

We talked for a moment about the surprising things people throw away. We looked at ourselves in the mirror and laughed, me with my dog, her with her shopping cart. And then, when I was almost home, I ran into the young grandmother.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "I looked at that!" She seemed a little wistful.

"For my daughter," I said again.

She looked happier, nodded, and wished me God's grace for my children. I lugged the mirror the rest of the way home feeling just a little bit fortunate that gas prices got so high.

Diana Wagman, a Cal State Long Beach professor, is the author of the novels "Skin Deep," "Spontaneous" and "Bump."

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