Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

6/03/2014

Parading Los Angeles

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, I've heard about the Big Parade, a crazy (at least to non hikers like me) 35-ish mile walk through secret stairs, pedestrian walkways and passages throughout the city led by author Dan Koeppel.

When I first heard it, the couch potato in me said, "No way!" Eventually, I realized my instinctive reaction was like the first spray of cold water hit your body on a sweltering summer day. It was shocking, unpleasant, but exactly what you needed.

Grand Park's water feature is cool in the summer.
This year, I resolved to wake up and get myself to the hike. With my knee problem, I knew I couldn't make it through all 35 miles, but I could at least see how far I could go. It turns out, it was a lot farther than I had thought.

I walked only 5 miles of the route, from Grand Park to the Japanese American National Museum, through El Pueblo, Chinatown, past Dodger Stadium up to Lincoln Heights, but the little bit I experienced was exhilarating.

An opportunity to photograph these gates!
Thien Hau, a Taoist temple I've never noticed.
Every few steps, the city around me changed. The familiar Little Tokyo facades gave way to golden dragons of Chinatown, then brick buildings of El Pueblo, and eventually a more industrial Lincoln Heights. The streets that I blithely drive by took on new life, when savored slowly, step by step.

Freeway entrance and pedestrians walking by.
It was hot, yes (thank goodness for sunblock), but the ever-changing city before me was a good distraction. Before I knew it, I looked behind me as we trudged up a hill to see downtown Los Angeles's skyscrapers spread out under me. "I climbed that far!" I thought. "Wow, I did that."

Downtown Los Angeles laid out before me.
There were more than a hundred hikers that came out that day, petering in and out as their schedules dictated. Though, I knew one friend, Patricia, would be around, what I didn't realize was that I'd have the chance to get to know more people as we plodded the city.

Friends (old and new) on the hike. 
Just in that five-mile stretch, I met John, who flew from Berkeley to walk in the parade; Dean, whose brother helped developed the Klingon language; David, who came from New Mexico; Steve, who administers a running newsletter of more than 500 subscribers; and Harvey, who is working to increase awareness of New Deal projects around the country. Everyone I met seemed to be involved in something intriguing. Each new conversation was a tantalizing glimpse into someone's passions.

In his 2010 article for Backpacker, Koeppel writes:
As I explored L.A. on foot, something happened. I found myself falling in love with the city in a way I'd never imagined. I saw it as a backpacker sees an endangered wilderness--on the brink of ecological disaster, yet full of potential. I wanted people to see the hillsides as I do, with a sort of X-ray vision that could peer through the houses and development and expose the naked chaparral. I wanted them to see the stairways as I did, not as artifacts, but as arteries. Their number and health increase the city's quality of life, which I'd begun to measure, more and more, as directly related to how much foot travel is possible, and beautiful, and enjoyed by many. I wanted people to see the city as a hiker might. To see a city with a future. 
Not only did I see a city full of promise, but people sharing in that optimism. I didn't have enough muscle strength this year to do the whole run, but there's always a next year.

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