We are on day 10 of a Level 4 lockdown in Auckland because of the outbreak of the Delta variant. By now, a Covid-19 lockdown is a familiar routine. Huddle down, set up the home office and sort out things to do to keep the mind occupied.
Walking seems to be an activity that calms everyone down, and I was thinking back to my walk home from work in Los Angeles. Hardly anyone walks in LA – everyone drives, but I was wary of driving there. In fact, I was downright terrified. Negotiating the DMV to get my license, switching to Left Hand Drive, the traffic on the freeways, the crazy drivers and the drama and complications of insurance if you had an accident.
So I walked everywhere and took the Metro and buses. LA actually has a pretty good public transport system, although half the city doesn’t know about it. When I finally got a job, amazingly it was in nearby Burbank, only about 4kms from my home in North Hollywood. However, it was an awkward location as I lived in LA county, but Burbank is its own city, so the public transport didn’t link up.
I thought I could scooter until I discovered Burbank doesn’t allow scooters in its boundaries, (can’t have scooter hoodlums in Burbank!) so after riding a Lime all the way there, I had to turn around and head back over the border back into LA county. I wondered why it kept beeping at me!
I tried cycling until I discovered the shitty LA roads eat tires for breakfast. They also have these evil thorns scattered about seemingly designed to destroy tires, so after five or six punctures, I gave up on that.
Eventually, I settled into routine of getting an Uber in the morning and walking home in the evenings. The brilliant thing about LA is it hardly ever rains and Burbank is mostly flat, tree-lined streets.
The morning Uber was my one indulgence. I felt like a movie star, strolling out of the house into my waiting car (although usually a silver Prius not a black SUV!) LA drivers are always chatty, and once they heard my Kiwi accent we’d launch in to the ‘where are you from’ routine. Hardly anyone in LA is from LA, and for most people Uber was a side hustle, so it was an interesting mix of actors, dancer and stand-ups trying to break into the film industry.
The industry dominates Burbank. My office was next door to Burbank Studios and directly across the freeway from Warner Bros and we looked out on the hill which was the backside to the Hollywood sign. Universal Studios was down the road and I could see the Harry Potter castle when I crossed the road to work. It always felt a little like a giant movie set.
I only worked until five but by by the time Thanksgiving came about it was already dark in the evenings. I’d pop on my hoodie, plug in my earphones and listen to an audible book as I walked home.
After I wandered past the Warner Bros Ranch where they filmed the Partridge Family and the Friends’ fountain lives, I ambled down the long tree-lined streets that have featured in so many shows, which also fed the illusion of being on a film set. When Halloween was close, all the homes were decorated with skeletons and cobwebs, which merged into pumpkins for Thanksgiving, then reindeer and Santa for Christmas. Pumpkin spice seemed to be a permanent scent in the air from Thanksgiving onwards.
Because I knew I was only there for a limited time, I often stopped and absorbed the environment around me. If I close my eyes now I can feel those calm, cool evenings, listening to Jane Eyre, wandering beneath the trees in the darkness until I emerged back onto the noise and hustle of West Magnolia Boulevard.
One night, I met up with a friend around midnight at Bob’s Big Boy and we wandered hand in hand beneath the trees and along empty streets back to my place. They showed me the cool places that looked like the Brady Bunch house or other TV shows, and it was like having the city to ourselves so late at night. It seems dreamlike now, I had worn new sandals and by the time I got home, I had bleeding blisters but I didn’t say anything because I wanted to keep walking, so I have little scars on my feet to remind me of that evening.
Life is so transitory; that moment and time will never come again. My friend and I have lost touch and that was the before time. An ocean and a pandemic lies between then and now. For all the energy and buzz of LA, those quiet walks home are what I miss the most in some ways. It’s never the things you expect that stay with you. I never thought walking quietly home in the dark would be my favourite memory from living in LA, but there it is. Life is odd that way.