Thursday, February 16, 2012

My LA: A Convenient Escape

IN MANHATTAN BEACH, California, about five minutes from the actual ocean waves, over-priced boutiques (My friend Remington works at a particularly pricey one and often comes home bragging about the "great deal" she got on a $300 dress because it was on sale), and toddlers with their nannies and bellies full of ice cream and candy from the local candy shop, there is a trail known as Veteran's Parkway. I have been familiar with this trail for some time, as I have been babysitting two boys in the area for three years now, and I regularly walk their gray Labrador, Mika, on the trail. Walking down Veteran's Parkway, or Manhattan Parkway as it was called until changed somewhat recently to Veteran's, has always been a relaxing and peaceful experience for me, despite the hyper-activity of the dog to my side. When I see another dog approaching, I prepare myself. It requires control and awareness, and I am lucky if I see another dog before Mika does. I wrap the leash around my wrist three times, so if somehow she jerks away too quickly in excitement, at least my arm will come out of its socket before I loose her to the 21 acre long trail. I move her to the opposite side of the approaching dogs in order to avoid a miniature riot on an otherwise peaceful trail. As I do so, I usually smile at the dog walkers. I'm from Texas, and we smile at everyone, say thank you no matter what, hold open doors, and call people "sir" and "ma'am" even if they insist that we don't because it makes them feel old. But the people on the trail usually do not acknowledge my friendly greeting. Maybe they are too rushed and are afraid I will try to start a conversation, or maybe they just do not care. Either way, having a "moment" of genuine and casually friendly human interaction on the trail is rare. Somehow, though, that is okay and neither a good nor a bad thing.

Despite the somewhat hectic and busy nature of Manhattan Beach, there is something tranquil about Veteran's Parkway. Instead of being twenty minutes from civilization or existing as a place that you have to drive to in order to reach, this trail cuts right through an entire road in a neighborhood right off of Sepulveda Boulevard, creating plateau of saw dust, flowers, grass, trees, and the occasional palm trees. Drinking fountains, "for dogs and their human companions" are ubiquitous, probably due to the fact that this is the only park in the city where leashed dogs are allowed. But that doesn't stop there from being signs stating that all dogs must be leashed according to Manhattan beach law accompanying the water fountains and dense foliage. The air smells of saw dust and if you accidentally stumble on your way, you will kick up a cloud of dust that disappears into the air like mist. Even on days when it's cold, the sun always shines on Veteran's Parkway, and it somehow becomes impossible to be cold. I consistently begin my walk with a sweatshirt or jacket of some kind, and end up shedding it in frustration halfway through as the warm California sun engulfs the trail in a lazy, relaxing heat.

The people that I have seen on the trail are not what one would expect. I've seen an old man walking with a cane, jogging housewives, young girls walking with their iPods, elementary school children on a run for P.E., and, most commonly, the dog walkers. The dog walkers travel with up to six dogs of all different sizes on leashes of different lengths, somehow managing to keep the dogs from nipping each other or getting tangled up in a heap of fur and paws. The dogs are not concerned with the joggers that pass by as Mika is. Maybe they are desensitized to seeing other humans because they are walked everyday on the same trail by the same person, or maybe they are more concerned with each other. Either way, just as I don't interact with the joggers and passers by, neither do the dog walkers with their army of dogs.

I see this trail as a convenient escape. It's not an experience of complete isolation in nature, wherein one packs up a picnic basket and a days worth of water to escape the mundane and routine frequencies of life, and it does not pose as such. It's right in the middle of the city and it is not trying to be anywhere else. The green, thick leaves that line the sides do not hide the fact that there are speeding cars on either side the trail, crossing guards at the corner where the street cuts through it, or houses with their balconies and busy gardeners overlooking it. Instead, the trail is apart of the neighborhood as anything else, and although I have only walked Mika for about an hour, in that time I can make my way from the edge of Sepulveda to the downtown skate park adjacent to a McDonald's and within a visible distance from the beach.

I have grown up familiar with cities such as Austin, Texas where everything is spread out and not as easily accessible at once. I don't think that many other cities besides Los Angeles can boast about being within walking distance of so may different venues, eateries, and opportunities for activities. For me, Los Angeles has been an escape from a place where not much happens to a place where everything seems to happen all at once. Compared to other parts of Texas, Austin is arguably very hip and not the image of cows and barren land that comes to mind of non-Texans when they picture it, but it is still nothing like Los Angeles. I like to be in the center of everything, where all of the action, fun, and opportunities for such are. Veteran's Parkway is almost like a walking tour of those aspects of this part of L.A.--I walk from the edge of the highway to the skate park, passing beautiful beach adjacent houses, boutiques, and an array of citizens. I do not necessarily have a destination. I am just cutting through this part of everyday Los Angeles life that might seem commonplace to some, but that is fascinating and full of action to me.

-- Caroline Queen
photo credit: Caroline Queen

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