Tired Of Your Neighborhood Walk? Try Someone Else's
I bought a ticket on a whim. Because I miss people. I wasn't even sure what an audio tour was, but I hoped the act of going somewhere -- anywhere -- might stimulate the part of my brain that currently feels like the shriveled heirloom tomato I planted in April, with such high hopes.
"A Walk In My Neighborhood" delivered, with a hyper local/hybrid theater approach. The piece isn't a traditional play. This was more like a performance piece + guided tour + art project + interactive podcast, all in one.
Creator Katie Lindsay calls it an "audio walk experience." And it's a testament to artistic resourcefulness.
Artists have had to find all manner of creative outlets during the coronavirus pandemic. Like Zoom magic shows, or writing letters to people as a ghost, or using every social media tool in existence. But Katie wanted to do something uniquely her own.
I parked near a residential Atwater Village intersection on the dirty-gray morning of my tour, ready to be inspired. A masked 20-something was waiting with a clipboard.
She checked my name off a list, directed me to cross the street, and told me to put on/in my headphones. I hit play on the pre-downloaded Spotify playlist that came with my ticket. A warm female voice began to vibrate in my earbuds:
Hello, friend. Welcome to a walk in my neighborhood.
If you don't know me, I'm Katie.
I invited you here because this walk is the way I feel connected. And how I reconnect when the insanity of the world we live in feels too much to bear.
I invited you here because I miss you.
I didn't know Katie, but she felt familiar. Like an old friend I knew from college but hadn't talked to in a while.
I followed her directions and began to walk down the block, passing single-family homes, drought-plagued lawns, parked cars -- all of the things you might expect in a suburb-inside-a-city LA neighborhood.
This tour is a solo event. Even if you go with a group, you'll be separated. But it never felt lonely. Instead, it was strangely intimate, in the same way that listening to your favorite podcast often feels like the a close personal conversation between you and the host, who seems to be speaking directly to you.
"I kept thinking about what it means to be present with people," Katie told me later, when we spoke over the phone.
"And, you know, it's a crazy moment we're in, where that presence, that very thing that makes theater and art --the kind of art that I make -- so special... is now dangerous," she said. "So how do you do that? How do you do that live moment of connection and surprise and joy and liveliness and presence without endangering each other?"
Katie found a way to answer her own questions by taking stock of her isolation and considering what she had to work with.
She asked herself, "What's actually right in front of me? What do I take for granted that I actually get to see every day? Is there some space here that we can embrace alongside how horrific everything is?"
Then she considered her daily walk.
It's a relatable activity.
I've been walking circles around Angelino Heights for seven months, for example. I know when the sun shifts from one side of Kensington to the other. I know where the nicest patch of grass is and which of my neighbors has a banana tree. I've picked out which home I'd buy if I had a 1.25 million dollars lying around (the well-kept Victorian with built-in bookshelves and a wrap-around porch).
I love my neighborhood. But I am so weary of this walk that I've done a thousand times and will do again tomorrow.
The genius of "A Walk In My Neighborhood" is simple: going on someone else's walk is a huge relief.
With earbuds in, I was a tourist in my own city. Was I in Atwater Village or rural France?
I passed stables with horses (Katie explained that her wife rides horses, which is part of the reason they moved to this specific neighborhood). I grew up not so far away from this neighborhood and had never seen these stables, or even known they existed.
Everything was a revelation. What was that?! An average baseball field?! Amazing! I'd never seen that baseball field before!
Was the grass actually greener in Atwater Village?
The fog parted, and the voice led me into a scrubby patch of dry trees that she's dubbed "the fairy forest." She asked me to close my eyes and listen to the sounds. I heard birds, a few flies, the humming of the 5 freeway. I was there. Present. Alert. Fully aware of my surroundings.
Further along the walk I hit the new pedestrian bridge crossing the L.A. River.
"The story of this river is actually the story of the city," Katie's voice says, in my earbuds.
Katie says her formative years were spent inside a "Westside bubble," before moving to New York for a decade. A Walk In My Neighborhood is more than a chronicling of her daily walk, it's her way of reacquainting herself with the city she grew up in, but didn't really know.
The voice in my ears gets introspective. "I've been reckoning with the history," Katie says, "of how my family got here, how the society I participate in exists, and asking myself, 'What's my relationship and my responsibility to the original indigenous people of the land?'"
I was invited to close my eyes again and imagine what it looked like when the Tongva-Kizh people first settled here, before concrete lined the river bank, before the pollution, before people with nowhere else to go formed encampments on what is now a bike path. She asked me to imagine all the people - the Spanish settlers, the indigenous tribes, the modern tourists and residents - who have spent time looking at this river.
A Walk In My Neighborhood isn't just about the land we live on, though. It's about the community we're missing. Katie found a way to reach a germ-free hand out of the virtual void and say, Take a walk with me.
"The pandemic is still isolating all of us...and people still seem to really be struggling," Katie told me. "I was definitely depressed this summer, and not feeling like myself.I feel a little bit more like myself now actually, having done this piece. I get a lot of joy from being able to connect with people in this way."
There are also surprises during A Walk In My Neighborhood, but I'm not going to spoil them. (Ok, one involves a musical instrument, but I will not reveal any more!)
I'll just say this: during the 90 minute performance / tour / experience, I did not check my email. I didn't spend even a minute doomscrolling. I didn't look at my phone at all. I walked away feeling like I'd taken an actual, true deep breath. And, for a tiny sliver of time, I felt a little less alone.
A Walk In My Neighborhood sold out for it's first run in October and was extended through the end of November. There are a limited number of tickets still available for Thanksgiving weekend. A portion of the proceeds goes to supporting indigenous groups like NDN Collective.
But if you don't make it to an installment of Katie's walk, don't despair. Consider asking a friend to wear a mask and take you on their daily stroll. It might prove just as refreshing. Or, if you're feeling extra creative, consider making an audio walk experience of your own. I'll be the first one to buy tickets.
Whatever you choose to do, just remember to think outside the literal box of your living quarters.
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