Walking Alone After Dark

For a Mile and a Half Each Night, I Make To-Do Lists, Listen to Bruce Springsteen, and Occasionally Find Answers to Life’s Big Questions

After we moved two years ago to Montrose, a Glendale neighborhood tucked against the Verdugo Hills, some friends—all moms like me—found out I walked every night. They wanted to set up a weekly date to join in. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t,” I said, my chest constricting at the thought.

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In a neighborhood full of community, I like to walk alone.

Yes, I will walk into the hills with my husband when the kids are asleep and we have a babysitter. Sure, I will walk to get an orange balloon and a three-pack of strawberries with my sons on a farmers market Sunday. But walking with just about anyone else? Sorry, but no.

These walks write my life. They blow out the static of last-minute lesson plans and frozen turkey meatballs and towels on the floor. They regulate my mind, step after step accruing into calm.

Down the driveway we share with our neighbors, onto the sidewalk recently repaved by the city, and I’m already breathing better. Up the block with the Japanese maples, past the cactuses in the median. Right onto Broadview Drive, with its old-fashioned street lamps, its corner houses with party voices spilling over the hedges.

Sometimes, if the dust of the day is taking too long to clear out, I write to-do lists on my phone. E-mail Dad. Screen DVD for class.

Other times I choose a soundtrack to shape the night, listening without headphones, lowering the volume if someone gets close. It might be Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and “Out in the Street” if I’m bursting to get outside. The Indigo Girls’ “Watershed” and “Closer To Fine” if I’m looking for answers after a crazy day. John Denver’s “Rhymes and Reasons” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” if I’m feeling quiet and want to remember doing errands with my mom when I was a kid.

Sometimes I don’t listen to music or take notes. The phone sits in my pocket only in case my husband needs to call. Then I try not to check it.

Tonight the moon is full and low over the sloping Glendale hills to the east, beyond the 2 Freeway that flows downhill toward Dodger Stadium. At 8 p.m., the temperature is almost 80, like bathwater. My 9-year-old said at dinner that he waits all year for nights like this—nights when he can stay up late, and it’s light late, and our cat frisks around.

As I walk east onto Ocean View Boulevard, the houses turn to businesses. The strip mall’s munched-in parking lot is packed tonight. Mathnasium is closed, but La Cabañita with its smoky mole sauce is doing its usual heel-kicking business. Through the window framed with pink and green fabric, a man on his phone nearly drops his chin into a half-full salt-rimmed margarita. Did his friends leave? Did they not show up?

EmbroidMe has a sign saying the delivery entrance is on the other side. A pizza guy peels up Ocean View. Lights reach out from the back of Berolina Bakery, carrying the smell of rosemary loaves. There’s rosemary everywhere, it seems, in someone’s yard or on the sidewalk medians.

A mechanic is still open. A tan Mercedes convertible sits on the floor, a silver Honda sedan rises in the lift. With the doors up, the place seems strangely intimate, a well-lit living room with wrenches and oil.

Floodlights shine on the baseball game two streets over. A tapas restaurant is closed because of kitchen plumbing problems, says a note on the back of an envelope taped to the glass door. A 6-month-old on dad’s shoulders stares, his eyes glazed and sleepy, as his parents walk past a pizzeria. A man emerges from a sketchy bar, standing in place just a beat too long, his reflexes shot. The California dream, it still exists, if you squint a little.

On this dreamy bathwater night, I don’t write notes to myself, don’t reach for music. Instead I make a to-do list of the soul, what-ifs of the heart.

What would it look like for my boys to become good men?

How do I want to be different when summer ends?

Why do I find it so difficult to relax?

What does it mean to have walked this neighborhood almost 1,000 times over the past two-plus years?

How can I take the peace these walks drop upon me and sift it like sugar over my life?

I’m gathering up all of this, the questions without answers and the full moon and the jacked-up cars and the conversations on coffeehouse patios. I have nobody to talk to except myself, and I love it.

But as I come to the end of my daily mile and a half, heading down the street to our house, its windows open to the night and our children asleep inside, a chill drifts through me.

It’s enough to make you cry, this neighborhood with its pure aspirations that sometimes sublimate into provincialism, holding onto the small-town feel of 60 years past.

It’s enough to make me cry, the thought that my sons will grow up and leave these streets edged with rosemary. I want to embed the storefronts in my brain as I want to etch memories in my sons’ minds, building a warehouse of images against any impending darkness.

It’s enough to make me fumble for Springsteen after all, to listen to “Thunder Road” as the piano lilts: “Don’t turn me home again / I just can’t face myself alone again.”

I pass our house and keep on walking. One more loop around the block before I go home.


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