If I did it, here’s how it happened

Only one way to be a Walker

On the outset, it seemed like an impossible task. Canvas the streets of New York, gawk at each architecturally significant property in the city, dream up 25 perfect walking itineraries, tear through them at marathon pace and still manage to eat gelato every day. But I did it. And now everyone is asking…how? Now that I’m back in LA and able to rationally analyze my behavior, I’ll let you in on a few of my secrets.

Best wayfinding: You’re already familiar with my most popular tool, Google Maps. I showed off my New York Hit List early on, where I color-coded about 200 locations that I planned to include. Now my question is: How did people ever write guidebooks before Google Maps? Not only could I easily check addresses and directions, I could have completely cheated my way through this whole process with this magical “street view”! Maybe I never even left LA? You’ll never know.


Best recording device: Should you ever need to write some things down while walking, I recommend the tiny Rhodia notebooks, which can easily be held and concealed above or beneath your iPhone to quickly scrawl some on-the-fly information. Doubles as a fan. And if you’re desperate, a coaster. And once, I smashed a bug between its pages.


Best bible/weapon: Speaking of books, I read a lot of them. I probably read about 20 books on New York architecture. But this one, the 1055-page AIA Guide to New York City, was the only one I really needed. The most remarkable thing about it is not that the two clinically-insane authors, Norval White and Elliot Willensky, pretty much identify every single notable building in the city (that’s all five boroughs, mind you), it’s the fact that this book is funny. I’d stand there, trying to find deep meaning in the Stern’s Dry Goods building, when all I really needed to do was read their take: “It reeks of birthday cake with vanilla icing.” Done and done. This article in the NY Times about how White had to edit the fourth edition after his sidekick Willensky died in 1990 gives you some idea of what kind of prose we’re talking about here:  “The parts written by Mr. Willensky, he says, include “all the words with sound effects” — words like ‘cheesy, hmmm, enjoy!’ The two men had no major differences, he says, and he is making sure the new guide will keep that Willensky flavor. “I’ve even faked some for him,” he says.” If you live in New York, you must own this book. Enjoy!


Best bag: Patagonia’s Atom was the perfect day trip sack for lugging around the previous two items and my iPhone, plus a few tubes of lip condiments, my wallet, and a Metro card tucked into the oh-so-convenient chest-crossing pocket. The outer mesh pocket was also good for stashing a bottle of water. I found out about this incredible bag when visiting Patagonia for a story I wrote for Fast Company; the folks there told me it was designed to hang on your shoulder like, say, the slain fowl that hunters would carry back to camp. I like to think of myself as a hunter of buildings.

Magic shoes

Best kicks: Everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to know about my shoes! Strangers stopped me on the streets! People asked to buy them off me (and then bolted once I offered to let them smell the insides)! For weeks I looked for sneakers that might be able to handle the transition from weary daytime walker to fabulous gin-drinker of the night, but I couldn’t find anything sporty and functional. And then, a few days before I left, I came across these at an AIGA/LA fundraiser. They’re by TOMS, which means a child in need of shoes will also get a pair (however, I want to know, will they get these shoes?). Fitted with arch supports and decent tread, they were as comfy as can be. They shimmied down the sidewalk with me all summer, throwing disco ball-like lights onto my legs as I walked. Really, could you ask for anything more for $48?


Best home entertainment: Everyone who lives in New York should also own New York, the PBS documentary series (directed by Ric Burns, brother of Ken, and son of probably the proudest mother on earth). Although I recommend the DVDs, I would not recommend my method of watching them. I usually slipped them in right as I was falling asleep, exhausted from parading my fabulous gold shoes about town all day, and as a result, ended up sleeping through the Depression or having nightmares about Robert Moses trying to tear down my neighborhood.


Best fuel: This entire summer would not have been possible were it not for the Williamsburg coffee shop El Beit. Manned by a half-dozen adorable young men (and some pretty ladies, too) with fantastic music taste–Neil Young and Daft Punk back-to-back one morning–El Beit was a blissful home away from my home away from home. Thanks, mostly, to two things: A mighty Clover machine and the mighty Mario, also somewhat of a machine. I’ve talked about the power of Clover here before, sweet caffeine delivery device that manages to tease tomatoey flavors from my Kenyan shade-grown coffee. But I couldn’t really start my day until the bedheaded baristas radioed downstairs via walkie-talkie for a soft scrambled egg sandwich with fried sage and cheddar, on a Sullivan Street Bakery roll, slathered with butter and dijon mustard, and presented with a smile by the eternally chipper chef, Mario. A few days after I first had this sandwich, it was named best egg on a roll by NY Mag.

Judging me

Best friends: A tiny deck of cards packaged to look like a travel book doesn’t offer any room for acknowledgements, so when the time comes I’ll have to take out one of those full-building-wrap ads in Times Square. Until then, I would love to thank Cookie and Trixie (above) for questioning my every move (“Are you sure you didn’t mean Beaux-Arts?” They’d ask me with their devastating blue eyes), and all of you who provided any of the following: a roof over my head, a sweet wicker purse, an air conditioned room to work on when it was 95, that much-needed pizza, walking companionship, gin, the best view in all of Brooklyn, guidance, bike repair work, a box of Kleenex, an escape, a rainy house party, advice, late-night giggles, a social life, tickets to Sex and the City, gin, late-night calls, a good point, the truth about Jon-Benet, or any of the incoming links that kept me from doing my work. You will all be graciously rewarded.

Sorry I’ve been away so long, but I’ll go ahead and blame it on the earthquake (it was scary!). I’m shifting gears back into La-La mode and will return next week with more regularly-scheduled programming.

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  • http://www.createbyret.blogspot.com Rachel T

    loved the inside peek into your NYC life. the cats looked like quite the pair! and your shoes ARE cool! but your feet look a little sunburned… did the gold glitter attract the sun? :)

  • Alissa

    I think my feet were definitely sunburned…and calloused…and swollen…

  • http://www.subtraction.com Khoi

    Pretty awesome. Though I’m starting to sniffle just looking at those cats. Cute but deadly.

  • http://gfox.tumblr.com Gfox

    I posted about those shoes here:

    Glad your back in LA! Let’s get together this week!

  • Alissa

    Aw, thanks Gfox! And to clear up my question about those famous shoes, I got this email from Caitlin Coble at TOMS:

    And to answer your question, the children whom we give shoes to unfortunately don’t get gold glitters like yours :) They get classic canvas TOMS! If you are interested in going on a shoe drop and giving a child in need a pair of TOMS, go check out FriendsofTOMS.org, and submit your application!

    Sounds like it could be a fun way to spend next summer…

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  • http://www.subtraction.com/ Khoi

    Pretty awesome. Though I'm starting to sniffle just looking at those cats. Cute but deadly.