The Alissa Walker Interview

9682098659_bde01b8c15_z.jpgHey! I am running the Comer Children's Hospital Race for the Kids on Sunday--if you would like to donate to my efforts to raise money for the hospital, please go here.

I first got to know today's interviewee, originally known as the blogger behind Gelatobaby, when she co-ran the blog Unbeige over at mediabistro with my husband--I'm pretty sure working with her was one of his favorite parts of the job. I enjoyed getting to know her through her writing, her travels recommendations, and via her colorful photos, which tend to feature shots of her jealousy-inducing happy footwear. She writes about design, architecture, cities, transportation and walking for many publications. She is the urbanism editor at Gizmodo and her work regularly appears in Los Angeles Magazine, the LA Weekly, Dwell, Fast Company, GOOD, T Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. In 2010 she was named a USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow for her writing on design and urbanism, and in 2011 she was awarded an ArtPlace grant for the initiative GOOD Ideas for Cities, where creatives propose solutions to urban problems proposed by city leaders.  Check out this New York Times piece about her efforts to make Los Angeles (for which she is an unflagging cheerleader) a walking town, and read more at her blog, A Walker in LA (where you can find all her social networking vitals.)

I've actually never visited L.A.: only driven through it to get to Long Beach. If I had a day in L.A. with you, what would we do?
First I would give you directions for how to take the public transit FlyAway bus from the airport, which is very easy and affordable yet no one seems to know how to do it. You'd be dropped off at Union Station where we'd admire the gorgeous architecture then I'd take you on a whirlwind tour of some of my special downtown spots--like Pico House, the Bradbury Building, Angels Flight, the secret garden at Disney Hall, Grand Park, the observation deck at City Hall, the LA River--all on foot (you wouldn't have any bags, right, you're just here for the day!). We'd have a late breakfast in the Pinata District, where all these traditional Mexican vendors have set up awesome food stands, and lunch with cocktails on the patio at Baco Mercat so you can see all the great street life we have here now.

Then we'd take the subway to Hollywood, where I used to live. We can see all the touristy stuff if you want, but I'd recommend climbing some of the secret staircases in Beachwood Canyon, built back when we had trolleys running through the city, up to Griffith Observatory, one of LA's most beautiful buildings that has the greatest views of the entire city and of course the Hollywood Sign. Since you'd be pretty tired of walking by now, we'd call a cab or an Uber or whatever, and I'd have it take us down Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, through Beverly Hills and Century City, since those are all just fine to see through the window of a car. But we'd stop for ice cream at Scoops Westside. Amazing ice cream.

We'd end on Abbot Kinney in Venice, which is kind of the most adorable neighborhood in LA, even though it's getting ritzier by the minute. I used to work here so I'll show you how much it's changed. We can peek into one of my friend's houses over there so you can see how the fancy people live. We'd have dinner at one of the amazing restaurants there, probably at Tasting Kitchen, then walk out to the beach and rent bikes so we could ride through the canals and up to the Santa Monica Pier for sunset. The Big Blue Bus #3 will get you from there to LAX in about 30 minutes so you won't miss your flight.

 What's been your most difficult writing assignment of late, what made it hard and how did you attack it?
Man, that is a good question. One of the hardest, but also one of the most rewarding, is this story I did for Studio 360 about the stereotype that nobody walks in L.A. It was radio, of course, which was a challenge for me. I've worked on a radio show for five years now but this was the first story I put together all by myself, meaning I had to go out and collect all the sound and figure out how it fit together in a story. Thinking in radio is very different because there are so many variables: you have to get people to say great quotes and record it perfectly, then splice it all together in a way that doesn't seem forced. My producer, Michele Siegel, helped me so much with that. But it was also so crazy of a story because I was really tracking down the origins of the stereotype in real time based on the leads I was getting--from going out to Oxnard to interview Terry Bozzio, the Missing Persons band member and writer of the song "Walking in L.A.", to going through the Tonight Show archives to find evidence of comedians cracking jokes about nobody walking in L.A., to meeting this incredible punk rocker who sings (positively) about walking and taking transit in L.A. today. It was a huge adventure, but so rewarding, and I guess the lesson is that you always have to be willing to let the story take you where it wants to take you. Never have any pre-determined ideas about how the story will end. This will always be one of my favorite stories because I learned that.

I just read the following quote from you: "I'm Generation X but I'm Millennial-adjacent and I think I relate much more to that generation's values." Tell me what you mean by that, because I feel like a lot of people would not want to align themselves with Millennials.
The reason I think I feel more Millennial than Generation X is because I consider myself a digital native, which I think is the real divide between the generations. This means that I've always known a world with computers and this is because of my dad, who was a tech geek in the best possible sense. He did a lot of work with computer programming and we had the first Mac in our house, so I grew up always working on computers and felt very comfortable with technology, which I think gave me a very open mind and allowed me to learn how to get comfortable expressing myself across mediums. I think that is kind of the key to that generation and why I identify with it instead of my fellow angsty, goal-oriented Gen Xers--I enjoy learning new things but I don't take stuff too seriously, I'm always excited to try something new.

In your travels, what are some of the cleverest things you've seen cities do?
Bike sharing as a civic innovation is pretty tough to beat. When I was in Denver last summer my sister and I used their B-cycle to get around town and it was so liberating to be able to hop from place to place on a bike you didn't have to worry about constantly (I worry about mine getting stolen because it's SO CUTE). But I will say that since you mentioned the High Line I found the better version of the High Line in Atlanta, where I lived for two years. It's called the Belt Line, and it uses old railway right of ways to create a continuous pedestrian and bike trail in a big circle all around the city. It has all the great infrastructure that the High Line does, but you can actually use it for transportation, like this big car-free freeway/wormhole that can get you from neighborhood to neighborhood in minutes. Finally, when I was in France at a conference earlier this year I met the people behind 21 Swings, a set of musical, lighted swings which were installed in a park in Montreal. The most brilliant thing I've ever seen, although they said when they talked with people in the U.S. about doing some here people were always worried about lawsuits.

You've always got a lot going on: what are some of your secrets for staying organized and managing your time?
People always ask me this but I'm afraid I am not a vision of efficiency and no one should follow my advice. I am quite literally all over the place, I always have a zillion browser windows open, I get distracted by social media and answer every email as it comes in and I take a lot of short walks. However! I think having a few things going on at once is very helpful for me--I like moving between stories and I think it helps me not to get bored. Another big change for me this year: I started working at a stand-up desk and I absolutely love it. I think when you're standing you also become more cognizant of your time and when you're wasting it so I do think it may have made me a better time-manager. I still spend plenty of time on the internet, though.

What's some cold, hard advice you always wish you could give new freelance writers but never have the heart to?
Be nice to everyone. Politely answer every single email that you get (within reason; you don't have to write back to publicists). Never blow someone off or ignore them. The one person you'll be rude to will end up being the editor of the publication you've always wanted to write for, so it pays to be the kindest, most generous person you can possibly be, always.

Who is the last celebrity you saw in the flesh and how exciting was it?
I am not sure how exciting this will be for anyone else, but last weekend I was having dinner at Musso and Frank's in Hollywood, this old-school restaurant that's famous for celebrity spotting and I saw Stephen Root, who you'll remember as Milton ("I believe you have my stapler?") in Office Space; he's also in Boardwalk Empire. But I didn't recognize him, my husband had to point him out to me, because I have celebrity blindness.

Describe the most recent pair of shoes that you bought and love.
Oh, these are really, really good shoes! A pair of Salt Water sandals are my new obsession, not only because they come in so many delicious colors, but because they actually provide great support for walking. They also make them for kids. I totally ran into a four-year-old the other day and we were both wearing the same pair of shoes. I feel like that is going to happen a lot.

Are there any store-bought brands of gelato that have earned your seal of approval?
Yes! Have you tried Talenti? At first I was skeptical because it comes in this pretentious plastic container that's like, oh, I'm so much more fancy than you, cardboard ice cream container! But it actually is really good. It totally deserves to be in a plastic container. And you can reuse the plastic container for storage or something if that makes you feel better about buying it.

How does it feel to be the 364th person interviewed for
Kinda bummed that I wasn't 365th because then I could be the "Rockin' New Year's Eve Party" of your interviews. (It's late for me. Does that even make sense?)