For residents in the Silver Lake, Los Feliz, and Echo Park areas of Los Angeles, Marc Abrams is as much a part of the landscape as the reservoir, the park, and the congested junction — and not just because he can be seen trekking these familiar grounds every single day. Even if you don’t live in these hoods, it’s likely you’ve seen him while driving through: bronzed and bare-chested, in tiny shorts, marching briskly while somehow deep-scanning his newspaper or checking his cell phone.
“Silver Lake Walkin’ Guy,” “The Reader Walker,” “Dr. Jogger” and “The Walking Man” (also the title of a short documentary made about him several years ago), Abrams has many nicknames, but those who don’t actually know him are always surprised to learn that he’s not some nut-job with too much time on his hands, but in fact, is a busy family-practice physician with his own office based in the Valley.
Crazy? No. Obsessive compulsive? Sure seems that way, but when we ask Abrams about his relentless stomping of the streets (he’s been doing it since he moved here in the ’80s, though the route’s length and regularity has evolved in the past few years), he says, “It’s not an obsession, it’s a routine.” A routine that includes his epic 20-mile route around the Silver Lake reservoir, up Griffith Park Boulevard, down Sunset Boulevard to Silver Lake Boulevard, and back around again twice — plus 2 miles in his lap pool at home in the S.L. hills, and 4,000 push-ups every day. A routine that includes an extra 15 miles at night on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. A routine that he never breaks no matter what the circumstance or weather. A routine that would probably poop Lance Armstrong.
So why does he do it? That was the burning question we hoped to have answered after stopping Abrams midwalk on Sunset Boulevard one Saturday afternoon. We set up an interview and agreed to meet at that same corner a week later. He told us we could accompany him on part of the route. We would be walking with the walking man. Wow.
Unfortunately, when that day came, he was running really late, and it happened to be one of those unseasonably sweltering days (almost 90 degrees). We really weren’t looking forward to testing our endurance during an interview, or getting sweaty or sunburned with this guy. Would he be willing to stop walking for a while and do a sit-down chat? Would he be able to sit still?
We had other questions: Was his solitary and perpetually paced “routine” symbolic of something deep and existential? Was he making a statement about our dependence on cars? Was he trying to shut out the world with all that reading? Could his shirtless/shorts get-up be signs of an exhibitionist? If Abrams is to be believed, the answers to all of the above are a simple, unromantic no.
“I do it to stay in shape,” he says. “There’s nothing deeper about it. I just walk for the exercise, for the sun, to see my friends, to catch up, to get my newspapers read.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Abrams says his family, many of whom were athletes, didn’t have money for a car when he was young so they walked everywhere. He attended medical school at Stanford, and was always very active. He opened his Valley Village family practice back in 1988, starting with zero and building it to what he estimates at about 17,000 patients today.
More fun (and a couple freaky) facts about Silver Lake’s most famous eccentric: He only gets three hours of sleep a night. He never gets sick. Despite his dedication to working out (not to mention being a physician), he’s a junk food junkie (“I pretty much have six basic food groups: I eat cookies, cakes, coffee, milkshakes, chocolate and pizza,” he says sincerely. ”My body burns it up. If people exercise the way that I do, they can eat whatever they want”). On Sundays he doesn’t walk solo, a good friend joins him for the lake portion of his route. He’s married, but his wife doesn’t join him for his walks. He’s a big music head. “I have, like, 9,000 CDs and four iPods,” he says. He uses the latter at night but can’t by day because he needs to be available by phone to his nurses and patients.
Plodding the pavement every day means he sees a lot go down in the community. Accidents, people yelling obscenities (at him and each other). For the most part, though, his excessive time in the streets has yielded not only friends and fans but new patients too. Many even ask him for medical advice en route. And though he’s an überwalker in a city famous for its lack thereof, he’s never tried to convert auto-bound types to follow his lead.
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“I’m not anti-cars. We need our cars to get where we need to go,” he says. “My patients know if I tell them to exercise that I’m not blowing smoke. What I do gives me credibility, but any physical activity is good. My path is mine.”