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Labor of health: 10,000 steps make a holiday

Labor Day was a good time to see where the 10,000-step goal might lead.

By Mary MacVean

6:35 PM EDT, September 6, 2013

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Labor Day seemed as good a day as any to track a 10,000-step walk. I didn't want to accumulate steps all day; instead I wanted to see where 10,000 steps would take me.

So, sunscreen applied, Fitbit attached to my pants, iPhone and notebook in hand to document my journey, I set out.

My Los Angeles is an urban and diverse section of Mid-City. I drive and jog and walk the streets daily, but one of the revelations of my 10,000-step project was how much I could learn and how much charmed me anew when I was paying attention.

I walked north on my street to Pico Boulevard, where the auto body shops are being slightly edged out by new businesses and where marijuana emporiums can feel like modern-day mom-and-pop shops. I continued north to Olympic Boulevard, where, with 2,199 steps logged, I turned east, walking at the southern edge of some of the city's loveliest residential neighborhoods.

It's easy to spot bougainvillea all over Los Angeles, but my walk revealed dozens of other varieties of flowers in frontyards. I noticed lots of "Beware of dog" signs without hearing any barking. (Maybe the sign is enough?) I walked through the spray of a couple of sprinklers — excellent relief on a humid day. Tagging is everywhere and not very pretty; street art is less common and more amusing.

There were few people out on Olympic, some teens waiting for a bus, a couple of bikers. I noticed the signs that charmed me as a new Angeleno, the ones with the dolphin painted in blue that forbid dumping.

After I passed a series of small apartment buildings, synagogues and the like, I reached North La Brea Avenue, 3,362 steps in. The taco stand that often had long lines wasn't there, but I learned from a sign that I was standing in Sycamore Square. Who knew?

I wasn't sure how far I needed to go for a 10,000-step stroll, but the distance was less than I had imagined. There was no chance that I'd get to Koreatown, which starts around Crenshaw Boulevard. At Highland Avenue and Olympic, I'd already walked 4,509 steps.

It was there that I stopped to admire a family favorite: an aluminum-clad modern house on the northeastern corner. A few blocks farther east, I passed a huge fixer that's for sale. It was a wreck; even the pool had bougainvillea growing in it.

As I walked I was struck by the many ways people hide their homes — the fences, shrubs, trees, twisted ivies, concrete walls and other blockades; on the other hand, the spare beauty of a sky-high palm against the clear blue sky was indelible.

I'm in decent shape, so this walk wasn't tough. A route that includes a coffee shop, bus benches or a friend's home for a brief visit would make it doable for most people.

Halfway, actually 5,530 steps, turned out to be the intersection of Olympic and Rimpau boulevards, where Los Angeles High ("Home of the Romans") takes up a block. On a school wall I spied a piece of street art with the slogan, "You're never too young to dream big." I noticed a few Title IX signs, just at the time Diana Nyad was swimming to Florida and into the record books — she was never too old to dream big.

I walked south back to Pico to finish my square, hitting 7,237 steps as I turned west again, breezing by all the evidence needed to know this is a city of jumbled origins. I passed, amid upholsterers, barbershops and pot stores, the busy Western Glatt Kosher Market, the Pico Maternity Clinic (with the sign "Prueba de embarazo"), Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles with a long waiting line, a Latin drumming studio and Wi Jammin Caribbean Cafe.

I hit 10,006 steps at Burnside Avenue and Pico, five blocks from home. When I finished, my Fitbit said I'd gone 4.57 miles. A good Labor Day.

mary.macvean@latimes.com