While many folks are still in the Land of Nod or just getting their first sips of caffeine, at 7:30 sharp every Saturday morning a dedicated assemblage of locals chooses to hit the streets of Bixby Knolls and begin their weekend by walking several miles. Each week, the route, which is typically between 3.6 and 3.9 miles, is different– some zig-zag, some are designed to check out the progress on local street improvements, and some even involve a train.
The Bixby Strollers walking group was the very first program that Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) Executive Director Blair Cohn devised after he took the job in December of 2007, and he envisioned it as a way to help familiarize residents with local businesses and one another. “There was an obvious disconnect between folks that lived a block away and the services available to them right around the corner,” Cohn said. “I said we will then literally lead people around the corridors and neighborhoods to connect people to the district and to each other.”
One-thousand miles later (or “from here to Portland,” as Cohn puts it), the Bixby Strollers are celebrating their fifth anniversary of meeting up at a nearby coffee shop, chatting a bit, then taking off at half past 7– on the dot.
Cohn says 7:30am is a “fresh time” to start. “Folks can walk for an hour and still have their entire morning to themselves,” he said. “There is some socializing after the stroll, and then people start their day. I head to the boxing gym after the stroll to get my workout in.”
He indicated that the routes are created based on a theme, a holiday, the weather, or a particular destination, such as Rancho Los Cerritos, Dominguez Gap, Forest Lawn Cemetery, or the Metro Line. “We have routes themed around the Olympics, Mother’s Day, and even one that goes by all the parks in the area,” Cohn said. “It is fun and challenging to come up with witty titles each week.”
Sometimes the “strolls” include a special activity or focus beyond a holiday theme. “We have walked to the Metro Line, taken the train downtown and walked the waterwaterfront and then taken the train back up to Bixby Knolls,” Cohn said. “We have: toured Forest Lawn Cemetery and seen the Foucault pendulum; gone to Willow Springs Park and walked to the Municipal and Sunnyside cemeteries; walked through businesses such as Roy Robbins Gifts, Bella Cosa, Elise’s Tea Room, Alsace Lorraine Bakery, Reptiles Unlimited [and] FreeSpirit Yoga; walked through the back yards of houses in the Virginia Country Club neighborhood; toured the gardens and grounds of Rancho Los Cerritos; [and] walked by all of the Boy Scout landscape projects.”
And this walking group is a “rain or shine” type of meet-up. Though many will forego a walk in the rain to remain in the warm comforts of home, a hardcore few will indeed battle the elements. “On a rainy Saturday, a group of hearty souls came out, and the minute we stepped off the curb there was a huge thunder and lightning blast,” Cohn said. “Most folks kept going, but by the end only four of us made it the whole soaking way without turning around.”
When you ask some of the regular “Strollers” if they would be up and exercising that early on Saturday mornings, you get various responses.
Bixby Knolls resident Bernie Stearns expressed the unlikeliness that he would be engaging in such physical activity at that hour. “No, I probably wouldn’t be out enjoying the fresh air and having a good walk with my friends,” he said.
Marc Rothenberg, who lives near the airport by Bellflower Boulevard and Spring Street, had a similar sentiment. “If not for the Strollers, I would probably sleep in on Saturdays,” he said.
However, Cohn’s father, Gordon Cohn, is not fazed by the early start time. “Yes, I would exercise Saturdays in any event,” he said. “I work out four times a week beginning at 6:15, either at the gym or with four-mile walks. I am 80 years old.”
Gordon said that he and his wife initially joined their son on the walks to encourage him but the activity became a weekly habit. “When he started the group five years ago, we decided to walk once to give him moral support,” Gordon said. “We have walked every Saturday morning since, except on those few occasions when we have been out of the country.”
Cohn’s parents are some of the walkers who have gained friends as well as health rewards from the strolls. “Apart from the beneficial aspects of walking, we have met people from all over the city, and even neighboring cities, who have chosen to join us,” Gordon said. “Now many people linger after the walk and chat. We have been to dinner parties and weddings of Strollers and their families and have developed some fine friendships.”
Cohn sees a number of benefits associated with the Bixby Knolls Strollers– first and foremost, he says, are the connections that have been forged between the BKBIA and residents and between residents and the corridors along Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard. “I believe people are now much more familiar with the businesses on the street and the landscape of the whole neighborhood,” he said. “There is a greater appreciation of the beauty of this [area] after walking it so often. Friendships have evolved from this group, and folks of all types walk and talk together each week. It’s a mini melting pot. Friendships have been created beyond just the strolls where people get together socially on their own, go to meals together, etc. On the heath tip, some folks who had a problem making the distance in the beginning can easily do 5K and have moved on to half marathons, marathons, and bike riding. It’s fun to hear about the accomplishments from some folks that weren’t very active at first who are now athletes.”
Cohn anticipates that the group will continue on for some time, and he said he himself benefits from listening to the conversations during the walks. “It’s a wonderful group of people, and I look forward to seeing them every Saturday,” he said. “I am always very satisfied when I hear ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was here’ or ‘Oh, I need to come to this place for sure.’ You get a different perspective when you walk your own neighborhood and can discover things on each street. I enjoy listening to conversations between the people, and it’s a good gauge of the morale and spirit of the group. Everyone seems good-natured for the most part and enjoys being a part of this tradition. Let’s shoot for a whole decade of Bixby Knolls Strollers!”
The group is open to the public, is free to join at-will with no obligation, meets every Saturday at 7:15am at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at 4105 Atlantic Ave., and steps off promptly at 7:30am. For more information, visit bixbyknollsinfo.com .