“The Walk,” by Lee Goldberg, is a fast-paced, heart-pounding adventure. Will Marty Slack ever make it home after the “Big One” decimates much of Los Angeles and the surrounding area?
I found myself racing right along with him, dodging one near miss after another, until we both reached the end of the journey. Start this adventure when you have a few hours to devote to it, because Goldberg’s writing keeps you glued to your seat.
What makes this a terrific book is Goldberg’s ability to create great characters, as well as action scenes. Think “Monk” – the novels and television series that catapulted Goldberg into the limelight. Then there’s the author’s personal experience. “The Walk” began simmering in his mind when he made the very same 30-mile trek after the Northridge, Calif., quake in 1994.
Slack, a network executive, is a self-centered jerk who worries more about his social status than the fate of humanity. He has just left a “derelict warehouse,” where they are filming the pilot for “Go to Heller,” when the earthquake hits. Suddenly, he finds himself stuck under his Mercedes, which is “flattening like a $42,000 German beer can.” A fine dust covers everything, reaching deep into his lungs and temporarily blinding him. His world is suddenly quiet, too. Squeezing out from under his “baby,” everything around him appears out of kilter. Sidewalks, roads and buildings no longer occupy the same space they did a few seconds ago. Standing on wobbly legs, he yells, “Has anyone called for help?” Pulling out his cell phone he becomes irritated when there is no signal.
For now, Slack and the surviving residents of Los Angeles are going to have to make it without the aid of modern technology. Dusting himself off, his ears once again begin to function; horns are blasting; people are screaming. The man nearest him is pleading with Slack to help him dig for survivors, appearing unaware of the blood streaming down his neck. Together, they scramble over a pile of bricks; the remains of the building Slack left minutes before. Under the rubble lies executive producer Irving Steinberg; he and the entire television crew are dead.
Slack turns to take in the damage around him. The 6th Street Bridge has collapsed; flames engulf the “Metrolink,” as it dangles over the Los Angeles River. Most of the skyscrapers are windowless shells – one has totally collapsed. Slack’s brain has trouble comprehending the scope of the disaster; to him it looks like a scene out of a B-rated movie. Unfortunately, it’s all too real.
In spite of numerous cries for help, he panics; his only thought is to get the hell out of there. Returning to his car, he manages to pop open the trunk and grab a gym bag he placed there six months before. He cobbles together an emergency kit with items from the trunk, supplemented with supplies from the film crew’s trailer sitting nearby. He’s heading home, where he hopes to find his wife, Beth, safe and sound; if she’s not buried under their Spanish-style home in Calabasas.
Goldberg then flashes back to earlier that morning to fill in the details of Slack’s marriage. Beth desperately wants a child; Slack was never enthusiastic about the idea. He enjoys their carefree life, minus any parental responsibilities. Besides, nature already decided he’s not up to the task.
Looking at an old city map, he decides to hike to the 101, swearing to himself that he will avoid the “earthquake’s human debris” along the way. He won’t look at anyone, won’t stop no matter what; and prays that the city’s more unsavory characters will be too busy looting to bother him. However, fate has other plans for Slack. An hour into his trek, a woman’s hand reaches out from under an overturned Volvo and grabs his ankle. She’s in critical condition, doomed even if medical help were to arrive on the scene. This is the first of many incidents that will irrevocably change Slack’s outlook on life.
Three hours later, Slack has made it to the Civic Center, where he’s shocked to see people lined up in front of a burrito stand. It looks like the everyday lunch crowd, with the exception that everyone’s clothes are dirty, tattered and blood stained. Nevertheless, Slack could use some food, so he gets in line.
That’s where he encounters fellow hiker, Buck Weaver, a licensed bounty hunter; who insists on continuing the journey with Slack. Weaver isn’t the ideal travel companion: He has a big mouth, almost as big as the gun he enjoys waving around. At first, Slack thinks the weapon may come in handy should they run into any trouble – until Weaver points it at him.
Weaver also has a knack for playing mind games. As they walk, he points out Slack’s moral and physical weaknesses and forces him to look objectively at his career. Slack tries repeatedly to shake off his unwanted travel companion, but it’s no use. He’s not leaving. Together, they confront “derelicts and gang-bangers” and survive a massive flood, aftershocks, gas explosions, falling overpasses and Slack’s innate cowardliness. I’m giving nothing away by telling you this – how they live to see another day is the real story here.
The journey takes far longer than the nine hours Slack first anticipated. In fact, it takes days, and ends with a shocking revelation. Read “The Walk.” Besides being an extremely good adventure story, it’s Goldberg’s tribute to what a person can become – given the impetus to overcome our human frailties.