In other words, I hadn’t yet gone nuts–though there were a few signs of impending fixation. I began by inventing some rules and methodology. Staircases could be searched for only on foot. No driving. My initial method for finding stairs involved looking at the Thomas Guide for “interrupted” roads. My own street, Occidental Boulevard, was one; it extended several blocks on the map, and then stopped, continuing a few blocks later. I found that if the “missing” sections corresponded with a hillside, there was a good chance a staircase would be there (though such clever sleuthing actually stalled my discovery of quite a few staircases since some of the streets on the maps turned out to be stairs–listed that way because municipal regulations from the pre-automotive days required it). A complex mapping process came next. I photocopied the map pages I’d be exploring and assembled them into a booklet, marked with different highlighters: yellow for a possible staircase, green for stairs that I’d confirmed, and red for steps that I suspected, but which turned out to be dead ends.
My first hike was an unqualified success. I left my house on a weekday afternoon and headed up the Music Box Steps. I curved around a potholed street to my first possible staircase–and found one, leading down to Sunset Boulevard. I turned west, and almost immediately came upon an even longer flight–nearly 200 steps–that not only climbed the hill I’d just descended, but crossed the street and extended even higher. I walked up and down each block, marking stairs I discovered and ones that never materialized. At the end of day one, I’d covered about 7 miles, finding a half-dozen stairways.
After eight or nine hikes, I’d come up with a short, challenging route: a dozen staircases, a total of 2,106 steps (climbing and descending). But it wasn’t just the heart-thumping circuit that I was proud of: It was also the sense of discovery–and the idea that there were more mysteries out there and that I would unravel them. So naturally, I refined my rules: Walks would ideally be loops, with no doubling back on streets, and–this suddenly seemed essential–no repeating a staircase. In order to experience each staircase up and down, I’d simply alternate the direction of the loop.