I don’t know what prompted me to take a walk in downtown LA but I had this sudden urge that pushed me to go for it. Anyway, downtown LA is the heart of the city; I should enjoy walking.
From Spring on Seven Street where I got down from bus 84, I made a left turn to Los Angeles until I reached Sixth Street. My feet brought me eastward. I saw rows of tent houses on one strip of the sidewalk. It was obvious the makeshift houses were temporary refuge for homeless people. There were feeding stations in the area taking care of those homeless souls. What I couldn’t imagine was how come a powerful country like the United States has this problem. I thought this problem was a monopoly of third world countries. Or could this simply be an offshoot of massive industrialization and modernization that had only widened the gap between the rich and the poor? If you ask me why, I have no idea. I am also in search of an answer.
A man, naked from the waist up and was only on a tattered short pant, hollered as I was leaving the area. He waved his hands. Momentarily, I stopped, he run toward me. When he was a foot away, he blurted: “I am not a bum. I only need some money to buy me a shirt.”
I fished out some coins in my pocket; handed it to him. Again, he spoke: “I need some more.” Having heard those words, I felt as if something hit me on the head that brings me back to my senses. Abruptly, I turned away and went to San Pedro. He didn’t follow.
I walked westward on Fifth Street. At a corner, the imposing Alexandria Hotel appeared. There were not enough lights in the hotel. Yet, my feet dragged me inside the hotel for what reason, I was not aware off. Probably, the innate curiosity in me as a journalist brought me there. The hotel was stinking. It turned me off. It was obvious Alexandria hadn’t had any serious cleaning for years, yet I saw people—mostly bums, thugs, and underworld characters—come and go and mixed with people transacting business with the hotel. They enjoyed the place. Many times when I passed by that place, I noticed the hotel was a favorite place of Hollywood for making movies. There must be something in that hotel.
I continued walking until I reached Pershing Square. I sat on one of the stone benches on the square. There was a structure on my left like a wall painted in bright screaming yellow. On the further left was a tall triangular figure pointing to the sky. It was bathed in violet muted color. In the middle of the square were two big, brown stone balls. I had the impression the architect had injected his sexual fantasies when he designed the square. But after marbling at the ingenuity of the design, I felt unkind with my impression. Who cares about those two big balls anyway? I shifted my attention to the birds instead—to the pigeons. The pigeons were anxiously waiting for crumbs of bread or whatever some kind soul would throw at them. Every now and then the whaling sirens of fire trucks and police cars would be heard. Accustomed to those sounds, the pigeons remained unperturbed picking the grounds for food. But a sudden loud noise created by a passing Metro bus or a thunderous bang produced by a falling object from a construction site nearby that shook the earth had sent the pigeons flying instinctively in formation and in pattern, circled the square over and over again. When the sound subsided, the pigeons in slow motion glided down smoothly anywhere on the square.
It was 2:30 in the afternoon. The sun was high above me. I chose a bench that was shaded by a tree. I brought out a foot-long bread from a bag. Not far from where I was, a man stood up and came to me. He spoke in Spanish. I immediately thought he was a Mexican. I was not aware yet there were other people who speak Spanish. I understood what he wanted, although I did not understand what he said. I broke the bread in two, gave the other half to him. He smiled and left. I ate my lunch.
I stayed glued on the seat, watched people around and those who passed by in front of me. It was Sunday; I had the luxury of time to idle. I watched those who scavenged trash bins for soda cans, plastic bottles or left over food. I watched people talked to themselves, existing in their own world. I noticed couples in their romantic moments and also those who were not. Indeed, Pershing Square was a good place for watching people.
There was also this African-American man on my right side, who was enjoying the music from his boom box. The happiness from his face was evident. He was oblivious of the people around him. “Who cares, I ain’t disturbin anyone?” I was sure he had said that to himself. The boom box was playing real soft music. From his body language, I was pretty sure he was digging rap music.
I glanced at the pigeons again. I found out there were other birds, too. I even heard some birds chirping. Suddenly, there were so many birds. Perched on benches, on trees and on shoulders of people feeding them. Then I saw the birds heading toward my direction. Suddenly, my eyes were wide shut opened. Maybe I was daydreaming.
It was 6:00 in my watch. I had fallen asleep. I walked back to Spring. An hour passed by at the corner of Fifth Street and Spring, the bus hasn’t arrived. It was beginning to dark. The place was becoming scary. The waiting had become too long. The bums and thugs at the bus stop who kept asking for cigarette, a quarter or a dollar have somewhat unknowingly placed the commuting passengers on edge. But the people behind our back, who were pushing drugs, were unmindful of what the bums and thugs were doing. I guess they even wanted them there so they can provide some kind of cover—a distraction from the probing eyes of the public. There was this man who lighted up something so close on his face that it almost burn his hair. He puffed once, made a deep breathe, took another one, and when he appeared satisfied, he left. I saw another one on his knees on the corner of a sidewalk as he injected his arm with a syringe. For a while, he stayed in that praying position staring blankly at the people on the street. Then without saying a word, he stood up and left. A black and white prowl car passed by and the shadowy figures in the dimly lit building dispersed as fast as they could. An illegal activity going on behind those big columns of the building fronting the bus stop and Alexandria Hotel wouldn’t have been noticed unless one was really that observant of what was going on. As soon as the patrol car disappeared, the same people resurfaced.
Uneasy and uncomfortable, I moved on to Seven Street. To my disappointment, it was no different place. People met in the parking lot that was also dimly lighted and exchanged money and drugs into their hands. There was this man who stood beside with me as if he was also waiting for the bus. At first, I didn’t mind him at all. I thought he was another bus commuter. He wore a green t-shirt, faded denim and sported a crew hair cut. People were coming from all directions of the street and have approached him. The bums too, who hanged around came to him. He was like a Messiah. They handed him money and he in turn gave them something. I knew those were drugs. I saw the users throw the thing into their mouth.
So immersed watching them, a man approached me by mistake. He spoke in Spanish and was shoving me a folded green buck. I shrugged my head indicating I did not understand him. He moved on to the guy next to me. They understood each other. Suddenly I realized I was in a very wrong place unconsciously placing myself in danger. I distanced from them and stood on the gutter of the road where other bus passengers were waiting.
After about ten minutes bus 84 came. I felt relieved I got out of that jungle which was teaming with dregs of society that LA abounds with.