Yesterday I was hanging in a sea of about 100 people for my second LA County test that was conveniently located at the Convention Center. I certainly wasn’t going to pay $20+ for parking so ya boy Lyft’d. I get seated with the rest of the Employment Games contestants and we’re told to pass our invite letters to the center aisle on our left. So this lady sitting next to me is like “Do we pass it this way?” pointing to her right. Yeah you’re prolly gonna fail this test which is good for me. One less person to compete against. But before that, the lovely County folk were having some technical difficulties with the sound systems. Suffice to say that I, along with hundreds of other people, had our ears assaulted with what could only be described as someone farting into a mic while it was shoved past their rectum. It was fucking terrible. That was legit the longest 45 seconds of my life.
Anyway, I finish all that in a couple hours and come outside to the sun sizzling my corneas. I mean I’m blind already so it didn’t do that much, but still. But I’m in downtown, it’s nearly 4pm and I’m pretty damn starved. On top of that, I’ve only been an adult in LA for a year and have yet to explore the gentrified mess that is DTLA, so let’s see how bad it gets. I take a stroll down Figueroa, take a right onto 9th, then a left onto Hope. All the while I’m looking around, prolly like a tourist, taking in how much things have changed. My memories of downtown never included college aged students hanging out in from of a hipstery-ass juice bar or toned women funneling out of SoulCycle. Or even the ubiquitous loft apartment condos littering the streets. Places where the homeless used to be out in droves, where creepers were creepin, and where the sidewalk was perpetually dingy. Downtown was used as a scare tactic for me to get my shit together, not a place to be basic as hell.
I end up at Qdoba, a Mexican joint I’ve heard and known about for some time, I just never gave enough of a shit to go looking for one. And frankly, taco trucks shit on 95% of “authentic Mexican” places all day. Yeah I might get ecoli, the stomach flu, or some form of cancer, but that’s the risk I’m willing to take for some bomb-ass carne asada. But I digress. I get chicken-adobo quesadilla and a Gladiator taco for $13. Initially, I was taken aback then realized this was quite fair for downtown eatery prices. Food was pretty good overall. Kind of felt scammed for not getting free chips, but my life wasn’t ruined by any means. People watching and eating, my favorite past time. And there were so many people. Pegging what kind of persons these all were became a little too fun though.
Unwilling to go home, I opted to keep walking. I ended up in the Fashion District, Historic Downtown, and around that area. I kept walking north and then I saw where all the homeless people I so sorely missed had been shuffled to. Well there were still largely in Skid Row, but the effects of gentrification had certainly created some interesting results. I trekked around Skid Row just to see how much things had changed since I was last here (I was in tears as kid) to witness the extent of my privilege. The short answer: a shitload has changed. And it’s something that can’t internalize until it’s been witnessed firsthand. The shanty towns, the tents camps, and the makeshift community of vagrants was a shell of its former self. The shelters were still there, but there wasn’t a line around the corner and down the street. I didn’t see droves of families, veterans, mentally ill, or displaced folks hanging about. What happened? I went as far as Alameda and 4th…apartment homes under construction, hipstery stores and boutiques on both corners, and a damn CVS.
I got really curious. If the legions of homeless folks aren’t on Skid Row, the place known for such a demographic, where did they all go? As I made my way toward Grand Park and the City Hall, I could only assume they were dispersed about the city or shipped elsewhere. Because the level of sterility I encountered on my way there was pretty baffling. My old assumptions and stigmas regarding downtown didn’t hold up anymore. Homelessness is forever be an issue, but for me DTLA was the quintessential place to experience that level of depression and where to develop those empathetic muscles. And that isn’t to say I’m characterizing the homeless as charity cases to get my altruistic rocks off, but there’s no better scenario to witness struggle in its purest form. Let alone speaking with some of these people (they’re not all crazy or misanthropes) really gave me perspective. Also made me really fucking depressed that this situation exists. I’ve always been very sensitive to pain others experience, especially where there isn’t much recourse outside of suicide, scrounging for scraps, or hoping for charity. Definitely feeling some type of way right now recalling the level of despair I experienced.
What solidified to me that this problem has been literally swept under the rug by politicians, businesses, and nay-sayers is that I had a run in yesterday with a homeless mother. Now the reason I even was talking to this woman was because she got my attention by throwing a cup full of change at me. But it wasn’t out of malice. I had my headphones in and I was in taking in everything so I wasn’t mind to anyone or anything. Anyway, she waves me over and against my better judgment I went because curiosity and if she does kill me, she isn’t doing herself any favors. So she apologizes for throwing the cup at me, she really needed to speak with me. Her reasoning being that I look very similar to her son. Intrigued, I asked what happened to him and where is he now. She paused for a moment then looked down at her mattress of soiled clothes and torn memory foam (how she got that is beyond me).
She said he hasn’t spoken to her in nearly 8 years since she ended up on the streets. She mentioned that the last time they spoke was in an argument about her addition to heroin and selling meth. He left the house in the middle of the night and never came back, never called her, nor did he leave a note. He was 22 at that time. I asked her where was he now and she said that she didn’t know, but his girlfriend or wife (she couldn’t remember) had found her one day a year or so ago. His SO mentioned that she was grandmother and that their baby girl was about to start kindergarten. At this point the homeless lady (let’s call her Cara) started tearing up and sat down on her bedding. After a brief moment Cara continued on to say that her son’s wife did not tell her son that she had found her, only that she was happy that Cara was alive. The wife said Cara’s son never mentioned Cara, only in passing, saying that she had died from heroin overdose. That part got me good, I was near tears after hearing that. And I can’t fault Cara’s son for doing what was best for him and distancing himself from a toxic scenario, I get that. It was just the invalidation of Cara’s existence that was beyond cruel to me. She was dead to him and he had decreed it as such.
I chatted with Cara for like an hour or so as she was telling me about her life, past, and how she ended up on the streets. The amount of remorse and regret she felt for what she had done, but prefaced it saying that she was selling drugs to support her son’s dreams while keeping a roof over their heads. And I truly don’t blame her, you gotta do what you gotta do. Especially at the height of the 08′ Recession. But yeah she thanked me for listening and wished me luck on getting those County jobs and to never let anything get between me and family. I asked her what as next for her in life and she said building motivation to live. My stomach definitely sank hearing that, but I told her that if her son’s wife shows up again, she should see about at least visiting her son and granddaughter. Having background in grudges, bitterness, and old wounds (I’m technically living with the enemy) something’s gotta give. That resentment will only poison her son’s future relationship with her daughter and others. Forgive and move on. That doesn’t mean she’s absolved of everything, but it’s a start for both of them to heal up and maybe forge a confederacy of a relationship.
After that heavy experience I needed to detox from all the sadness. I ended up in Grand Park, explored City Hall a bit, and the California Transportation Headquarters. Then I walked over past the Disney Concert Hall and saw up close how retarded those “slice of Vienne” style apartments off the 110 look. Tacky as hell. I walked a lot more, but I ended my Chevroleg journey basically in Echo Park where I Lyft’d back. Told my driver about my trek and whatnot. He was young Persian looking guy from the Bay Area going to UCLA. He was quite intrigued so I put him on to how things used to be and he seemed pretty receptive. But I opted to try the Lyft’d line (where you ride with a stranger) and of course we pick up the most Becky of Becky’s I’ve ever encountered in my entire life. Holy shit I wanted to pierce my ear drums. But she was nice at least. An actor from New York, obviously.
And to top it off, just as I ended my discussion about gentrification and all the yuppie white hipsters fucking long-time resident out of their homes, she mentions she wants to move to LA. I was stewing and kept quiet the entire ride. The problem had entered my domain. Between her asking “so like where are we?” and assumption that I was a fucking tour guide, I kind of wished for that door just to suddenly swing open. My driver didn’t help either. I get he’s trying to secure his 5-star rating, but don’t sit there and act like we weren’t just shitting on uppity, no-conscience white people for pretending they weren’t part of gentrification equation. Hypocrisy at its finest, but I understand the struggle.
In any case, it was refreshing to be out in the world, exploring, and gaining so much perspective. This city is huge and there’s no real excuse not to explore it. Pretty sure I’ve just scratched the surface. Plus it makes for a thoughtful yet fiscally responsible date night. Macking on a budget, that’s my shiiiet.