Summertime, In the LBC

So, today Zac had to work again and I had decided to become more independant. My Dad tells me that I am part of the echo generation and he had recently learned that we are very group orientated. He was certainly right. I am 24 and I find myself unable to function by myself unless it is a professional setting. Alas, my decision to get a metro transit pass for the day and take the train from downtown LA to Long Beach was made. I sat nervously in Zacs apartment starting to talk myself out of the journey. What are my alternatives? I quietly argued with myself. I could sit around and bake in this 150 sq foot apartment or get out and blend in.

I did just that. I walked down fifth to Pershing Square, stopping to get a bottle of water on the way. Zac’s water frightens me and after a few uncomfortable dosings of bad inner-city water, I decided that I was going to restrict myself to bottled only. After all, we are pretty damn close to Tijuana. After a quick examination of the map, I called myself expert enough to hit the tube. Take the red line one stop to seventh street station, then the blue line all the way to Long Beach, I repeated in my head. The first jump on the red line was pretty uneventful, I’d imagine that Sunday is a slow day for metro transit. I made it to the station successfully and transferred to the blue. Now the real journey begins.

I took my seat and a pull from my bottled water. Little did I know that I was committing a 250 dollar petty misdemeanor. You see, there is no drinking, eating, or relaxing (feet up on chairs) on the metro system. After realizing this, I pushed my bottled water down a bit out of eyesight, and hoped for the best, “not next time,” I told myself…from my perch I had a backwards view of our transit. At Pico, the second stop, a man boarded sitting next to me. He nervously clutched his left hand with his right and squeezed. When he wasn’t indulging this nervous tick he would shake his leg incessantly. The veins on his arms were thick and tattered and his grip was odd. I wondered what he was in route for. He sat quietly but had a look of pain and regret in his eyes. Heroin? I thought quietly…who knows, I could be far off, he could just be on his way to see his mother and he forgot the chutney, who the hell knows.

People got on, and got off…families of five or more would crowd the front of the train and slowly filter in as there was space. Our destinations slowly went down in prestige as we went through Compton and other areas. Rap music played loudly on the train, shady characters jumping on and off. A man stood in front of me for a while in a white shirt with a long gray goatee that showed all the signs of an aged life. His face was withered, grizzled against the sunlight being diffused through the slightly tinted windows. He was sleeping standing up. How odd, I figured. How the hell is that even possible? Was he just so used to the transit method that he could allow himself to simply fade away. His eyes opened shortly before Anaheim station and he exited promptly…it was very city like.

At the next stop a homeless woman boarded and my heart churned a bit. She had on old headphones, a 1990s era walkman and a hat. She wore a few tattered outfits and was carrying two black plastic bags with an assortment of cans and bottles that nosily clammered as she entered. Even with seats open everywhere she sat on the floor, likely dodging the transit police who look for unticketed characters. I panned down her arms and saw her hands nervously clutching the bags. They were torn, cut, badly bruised. The kind of hands no person should ever be forced to have. Her demeanor was surprisingly upbeat, contrary to her appearance, it was all so surreal, ironic. She exited a few stations later, glancing to and fro before doing so to avoid the metro cops…she’d done this all before, no doubt in my mind. The sad reality is the pennies you seem to get for recycling. Zac was telling me that he saved up all of his bottles, of which he drinks quite a few, and only made a dollar or so over a few months. Can you imagine? We met a guy in the entry of the Rosslyn hotel one morning and Zac told him he left him a bunch of cans and bottles upstairs in the trash area. His eyes glowed, his smile thick as he excitedly exited the corridor and ran up the stairs. It was akin to saying, “Hey I left you 13 cents up stairs,” and having someone gingerly speed off in a bliss…Strange.

Two stops left on the blue line and things were thinning out. Then we got to the transit mall stop, my destination. It drops you off in downtown long beach, which is a really cool place. Zac lived here for about a year or so before moving to the city. I walked south down Pine street and crossed over into Rainbow Pier. The pier is new and full of nice restaurants, bars, coffee shops, cigar stations, and boat rides. None of these merchants really interested me much, but the people watching was fantastic. I headed across the road to Rainbow Park where I now sit, mobile, entering the latest blog entry. Across the park where there are paddle boats, walk ways, green areas, and other cool things the Long Beach aquarium sits. I bet it would be cool to check that out, but its late Sunday now and probably not an option. A smarter man would have come to Long Beach to spend a vacation instead of dealing with the awfulness of the downtown area. People here are happy, excited. Couples tool by me lazily on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. How freaking romantic, eh? I toyed with the idea of boarding a paddle boat by my lonesome, pretending it was romantic, and trying to crash into other people…Alas, this practical joke would have cost me five dollars…I’m too cheap for this.

Speaking of which, last night Zac and I were on a mission from god, to find beer. We had to walk what we thought was a few blocks but in reality ended up being very many. I started to realize that sketchy situations really aren’t all that bad, they’re just everywhere out here. If I was in Plymouth and anything that happened on our 15 block journey were to happen, I’d be very nervous about it all, this wasn’t the case anymore last night. Desensitized, I have become. As we crested seventh and turned left we walked down the “jewelry district” you’d think a place with that name would be upscale, and perhaps it was during the day. The streets were lined with boxes, populated by homeless. Some lay on the street, not trying to be nonchalant and sleep. As you pass them, one can’t help but try and guess where it all may have gone wrong…The answer seems to often be drugs. I’d like to think that they were all once entrepreneurs who happened to place all of their money in the wrong sector. Perhaps this homeless man I passed might have had a glue manufacturing business, but in the great glue depression of 1985, he went belly up. Sad, desolate, and shamed he turned to the streets and vowed a life free of glue…Nope, that’s crazy…Quit sugar-coating the obvious, I’d tell myself. I think that happens a lot in places like this, people sugar coat…seems silly.

We turned down some shady streets and I felt myself go into a cold stare. You develop certain things quickly in the city and a lot of it is about containing your presence. People mess with you less when you are hardened down. I can tell bums begging for change decide not to even ask here and there, which is awfully helpful. I suppose its all part of the game. I sat outside Ralph’s grocery while Zac went inside for beer. I had Franklin, Zacs rat terrier and we were just chillin, watching the people go by. This is the city, I thought, hell it even feels like my city. It felt that way until the walk home pulled me apart again.

Every block we went down had a new and strange smell. Most of the time, though, it was just varying degrees of the smell of urine. Awful, sometimes it was so damn pungent I started to become a bit ill from it all. The dog would stop and sniff and we would drag him along. “Not your species, Franklin,” we joked, nervously. That is one thing I could probably never get used too, is that awful smell of human excrement and urine. It isn’t the sort of thing you become acclimated to quickly, that’s for sure. Mostly, its an ever-present reality that shines light on the truth of what is really happening around you, try it as you may it is impossible to ignore. You walk between streets that aren’t so bad, and pass through parts that are much worse. Skid row at night is not where you want to be, that’s for sure. However, even in places named as quaintly as “The Fashion District,” there is pain, suffering, and smell.

As we walked down the buildings admiring some of the architecture I thought to myself about how the streets must have looked years ago. It wasn’t always this bad, I knew it in my heart. How could it be, really. At one point it was all high society and a bustling city full of life, entertainment, shopping, and formality. Now it is often a display of dirty, unorganized, broken down life. Everything is gated and locked out and at night its depressingly somber to think about how it all must have been, a long time ago. Ah well, things change right? The whole world isn’t like that and nor is the city. However you can go from bad to worse to good to medium in a hurry. There aren’t that many dividing lines, and at night, anything goes. My dad even admits that being there in the 70s (on business) there was the same issue, you either have got it, or you don’t have anything…

It was back to Zacs for a night of drinking and conversation. The apartment was blazing hot last night and here are the only options you have:
1. Light on, fan on
2. Light off, no fan
3. Window open, air – all the city’s noise.
4. Window shut, no air – less city noise.

We balanced our options, settling on light off, no fan, window open, full noise. All night long fire, ambulance, police, helicopter, domestic disputes, crackheads arguing, and everything in between raged on outside, waking me up all the time. My head fused to the pillow, drenched in sweat. It sucked, every hour or so I’d head to the bathroom, cover myself in cold water, and try and relax…impossible. Zac ended up waking me up during one of the longest strides by a possible spooning attempt. It was thwarted with quick response and ninja-like maneuverability, thank god for all those lessons. I would spend a few minutes every now and then with my head out the window, trying to cool down just a little bit. I missed Minnesota more this night than any other. If I wanted the temperature to drop 15 degrees, I’d just open the damn window for for five minutes, not an option here. Plus, while I’m resting in my townhome, I never have to hear crackheads fighting meth addicts, lovers quarrels over money probably gained for sexual acts, and other shady things going on outside…I never could get used to that out here.

In the morning, we were off to main street cafe, ran by a Armenian lady and her daughter. Not bad, got a cheeseburger and fries. They had lovely Armenian baked goods and a cheesecake that was pretty damn good. After an argument at the counter that the LA city tax was certainly not 16 percent, our bill was adjusted and we were all set to go. I suggest you try it if you get a chance, just watch out because they will likely try and rip you off a bit. Also, if you like regular iced tea, don’t order it there. What they bring is “natural” and tastes a little like rock death.

I sit in the park now, the cool breeze blowing across me. It feels great, like Minnesota in the mid-spring times. The sun is setting on the ocean and its a great scene. Shortly, I’ll be making my way back up the hill so I can take the train back in the daytime to see the scenery, and then its back to downtown. Ugh! I want to stay here in LBC! It wasn’t long ago that Zac lived here, why the hell didn’t I visit then? I could ride the carousel at the pier and take in the city. I could even go for long ocean walks each night, passing out on the beach and waking up to the roaring sun coming over the ocean. Man, that’d be nice. On this night I’m watching the sun slowly slip down the ocean side and the daytime become night, and its great. It also signifies the beginning of my journey back to what has been my reality for some time.

Tomorrow I fly out. Did Minnesota miss me? Probably not, but we shall soon see. I forgot to write about Hollywood, perhaps I will do this later tonight, for now I must focus on getting my butt back to the urine stained city…

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