A Stranger's View of a Crowded L.A. Street



I visited California not so long ago, sat in my aunt's salon and stared out the window at people passing by. I wondered how many of them were even aware of each other. Each of them was in a hurry to get somewhere, and it inspired me.

Cars in a machine jungle, honking horns, rumbling engines, through fog and rain. Sun up to sundown, these streets are alive. Stories on every corner, tall buildings, a world in every person.

Poor Hispanic street vendors hawk their home goods. Taking care of four kids ain't easy. They range from young to old; the young turns to her older counterpart, a window into the future. Cops harass them in equal measure, time to move on, wrap up all the unsold goods, and go home. Tomorrow is a new day.

A single father or a single mother walks his son or her daughter over cracked sidewalks, past graffitied walls, while sirens wail. They hurry to a departing bus with 'to Compton' in the header. Some coins clank against the slot, take a seat, more graffiti--the backs of seats sport gang names. The father prays his son doesn't fall prey, the mother hopes her daughter doesn't lose soul. If not careful, these streets will swallow those kids whole.

Family-owned shops ring out with life, humble vibrations, laughing and talking. They reminisce about the older days, the Mexico days. Rocks in the road. Rocks and powder detergent to scrub and wash their clothes clean. Rivers were their laundry mats.

Down the street a shop burned down. Clinics abound, lines wrap around corners, into crowds streets. Fast food promises a fast out, clogged and fed back to the earth. Spanish and English mix in the air, smog fills in the gaps, mountains in distance. The parks reek of drugs, beauty of nature polluted by pipes and needles. The children of the love generation's children, still clinging to the dream their grandparents forgot.

A man in a wheelchair doesn't outright beg for change, but it's painted on his face. 'Nam vet' it says on the windbreaker draped across his shoulders. A dollar, three quarters, two dimes, and fifteen pennies sit silent in an old Styrofoam cup above his knee. He holds to a memory of when he walked into a store and knew the clerk by name. Now he wheels into a shop and is asked to leave. "Thanks for your service" is called out ironically, but he remembers the jungles, remembers the horrors. When he sleeps he actually dreams.

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