Monday, June 28, 2010

There is a subway in Los Angeles

To get from Long Beach to L.A., I board a train. I've been told that nobody checks tickets, that nobody bothers to buy them, if they ride the train at all.

"I rode the train. Once," says my Long Beach friend, dropping me off. She has lived here for most of her life.

The train, however, is full of people. A young Latino guy and his little brother wearing a child backpack walk down the aisle. The older brother holds a cardboard box, cut open to show his wares.

"Chocolate," he murmurs as he passes. "Chocolate." This can't be legal, so he speaks low. He passes once through the car and gets off at the next stop.

A band gets on. Guitars and tambourine and bongos, a crowd of people. I wonder if they're a Jesus band. They sit a few rows behind me and tune up, and then nothing. I start to wonder if they're going to perform at all. And then they start. No count that I can hear, nothing: they just start, in perfect time.

She was just seventeen
You know what I mean
And the way she looked was way beyond compare
So how could I dance with another (ooh)
When I saw her standing there

They're good. They hit that tight harmony, clip along at a bright pace, make it their own. And then the song is done, the youngest member in springy dreads walks up and down the aisle with a plastic garbage bag for offerings - and that's it. No more songs.

"People down here are serious," said my San Francisco friend a day ago. "Not like in SF. We just play around up there."

Another guy comes through the train with a cardboard box of goodies. He's a big black guy in his thirties. He doesn't keep his voice low.

"Snacksnacksnacks, twoforadollar, twoforadollar," he says, moving quickly down the aisle. "Snacksnacksnacks." And he hops off at the next stop.

More people get in at Rosa Parks station. This is where I realize I'm the only white person on this train. This is a comfortable, at-home sort of feeling. Is it some insufferable smugness in me? Am I trying to align myself with people in that presumptuous way of edging someone out of her seat, that unbelievable claim that I am One of You, coming in with my big feet and very white whiteness? I don't know. Nobody on this train seems to care one way or the other.

The next snack vendor is in his fifties at least, a Latino man with a trim mustache. He has no patter at all, and sits down at the end of the car, holding the box of chips and candy bars in his lap, staring into nothing. He touches one hand to his forehead and slowly blinks his eyes.

The car is full, but only one person is reading a book, standing. Another reads a pamphlet, his lips making mouse-sized words. Another talks into his cell phone. "Fuck America," he says, then, "I'm done. I'm moving."

I can see the towers of Los Angeles ahead. The sun shines in hard and bright, and we all wear crowns of fire. The light opens us from sternum to navel and our hearts shine back while we turn our heads, eyes bored with all this beauty.

Friday, June 25, 2010

We escaped places like this

An official-looking truck passes slowly. There are lights on the roof that are meant to flash, though they are not flashing now. Along the side are sober black letters that read: Code Enforcement. My friend L says they are measuring the grass, checking that trash cans have been taken in by noon, that paint schemes are approved colors.

What sort of code violation emergency would require the lights to flash? Does it have a siren?

The streets are wide and sunstruck.

"This place reminds me of Texas," says L.

"It looks like Utah," I say.

"I escaped from Texas."

In the cool of the evening we walk through the street fair. The sign at one booth reads: Questions, Meaning, Destiny

A smaller sign asks, Evolution? I see the evolution of man silhouettes beside another chart showing silhouettes that are all human.

Across the street another booth promises Chocolate-Dipped Waffles on a Stick.

A man bends down to ask his kids, "Do you want to see people with feathers on their heads dancing?"

We do. The feather headdresses are gratifyingly high, rippling in the breeze. We don't know what tribe they are meant to be. One dancer is a flabby white guy in a cop moustache. He dances in an offhand manner, elbows in close to his sides, condescending to make a flicking gesture with the tassels in his hands. The woman in front seems to put her heart in it. She stomps and swoops, grinding her enemies to dust.

The moon is bright and high as we walk back to the car, the Evolution? booth disassembled, chairs stacked in the empty street.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Too tired to write

My brain won't settle. Today I impress a client by spilling soy sauce, sloshing it onto my coat and over the bench where I sit; I feel a cold puddle soaking into the backside of my light tan trousers.

I order dos tacos al pastor at the taco truck for dinner. The man in the truck asks me a question in fast Spanish. I don't follow quickly enough. He speaks to me in English after that.

A couple with a wooden cart are picking up detritus from the street under the supervision of a pair of cops. The cops don't help.

Four homeless guys have set up a shantytown at the bus stop. What will happen to them when the new ordinance goes into effect, prohibiting sitting or lying on public sidewalks? They nod a friendly hello. I decide not to wait for the bus here.

A walk is better anyway. I cross the street and look back down Folsom. It's stunning: low clouds lit up by a diffuse sunset.

I stand in the middle of the street while the Walk sign counts down. Three, two, one.