0581 The Friendly Folk of South L.A. (USA 100â€”revisit)
Los Angeles Travel Blog› entry 5 of 92 › view all entries
Before I continue with my story, Iâ€™m going to rewind about 10 yearsâ€¦.
I spent a rather lonely, but important 6 months of my life in
I remember landing at the LAX airport, just arriving from
So off to
I decided that this is where Iâ€™d make my new home, and went searching for an apartment-- soon finding a cheap little studio right off Santa Monica Boulevard with a Nicaraguan former Sadinista fighter as my manager.
I got a bicycle and biked all over the greater LA areaâ€¦ I met all kinds of folks in the music and film industryâ€¦ extras, rising actors, producers, wannabes, buskers, losers, winnersâ€¦ I got invited to stylish art parties in
But overall it was a lonely phase in my life.
Back to the Presentâ€¦
Iâ€™m excited to be back, and to have the chance to take another look at this city with new eyesâ€¦ And walk up some of those same streets that are loaded with memoriesâ€¦
And my first leg will be up through
But today is different. Today Iâ€™m on foot, which Iâ€™ve become more and more convinced is really the only way to really experience a city.
Still a bit ruffled by my close call in
As I start to tally up all the â€śgood morningsâ€ť Iâ€™ve gotten, it strikes me-- this might actually be the friendliest neighbourhood Iâ€™ve ever been in! Unbelievable!
I start to feel ashamed of myself for all this years harbouring unfounded ideas about the anti-white racism in these parts.
Maybe itâ€™s just because itâ€™s Christmasâ€¦ I tell myselfâ€¦ but strangely, as soon as I leave the
One thing I can conclude for sure, is that despite the crime and the troubles of these parts, thereâ€™s a real sense of neighborliness and community hereâ€¦
So I continue on with my long hike, eyes fixed on my first goal: Downtown LA
This whole area is an enormous, perfectly laid out grid that stretches on for miles and miles. Itâ€™s pretty much impossible to get lost-- and you always know exactly how far you are from downtown based on the street numberâ€¦ If youâ€™re on, say,
Itâ€™s nice to see such logic and order used in planning a city-- especially after 18 months in
I hear music coming from one, so I canâ€™t resist the temptation to go inside and here some truly authentic black gospel musicâ€¦ I feel pretty awkward going in with all my stuff, but I figure, hey, its church, so they wonâ€™t mind.
The service is almost over, but I do manage to get in on a bit of the passionate sermon, a song and an altar callâ€¦ And get a taste of this major element in urban American culture. This place is a sort of refuge where you can dress up in your finest, go in and escape the harshness of the streets and hear the soothing words that convince you for a few moments that everything is going to be all rightâ€¦
I continue on my way, up to
And then, suddenly my tour of
It was a fascinating and very enlightening tour of a section of the world that doesnâ€™t get the respect it deserves.
The first building I notice as a reach
Then I dive into the University Campusâ€¦ Itâ€™s manicured gardens and perfectly restored buildings a sharp contrast to the gritty reality a few blocks to the south.
I immediately realize that Iâ€™m going to have to rethink another idea Iâ€™ve had about
Hereâ€™s where I take my first videoclipâ€¦ it would have been nice to get a videoclip down on on South Western, but thought would kind of be pushing my luckâ€¦
Across from the campus is an enormous Islamic looking buildingâ€¦ no, itâ€™s not a mosque, itâ€™s the Shrinerâ€™s auditorium-- with plaque telling about the big events that have been held thereâ€¦
I continue on north, The LA skyline beckoning meâ€¦ Along the way I come across all sorts of cool little landmarksâ€¦ A magnificent cathedral, combining Southwest Spanish Colonial style with more traditional European stylesâ€¦ One of the first car dealerships of
One thing nice about the
The funny thing is that I passed by a lot of these spots 10 years ago, but had absolutely no interest in finding out what they were about. Maybe I didnâ€™t have the discoverer spirit back thenâ€¦ or maybe my eyes were just turned elsewhereâ€¦ Anyhow, itâ€™s great to be back here as a â€śtouristâ€ť who wants to cram in all he can in a short amount of time.
Iâ€™m getting close to the Staples Center Arena, and I notice how many huge, cheap parking lots there are all around, with guys begging basketball fans to park thereâ€¦
This was an area that was particularly hard hit by the riots back in the early nineties. So if you want to look at the bright side, riots can be nice and helpful in clearing out land and bringing down the price of parking(!)
There the Herald Examiner old newspaper building with its unusual domes and spiresâ€¦ thereâ€™s the Mayan theatre, one of L.A.s many unique theatres, with its bizarre pseudo-Mayan dĂ©corâ€¦ An enormous â€śJesus Savesâ€ť sign stands high above, in front of a crumbling building that definitely needs savingâ€¦
Despite the cityâ€™s short history, you can feel the mix of different eras that have quickly come and gone through this cityâ€¦
Then I reach the Broadway and suddenly Iâ€™m in the most vibrant, animated shopping district you could find-- with rows of shops blasting out a cacophony of musicâ€¦ jewelry shops, eateries of every sort, dollar stores and electronics shopsâ€¦ Nobodyâ€™s shutting down for Christmas hereâ€¦
Above us are tall, ornately decorated 1920s style â€śskyscrapersâ€ťâ€¦ all kinds of colourful characters walking up and down the streets-- thereâ€™s a predominantly Latino theme here, but thereâ€™s something for everyoneâ€¦
I continue on up towards L.
I guess it just goes with the overall theme of the city: â€śAnything is possible here in LAâ€¦â€ť
Here I find a nice resting spot to sing a couple of songs and watch folks come and goâ€¦ Iâ€™ve been hiking almost non-stop for 9 hours and I need a breakâ€¦
Wanting to absorb every inch of this downtown area, I head towards very quiet business district with its shimmering skyscrapersâ€¦ past L.A.s beautiful libraryâ€¦ up the hill to another beautiful plaza and an odd â€śsculptureâ€ť that looks like a bunch of airplane parts wired togetherâ€¦ On to another cool theatre, the Disney Theater, modeled like the
Then itâ€™s down the hill again past
I find myself enthralled by all these cool â€śdiscoveriesâ€ť-- like someone coming to
And Iâ€™m not done yet. The day is quickly slipping away from me and although with my hike from LAX to downtown Iâ€™m pretty sure I can rightfully claim that Iâ€™ve â€śdiscoveredâ€ť
But first Iâ€™ve got to explore 2 neighborhoods that believe it or not, I never really explored in the 6 months I lived here: Chinatown and the Latino district on Cesar Chavez boulevard.
First the Latino District. It includes a street lined with plaques telling what each building used to be, and subtle reminders of the oppression experienced by Latinos in the early years of
I wander around the plaza watching the people and pondering for a moment on American history. In recent years thereâ€™s been a huge debate about the â€śnew waveâ€ť of Latino immigrantsâ€¦ Should they be welcomed or treated as criminals? Both sides are sure that they are right. But here, Iâ€™m suddenly reminded of something else, that Latinos have been a part of this country for hundreds of yearsâ€¦ In fact, here in
Now, on to
Chinatown is also completely packed and does feel a lot like
I reach a quiet little square surrounded by exaggeratedly Chinese looking buildingsâ€¦ not entirely authentic, but a cool little spot nonethelessâ€¦
A few blocks further is the restaurant use in the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker movie â€śRush Hourâ€ťâ€¦ This is really a fun neighbourhood to explore.
Yet there are sobering reminders of the darker moments of this communityâ€™s pastâ€¦ Plaques telling about the burning and killings that took place when anti-Chinese sentiments flared to the surface early on in the centuryâ€¦ Other plaques tell of the way American Chinese were treated in the 1950s and 60s when some assumed they might all be communist sympathizersâ€¦
Itâ€™s been a long, hard road for this segment of American society as wellâ€¦
And with that, my tour of Downtown Los Angeles comes to an end. Dusk is quickly setting in, but my tour is far from overâ€¦
The Sun is setting as I head up Sunset Boulevardâ€¦ Iâ€™m not sure if this is such a good ideaâ€¦ Itâ€™s probably going to be pretty late by the time I reach Hollywood, and Iâ€™ve got some kind of iffy neighborhoods to go throughâ€¦ besides, what if the Hollywood Hostel is closed?
But Iâ€™m determined.
Sunset Blvd is a predominant Latino area-- and people donâ€™t seem quite as friendly and spontaneous as folks in South LA-- but thatâ€™s only a superficial impressionâ€¦ I know that if I started up a conversation with someone, weâ€™d be chatting away like old buddies within secondsâ€¦
I pass by a little hippy strip with some funky little shops and cafesâ€¦ unfortunately all closed for the dayâ€¦Hey, it is Christmas day after allâ€¦ I kind of forgot about that there in
It gets darker and darker and the streets get quieter and quieterâ€¦ As I turn off on
Soon my attention turns to all the spots that bring back memoriesâ€¦ The Day Labor center where Iâ€™d sit around all morning waiting for a jobâ€¦ the 7 eleven where a filthy guy in a wheelchair would sit outside eating peanut butter out of a jarâ€¦ the little store where Iâ€™d buy chicken thighs for 29 cents a poundâ€¦ the Armenian shop that sold delicious biscuitsâ€¦ The intersection where the â€śBlack Hebrewsâ€ť would preach that they were actually the
I remember how it felt to be living on my own in my own country for the first time-- and feeling very lonely.
Finally I reach
â€¦Heâ€™s goneâ€¦ And so is my last hope of reconnecting with someone who knew me during that phase of my lifeâ€¦
I continue on along Santa Monica, following the same stretch that Iâ€™d take every day to my job at Taco Bell in downtown Hollywoodâ€¦ across Western Street once againâ€¦ past the old second hand stores where I bought an old table from the Azerbaijani ownerâ€¦ Across
And finally, Vineâ€¦
Thereâ€™s Taco Bell, thereâ€™s Yokahama Rice Bowl, thereâ€™s the guy selling dope on the corner as usualâ€¦
But my hostel is gone for goodâ€¦ It gives me a sad feeling to see that abandoned building that welcomed me to
Donâ€™t know where Iâ€™m going to stay the night, but I figure, since Iâ€™m already here I might as well re-discover
It was a blastâ€¦ everybody was in a party mood and cheering me onâ€¦ and best of all, I did something that no one else in the world had thought ofâ€¦
Now Iâ€™m backâ€¦ Back in the city that both inspired and betrayed meâ€¦
On the Hollywood Strip, the city bursts back to life, crammed with tourists and folks just out enjoying their Christmas eveningâ€¦ Of course Michael Jackson, Buzz Lightyear, the Iron Man and Jack Sparrow are out there posing with fans for a few dollarsâ€¦ The Chinese and Kodak Theatres are splendidly lit up for the nightâ€¦ This is the Hollywood faĂ§adeâ€¦ the only side of
But tonight, Iâ€™m a tourist, so Iâ€™m going to enjoy this place as a tourist.
I spot a cheap looking hotel down a side street and go check it out. When I approach it looks and reeks of an abandoned building.
â€ś40 dollars a nightâ€ť Iâ€™m told by a guy with his dirty feet propped up on his desk.
Forget it, Iâ€™d rather sleep at the airport. So I catch the subway across townâ€¦ back down to
Itâ€™s been a very, very long dayâ€¦