“I think I just saw someone shoot up someone else with heroin,” I whispered quietly to my man as we walked briskly through skid row.
Yeah, we had taken a wrong turn.
You see, we were exploring LA via the Metro Rail, the fairly underused but really great public transportation set up by LA county and billions of tax payer dollars.
Ever since the whole General Motors Conspiracy to wipe out the trolley system in Los Angeles (or so I’ve been told), LA has been a land of freeway on ramps and off ramps, gridlock, and smog. So imagine my joy when my man suggested for a date, we just ‘ride the metro gold line and see where it takes us‘.
For $5 all day pass, we hopped onto a train in sunny Pasadena and oohed and ahhed at the stops. There was a freedom in realizing you could get on and/or off at any stop and explore. No parking to find! No worries about your car getting vandalized while you were gone! No having to bust out the GPS and try to figure out an alternative route to the wall of brake lights in front of you! Just you and your feet and a curious mind. South Pasadena with all its shops and restaurants! The Southwest Museum! Chinatown! Little Tokyo! Downtown LA! Staples Center! LA Live!
We ended up at USC and the Natural History Museum. (It’s the Expo Park/USC stop. Think, in LA you can now just take a train to school! Brill!) As interesting as the museum was, the real highlight was the Exposition Park Rose Garden. It’s FREE! Hundreds of roses just screaming to be smelled. I stuck my nose in almost every variety within reach. Some were buttery sweet, some gingery. Some looked good but smelled like dead weeds. For FREE! And when we were tired, we bought 2 $1.25 paletas from the paleta guy, sat in the shade, and watched 15 year olds in their quincenera dresses pose for pictures in the white roses, while a heavy bride beaming in her pick-up gown by her equally proud groom posed for pictures in the purple roses.
Hopped back on the train, decided to check out the Flower district, hopped off. But turned down a wrong street and now we were on San Pedro between 8th Street and 4th which we discovered is a skid row of L.A. And unlike a car, there is no pretending it doesn’t exist while you’re listening to Rhianna at 40 mph. You hear all the conversations, all the ‘Hello little Asian girl,” all the “This ain’t a good neighborhood, you guys shouldn’t be in here.” We fixated on the white building we knew was the beginning of Little Tokyo and steeled ourselves to walking with a purpose. It wasn’t the homelessness that made me on guard, it was the unpredictability of drug use that made me wary. It was a culture I knew nothing about, and we were definitely crossing borders that made others view us with suspicion and ridicule.
I admonished myself for being self-protective, for trying to walk swiftly past these humans whom life had forgotten. I knew I was one of ‘those’ people who lived in my bubble of safety with my cat and my friends who all saw politics the way I did. I was no better than a Housewife of Beverly Hills or a Jersey Shore-ite. I’m as pretentious as the next person and this 4 block walk proved it to me.
We arrived in Little Tokyo and sighed a sigh. We both had held our breath trying to appear calm during our walk. We sat down in a small cafe to collect our bearings. An older couple sat next to us and smiled. They had come from a day at the Mark Taper Forum. They had been married for 63 years. She had been slave labor in Poland during WWII for the Germans. The secret to being married for 63 years? “You have to fight a little, but not all the time…” she smiled, “But never go to bed angry.”
We held hands as we waited for our train back to Pasadena. A family of 4, with a heavily pregnant mom in Ugg knock-offs sat at the bench near us. The sun was setting. The train slid into the station quietly aside and opened its door with a silent swoosh.
We smiled at the train. $5 can get you pretty far in LA. Physically, mentally, and spiritually.