Thinking I could easily navigate this great city, I took a bus downtown Los Angeles yesterday. A mistake I won’t make again.
I started my journey at La Brea and Sunset, in front of the Starbucks meat market. A young man waited at the bus stop beside me. Although he was heavily engaged in smoking a ruby doobie, he made an effort to engage in some friendly conversation with me.
“You from here?” he asked.
“No” I said, trying not to inhale when I spoke.
“You sure?” he asked again, this time blowing smoke in my face.
I nodded, afraid to open my mouth.
“Me neither. I’m from South Central” he continued, “you don’t ever wanna go there. Gang bangs and drive-by shootings everyday.”
“That’s awful” I said, this time choking on the smoke that smelled like skunk.
“But you’d never go there, you’re a Hollywood girl, I can see that” he said, “You want some?” he pushed the joint within an inch of my mouth.
“No, but thank you.”
He was the friendliest person I had met so far in Los Angeles, unfortunately we didn’t share the same interests.
Just then the bus pulled up. I took a seat near the front. ‘Ruby’ sat beside me. He told me many interesting stories and taught me a lot of new words, I liked him. It was hard to believe he was a bad-ass.
A few stops later my transfer came up and the next bus got me downtown fast. I got off in an area that was a bit shady: bars on the windows (like my place), interesting characters (nothing out of the ordinary) and garbage littered most of the sidewalks (street art).
Afterwards I was tracing my steps back to the bus stop when a 99 cent store in the distance caught my eye. The lure of cheap candy and laundry detergent brought me to its doors.
Inside everyone spoke Spanish. It seemed like a Mexican holiday as I easily conversed with the jovial cashier, laughing about nothing. I felt like I had bagged LA, like I had this city in my back pocket. And that’s when it bit me in the butt.
I tried to take a short cut back to the bus stop, but the streets started running on a diagonal. The bars on the windows were getting thicker and the faces meaner. There were no tourists on the streets, only small clusters of young men. I had ended up in a what appeared to be an inner city.
“Smoochywoochypoochy?” said a young man. I thought he was asking me for a kiss, I would later learn it’s a slang term for marijuana.
“Yellow sunshine mamacita?”
Is there any other kind of sunshine? I avoided eye contact and walked a little faster past the next cluster.
“Go get her, she looks easy”
Easy? I’m not easy. I’m half British, I’ve been called a prude.
“Give me a dollar!” the punk shouted as he lunged at me.
“I don’t have any money!” I shouted back.
He was alarmed by my angry reply but not nearly alarmed as I was to be called 'easy'.
I walked even faster past decrepit buildings with staircases that led down to dungeons. I moved to the middle of the street, away from the dark cellars and what was lurking inside of them. There were no cars in this part of town.
And then, like a mirage a tall red haired man appeared in front of me.
“Are you lost?” he asked quietly.
“Go to the next street. Turn right then make a left after four blocks, then another right - you’ll be on a main street” he said.
10 minutes later I was at a bus stop happily eating the 99 cent tootsie rolls I bought earlier.
When the bus finally arrived I took a seat near the middle, grateful to be on my way back to Hollywood. The bus driver kept eyeing me from the rear-view mirror. Pervert. After 20 minutes I still didn’t recognize anything outside and I was the only blonde on the bus. In LA that’s almost as rare as not seeing plastic body parts.
Maybe the bus driver wasn’t a pervert, maybe I had gotten on the wrong bus.
“Is this bus going to Beverly Hills?” I whispered.
He slammed on the brakes and opened the door.
“Get off the bus and cross the street” he said, pointing at a bus stop.
“Where am I?” I asked.
Shitballs. I waited and waited and waited at the bus stop, each bus speeding past me without even slowing down. I was going to die in South Central LA for 99 cent laundry detergent.
Just then a white van slowly passed me on the far side of the street, the windows were darkened so I couldn’t see in but I knew they were staring at me. It went to the next block and pulled a fast u-turn. They must think I’m a toss-up or a tweeker, here to score some salt and pepper or smack. Will they believe me when I tell them I’m just a writer who got on the wrong bus?
The van sped towards the bus stop, the side door opening as it approached. Maybe it’s a drive by. I shielded my heart with the cheap detergent and waited for the inevitable shower of bullets.
“Get in the van” said a grey haired lady in her 60s at least.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Good Samaritans, the buses won’t stop here, we’ll give you a ride”
They armed me with directions to Hollywood and dropped me off at a nearby subway station.
After being clawed, pawed, slapped and I dare say even cupped on the crowded metro I eventually made it back to the safe confines of Sunset boulevard.
Los Angeles: the city of angels.