8 observations for 8 days in LA

“Bus” is a bad word
The bus in LA is incredibly affordable. If you are fortunate to be near a major bus route (which I am) then the $1.25 USD price tag is very reasonable when you consider that this mode of transit covers a serious stretch of space. In Toronto where the Buses/Streetcars/Train is the same price ($3CAD) whether you are going 16 stops or 2 – I appreciate this.

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And yet, everybody seems to hate on the bus. The ones I have taken have not been dirty or (too) full of crazy people. As someone who has primarily lived in 3 major cities with awesome Public Transit, I’m kind of stubborn when it comes to a city that deliberately spreads itself out and doesn’t provide an easy, cheap way to get around.

It’s like you WANT me to have to drive man, and I now I have to do the opposite.

Streets to not walk down
LA is somewhere that has places you can walk, but you definitely need to drive to those places. Like the Griffith Observatory, or cute neighbourhoods. But if you are a clueless visitor like me, you might be under the impression that you can just walk where ever, from point A to point B.

Turns out, LA is a city where a nice street you are walking on, can turn into a scary street just by turning a corner or walking the wrong direction. And its not like you can google: “way home that will be murder and rape free” or “dangerous streets of LA” (Oh shit you totally can for neighbourhoods…maybe that could be an app? Like Google maps but for women just walking minding their clueless bizness?)

Neighbourhood City
Where you live in LA can say a lot of things about you…how rich you are, how cool you are, how artistic you are, if you have a family…and people can tell this simply by the way you answer the question: “So which part of LA are you in?” (By the way my answer tells people that I definitely found my place on craigslist and had no idea about this neighbourhood elitism)

Can I get that Vegan, Gluten-free, Skinny, Non-soy, Organic, Homogenous, Air-Free, Non GMO, and can you tap-it-gently-three-times-with-your-two-index-fingers and whisper “Nancy Noooo!” into the cup before you it?
Do you have a food thing? Like, you can only eat plants that come from a field planted on the west side of a mountain? Good news, LA will cater to you – no matter how ridiculous your request (you weirdo).

hipster-meme

The traffic is the new weather
In other major cities, the weather is a nice safe topic to chat about with strangers. Hong Kong and Sydney:  “So hot today” or “Crazy rain!”, Toronto: snow (lack there of, the crazy amount, the consistency, texture) but here in LA where the temperature remains fairly consistent (not a great conversation starter…”still perfect out there!” “yep”) the Los Angeleans talk about how busy the roads are/were and how crazy traffic is.

We get it, its bad.

And to that I say, “yeah well… maybe if more people took the bus…”

You can survive without a car
The rise of ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft make it super easy to not have a car here, so long as you have a phone with the internet and the app, and a credit card. Parking is a bitch anyway (it takes five minutes to understand the signs themselves) and although I can drive (in theory: passed my test, haven’t driven since) I honestly think having less cars on the roads will also ease traffic issues (also I am terrified of the aggressive driving, but also the noble thing). Plus with Uber Pool and Lyft Line, (carpooling) its very very economical so you can save your dollars for Gluten and Fun free beer (barf).

Everybody wants to tell you their story
Ride sharing these past 8 days have introduced me to people I would never have a ten minute conversation with. And everybody out here seems to have an interesting story. Maybe its because it is a city built on overnight fortunes and aspirational living, but no one has yet said “oh i do this one thing and i’m pretty comfortable” nope. Everyone gives you their headline “I am a song writer but I want to get into modelling” “I work at a country club but I want to get a union job at Frito-Lay” “I work for a startup that is manufacturing Hemp pain relief for Dogs and Horses” (seriously…seriously)

And Last but not least:

The Homeless Situation
I hate to get all serious at the end of this frivolous blog but with the good, sometimes you get the bad, and here it goes…

I’ve travelled all over the world and I have never seen a worse homeless situation than I have in Los Angeles. I had heard of “Skid Row” or “Tent City” but I was not mentally prepared for the reality – which is, there is a population of people living on the streets of one of America’s largest Cities, with views of the millionaires living up in the “hills”. According to this article, the population of the homeless has grown by 12%… Forty Four thousand homeless people living in the city. That figure is gobsmacking, and when I have asked people living here (immigrants and born&breaders) what the ACTUAL fuck is going on, there has been a general shrugging of shoulders, or a gentle shaking of the head and light tsk-ing. Apparently it is well known that psychiatric hospitals discharge patients with one-way bus tickets to LA/California AND there are red tape laws that prevent young homeless people from staying in shelters that house adults.

It is all kinds of fucked up that I’ve seen gold bentley’s cruising down the streets and walked past homes that look like they are bigger than every house I’ve ever lived in put together ever (aka OBSCENE wealth), and then walked past people with wheelie bags and trolleys living under a tarp on a street corner.

Maybe, maybe I could ignore it if I was in any other foreign country. But I can’t because this is America. This is the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. This is (traditionally) the country that everybody looks at, to get a piece of that “American dream”.

And the reality is stark. It is in your face aggressively there. And it isn’t easy for me to understand how anyone can get to the point in their mind where this is normal.

There are so many wonderful things about LA, and I am having such a great time in California, but the Homeless situation is something that you may never know about unless you come here and see it with your own eyes. It is very, very distressing, I don’t know how it can be addressed or fixed in a country that seems to be so angrily against the “socialist ideas” of somewhere like: Canada or Australia say.

Being new to a place gives you a unique perspective – things that become every day, or things that you don’t notice after a while are still very obvious, and funny or sad to me.

LA is like no where I have ever been before – it is a city of 18.5 MILLION PEOPLE, 270,000 Millionaires and 44,000 homeless people.

So far, I’m not too sure what to think – it seems like the kind of place you might fall in love with passionately, or hate with a vengeance.

Time will tell.

 

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The Old Woman Across the Street (a short story) Part 2

The old woman from across the street was much lighter than I thought. Her bulk was added to by layers of clothing. She was actually quite frail, and as I helped her to her feet I realized just how old she was. Lines carved rivets through her cheeks and under her eyes. The powder she had applied to her face was caught in the cracks, and her eyebrows were drawn on.

 

“Let me help you with your groceries” I said, gathering her meager items together and putting them back in her pull-along trolley. The vegetables were limp I noticed, and the apples which had rolled away were puckered, even from before their tumble across the salt packed concrete.

 

The hairs on my exposed arms and shoulders stood on end in the tart coldness, refreshing to my feverish skin, but also shocking. After everything was gathered and put back, I easily lifted the basket to the top of the stairs and left it there, hopping back down to assist the old woman in getting up. She was still shaky on her feet.

 

“Let me help you into your apartment” I said, and before she could argue I scooped up her basket and pushed open the unlocked communal front door. Inside a long dark corridor stretched ahead, a couple of doors to the left and right, and in the far corner, where the shadows were, a tight staircase rose up into the building. I stood back, letting the darkness fade into light, the old woman led the way slowly to the back of the hall and up the flight of stairs. On the first landing she turned right and entered the second door.

 

It was a house of tiny bedsit apartments, as I’d guessed, and the room had all the comforts a little room in an old house could accommodate. A single, simple metal framed bed pushed into the corner, a basin behind the door, a bar fridge, a hot plate and a window that looked onto the brick wall of the building beside. It was a pretty standard dingy little affair. I put the basket down just inside the door. The old woman sat down gently on the bed, sinking into the thin mattress. She seemed weary and bruised, and so, so old.

 

“Can I…would you like something?” I asked. The old woman shook her head and waved her papery thin-skinned hand.

 

“You should go. You are sick” she said accusingly, and I was surprised by her New Zealand accent, so similar to my own brash Australian burr, slightly burnt at the edges.

 

“You’re a Kiwi!” I exclaimed before I could stop myself.

 

She looked at me, shrugged her shoulders.

 

“I was. It’s been a long time since I was down in that part of the world.”

 

She pushed herself off the mattress and knelt down to put away her groceries, but the distance from her upright position was too far and she groaned, clutching her back.

 

“Please let me help you,” I said, calmly steering her back to the bed, and pulling the items from her basket. She sat heavily and watched me.

 

“You’re Australian” she said.

 

“I am.”

 

“You’re a long way from home.”

 

“So are you.”

 

She snorted.

 

“Bah. Home. This is home now.”

 

I looked around at the dark grubby little room and shuddered.

 

“Have you been in Canada long?” I asked, inspecting the semi-rotting fruit.

 

“About a year” she said. She pointed at one of the apples, “Pass me one of those would you.” She took a small bite of the fruit, closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall.

 

“Organic” she said, eyes still closed. She sighed.

 

I looked at the apples. If organic was code for rotten then she was right on. I put them in the bowl above her fridge.

 

There wasn’t much personality to the room and I was desperate to know more. It had been a while since I had met any other New Zealanders or Australians and I wanted to swap stories. I also didn’t want to go back to my stuffy apartment and watch more episodes.

 

“Where did you live before you came here?” I asked.

 

The old woman slowly opened her eyes and looked me up and down.

 

“Nosy.” She said.

 

I shrugged. I’d been called worse.

 

Wearily she pushed herself up from her bed and got to her knees beside it. Under the bed an old leather travel case, scuffed with age was wedged between floor and springs. She drew it out and unclicked the clasps.

 

 

I stared at the contents.

 

Utterly impressed…

The Old Lady Across the Street (A short story) Part 1

The old lady that lived across the street was always standing on her porch smoking stinky cigarettes. I suspected they were laced with weed. But they could have just been Turkish. She seemed out of place in our yuppyish neighborhood, until I realized that the house across the road was actually divided into tiny bedsit’s, and that she must be one of the renters.

 

I guess she had a room at the back of the house because there was never any Rear Window shit where I watched her life through our living room. I never saw her lights go on, never saw her playing piano or watched her watching TV. I really didn’t know anything about her except that she was always smoking her stinky cigarettes at 5.30pm everyday that I came straight home from work.

 

I didn’t really think too much about her, she was like any other neighbor I’d come to recognize in the street I’d moved to. The young father with bright red hair and a bright red wagon which always had two bright red-haired children stuffed into it and another hanging off his free hand. The middle-aged man in faded Canada Post Jacket fussing with his lawn every morning, leafs/snow/grass.  The pretty girl who was always bundled up on top, and wore thin stockings below.

 

They were all a part of the landscape and I took them for granted. Maybe sometimes I fantasized that I was like Truman from ‘The Truman Show” and they were all extras that added to the scenery. Other times I was less egotistical and just found it amusing that the number of familiar faces were growing with every passing day.

 

Then one morning, I took the day off.

 

Sinuses clogged with snot, chest heavy with mucus, eyes itchy, bloated, stomach churning. Yep, I had the whole list of fun I-can’t-go-to-work excuses. I sat on the couch miserably in my pajama’s, a freshly opened box of crackers in front of me, and the day stretched out like one feverishly exciting house party-of-one.

 

And then I saw the old lady. Hair covered with a scarf, bundled up in a mustard yellow sweater and heavy navy coat, she eased herself carefully down from the steps of the porch with her drag-along shopping trolley, and set off down the road towards the shops. I’d never seen her walk anywhere, and I’d never seen her off the porch, so I was surprised by how slow she was. I guess “old lady” denotes that she’s old, but there are varying stages of oldness. This was definitely less of the Helen Mirren old, and more of the papery thin-skinned grandmother old. I started watching episodes, filling up tissues with the poisons from my nose, throat and lungs. Occasionally I would look out the window and watch the goings on of my street. Mostly I was half conscious.

 

When I was at the end of my sixth straight episode of a sitcom, the old lady coming back down the street. Her pull-along basket didn’t have much in it. Leafy greens poked over the edge and I could see lumpy bags down in the bottom. I watched her try to navigate the stairs, the basket and the awkward distance between each step. And then she fell, not heavily, but backwards over her basket, and like a turtle, she lay on her back, arms and legs wiggling in the air. I pushed myself up on the coach and strained my head left and right looking out the window. No one was around, it was early afternoon, the street was quiet.

 

I grabbed my keys and ran down the stairs, a resplendent vision in faded saggy singlet top and hole riddled green and pink pajama bottoms. The old lady had used the railing to pull herself up, but she still looked shaken and her food was scattered over the pavement.

 

“Are you okay?!” I asked, out of breath and red-faced from my flu.

 

The old lady seemed to be checking herself all over for breaks, she was massaging her knee. After a moment she nodded, and tried to pull herself up further. I put my hands under her elbow and gently lifted her to her feet…

 

 

Photo Credit http://www.monalia.com/partners-in-rhyme-headquarters/