riding the rails 2

Leaving Union Station, I asked at the information desk about the paper schedules that used to line one of the walls, only to be told that they were only available online these days.  I then asked the woman working there if she knew any hotels nearby, but the one she directed me to, the Metro Plaza Hotel, next to Oliveira Street, seemed like it would be too expensive, so I stopped just short of the door, and made my way back towards Oliveira Street.

Oliveira Street is home to the Angeles Pueblo, reported to be the first and oldest construction in the city, and is something of a miniature Mexican theme park, with traditional food and vendors selling some of the same wares you might find at the border.  There was Norteno music being cranked up and when I got to the Plaza, saw that it was being supplied by a young DJ in a cowboy hat, and that a handful of couples were up dancing around the bandstand.  It seemed like a leisurely way to spend a warm day.  There were benches to rest on in the shade and a woman selling cold drinks.  For me there was the anxiety of not knowing where I was going to sleep that night, however, so I passed quickly and headed for City Hall, figuring I’d make my way down to Central and the hotels on Skid Row.  In addition to the Cecil, I also knew about the Roosevelt and a few others, really the most disgustingly bad deals on the face of the planet, but what could be done.

Getting there I had to cross the 101 freeway, and saw that the overpass was lined with tents.  Seeing that made my stomach hurt, just like witnessing the encampments under the freeways.  It is OK that people can be rich beyond their wildest dreams and live in mansions and fly their own private planes, but no one should have to live in that kind of squalor.  The price of failure is too great in this country.  Once you start falling you might never stop.  There are countries where poor people still manage to maintain a quiet dignity.  There are societies where families take care of their own.  Here, homeless people end up totally isolated and go crazy, like Marvel Supervillains, as boisterous in their failure as the rich are in their revelry, being brought up to believe that they could’ve been anything, and now having it come to this and being told it’s all their fault.  I’d been out of the country for years.  Brought back by the pandemic and dislocated beyond measure, I was now waking up to that cold possibility every morning and the pain was very real.   

From Central, I made my way down to Los Angeles Street and tracked down the King Eddy Saloon.  Back in the day I’d sometimes be waiting for it to open at six in the morning.  You could get a pitcher of Natural Lite for four twenty-five and a chicken potpie for a dollar.  Half of Skid Row would be sitting there, getting a buzz on before the sun started rising.  Since the time I’d left Los Angeles, however, there’d been a move to revitalize downtown, and now not only was the King Eddy boarded up, but all the hotels, even the Cecil, had been converted into expensive lofts.  If the strategy is to price out the long-rooted transient, homeless population, they’ve still got a long way to go.  I witnessed more tents and makeshift lean-tos on the street than you would expect at an intercontinental Boy Scout Jamboree.

Outside of the old Rosslyn Hotel I asked a security guard about places to stay in the area.  He knew about a hotel a few blocks away that ended up being a boutique place for hipsters and urban professionals.  The cheapest rooms started at two-hundred and fifty.  Only when I was desperate beyond measure did it occur to me to do a search on my phone.  What I discovered was that the Metro Plaza Hotel, back by the train station, was the best I could do on such short notice.  Funny that I was almost on their doorstep earlier.  It was a long trudge back.

The Metro Plaza Hotel is on the edge of Chinatown.  The man working reception took a half hour to find my reservation.  Seeing that I’d just made the booking on Expedia, I accepted that it might take a while, but then it started to feel like another bad sign, as if nothing about the trip had worked out so far, and this was just another example of bad planning and money I couldn’t afford to spend, flying out the window.  When he finally did track down my reservation and handed me the key, the room I wound up in smelled like cigarette smoke, and from an adjoining door came the melodramatic strains of an Asian soap opera, interrupted every so often by a burst of lunatic chatter.

Now that I finally had a plan and place to stay for the night, I realized I hadn’t eaten all day, so grabbed whatever money was on the table and headed out the door, thinking I’d just grab something in Chinatown.  On the way there I passed four young guys wearing Dodgers jerseys and asked if the Dodgers were playing that night.  Of course, they were.  I could see the lights of Dodger Stadium shining from where we stood.  Now came a thought.  The game didn’t start for an hour yet.  Maybe I could walk up and check it out after I ate.

The restaurant I ducked into for noodles and orange chicken was unremarkable.  Their unwillingness to give me a cup of water with my meal may have skewed my opinion.  From there I walked through the Chinatown Central Plaza, past the statue of Bruce Lee, and over to Hop Louie, with its pagoda and paper lanterns.  It was easy to see Dodger Stadium, hovering in the night sky like a pulsating UFO, but hard to know where to cross the 110 freeway to get to it.  I finally googled directions and found a footbridge that crosses the freeway.   As close as the stadium seemed, it turned into a long plod uphill, feeling like my shoes had been dipped in cement.

My idea had just been to walk up to the stadium, but once I got there, I realized I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t make it inside the game.  The Dodgers were on a streak, poised to have the winningest season in their history.  Suddenly, I needed to get in.  All I had was forty dollars.  No credit card.  No ID.  Nothing else.  Back in the day that would’ve been more than enough for a seat in the outfield, but now I didn’t know.  Turns out that I could get in for thirty-five, but they no longer took money.  You had to purchase the ticket on a ballpark app.  The woman who explained this to me was firm.  No ballpark app, no game.  No game?  No game.

I stepped back and tried to think.  At that point my phone seemed to lose its connection to the internet.  The app I tried to download went spinning into infinity and even while it was doing so, I knew full well I didn’t have my credit card information to purchase a ticket.  This couldn’t be happening.  There was a kid working the gate that I went over and flashed my money at.  He’d get it.  He’d know.  What is this world coming to when they don’t take money anymore? 

The kid just shrugged at my dilemma and when I asked if there was an area where guys might be scalping tickets, he looked worried and glanced over at security.  There was no one that I could see, with their hat pulled low, flashing tickets, and it began to dawn on me that I probably wasn’t going to get into the game.  That just fit the pattern of the day perfectly.  Trains not running.  Hotels not operating.  Baseball games that don’t take money.  This was clearly the last trip of my life and it was all going downhill so far.

In the box office there was another woman working, an older one who hadn’t heard my sob story yet.  Before giving up, I approached her and explained the situation.  She sympathized and went to work on finding a solution, eventually buying me a ticket on her own credit card and having me pay her back with the cash.  It was the last thing I expected to find, a real human with a real heart, going against the grain, doing whatever it took to get a fan into the game.  Beyond thanking her, I should’ve led her out on the field during the seventh inning stretch and let the crowd know about the secret hero they had in their midst.  I’d stumbled across that rarest of finds.  Someone who actually cares.

Five minutes later I was sitting above left field in a sea of empty seats.  Strange to be way up there looking down on the lights of downtown after the way the day had started and mostly stayed.  It made me think that perhaps there might be a chance after all.  If one person could care, maybe there were other people who cared out there as well.  Maybe there was a solution, a hope, a future beyond the grim one that perpetually tortured me to the point where I was jumping out of my skin. 

It wasn’t much of a game against the Diamondbacks.  For most of it the score was tied at one a piece.  Then in the ninth the D-backs got a solo homerun shot.  It might’ve been safe to assume that the game was over.  Suddenly the bases were loaded, however, and the score was tied.  At that point, Mookie Betts, who’d been sitting out most of the game, came into pinch-hit and hit a single, driving in the winning run.  The crowd leapt to their feet and now, strangely, inexplicably, instead of jumping out of my skin in angst, I was jumping around in joy.

Perhaps that was the moment that my trip really got underway.  It was going to have its good and bad moments, and there was no way of telling when or what order they’d come in.  That is the beauty about heading off into the unknown.  I didn’t know what was going to happen next, and that was way better than thinking that I did and waking up every morning barely able to face the day.

2 thoughts on “riding the rails 2”

  1. The dark, rain cloud of your story has a silver lining.
    The Dodgers brightened many L. A. summer nights in 2022. Sadly, they faded in the Fall like leaves on a maple tree.

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