“If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry… Walk on by, walk on by” – Dionne Warwick
There is nothing memorable about the corner of Franklin Avenue and Highland Avenue in Hollywood. It’s a miserable place where traffic is heavy and the midday sun unforgiving. The corner is simply ugly. It sits one block off the Walk of Fame and is home to the only gas station in the neighborhood. It’s a place you use to get someplace else… you’d have no reason to stay. Highland and Franklin has two towering structures that can be seen from a distance, the Lowes Hotel and a Methodist Church. The Lowes is a hot spot for travelers and “C” list celebrities… the kind that are on dance shows or Real Housewives of Anywhere… it ain’t Beverly Hills.
I’ve never seen anyone near the Methodist Church. The building is big and ugly with a giant tower attached to it, maybe once it housed a bell or clock to let the neighborhood know the Methodists were open for business. Today, it has the biggest faded billboard of an AIDS ribbon I’ve ever seen. I suspect it was installed 25 years ago when the world was still interested in the disease that killed over 750,000 gay men. Today, the sign seems faded and a symbol of the past. The church, the sign, AIDS are all things no longer in fashion, soon a developer will level the area for something important like an American Apparel Store or maybe a Target.
The things that stand out in my mind about Franklin and Highland are the unbearable heat, inoperable pedestrian crossing signs and the lady by the fence. For a year, I have cursed the corner on my way to hike Runyon Canyon. It delays my schedule and ruins my motivation to climb the mountain. Everything about Highland and Franklin irritates me. Damn traffic in L.A. will it ever lighten up? I know with certainty I will run in place waiting for a light that doesn’t change, and I will dart out into traffic and chance becoming a hit and run statistic. I also know that as I wait for my chance to cheat death… I will look for her across the lanes of traffic curled in a fetal position… still and lifeless.
She is the lady by the fence. She has been in the same spot for a year, curled beneath a bush next to a fence that protects the empty parking lot of the Methodist Church with the faded AIDS ribbon. Day and night she remains under the bush motionless… never facing traffic or the life on Hollywood Boulevard. Her world is the bush and the chain link fence that protects the empty parking lot. Once I saw gardeners trimming the bush with heavy equipment and she never moved. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How could she handle what was happening to her? My God, the noise… the heat… the filth… did rats crawl on her at night? But as always, the walking light turned green and I had a canyon to hike, so I left her there as I always do never thinking about her again. She was on the other side of the street and I wasn’t going there, someone would help her. The question was when was it going to happen?
An article in the LA Times stated that 13,000 people a month become homeless in Los Angeles… I think most of them are in Hollywood. I walk past a dozen every morning on my way to Starbucks… I smell the pee and step around them on the sidewalk. Homelessness is part of my daily routine on the boulevard of broken dreams. It’s where the dream malfunctions. I’ve learned not to make eye contact or engage in conversation with anyone or I end up walking home without a latte and pissed off. Maybe that’s why I felt such disregard for the lady under the bush… I never saw her face or made eye contact so we had no human connection. She was not my problem, and as long as I remained across the street I was safe.
Everything changed on Yom Kippur
I listened to a message from Rabbi Denise Eger regarding social injustice and I thought of the lady under the bush. Who was she? Was someone looking for her? How did she get there? Was she still breathing? I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
After services, I walked to the corner of Franklin and Highland and there she was… like one hundred times before she was in the same spot under the same bush in the same position. This time I crossed the street and knelt down next to her and asked if she was ok. I wasn’t prepared for her face, it was filthy as I knew it would be, but the color of her eyes were bright blue and alive. She’s a battered little woman in her 50’s, she doesn’t know her name or where her home is… so she stays under the bush where it is safe. She told me she was hungry and just wanted to go home. I wanted to hug her but we were both too afraid for that.
I left her with all the money I had to get food ($4.00), she said she would walk across to the gas station and eat… I know in my heart she would. She’s not an alcoholic or addict working a scam for her next high… I’m a recovering addict … I can spot others like me in a crowd. She’s simply lost in the world.
As I left, I told her I was going to call someone to help her and to not be afraid. She understood and I left her there alone and waiting. As I walked away I called 911 and reported a woman badly injured by a hit and run driver at Highland and Franklin in need of immediate attention. Yes, I lied to the dispatcher because rescue won’t come for the homeless… they don’t matter. I’d do it again!
This morning she’s gone… I don’t know if she will ever remember her name or where her home is or if someone will love and care for her… all I know is it took a year for me to take an action to help her. I’m ashamed of that….