I am the only person in Los Angeles without a car. I’ve never driven in this city and avoid the freeways like the Ebola virus…. People go there and are never seen again! I act like I’m doing something adventurous and bohemian by using public transportation. I pretend I’m “experiencing” Los Angeles and its people. That’s a lie! I’m not willing to sacrifice my lifestyle for a car payment… so, I depend on the kindness of strangers (Uber) and MJ’s Prius to survive. I’m not ashamed to admit it… I just have to plan more than the average guy to get from here to there.
Since I spend lots of time at subway stations, bus stops and Uber corners, I’ve learned the people, places and things that come with being carless. Every morning, I know exactly what I’ll see… there’s a young Mexican couple holding hands and kissing behind a tree by the apartment building next door. They know where to stand so the building’s security cameras don’t see them. She’s a maid, he’s a gardener for the building. They arrive from opposite directions and embrace madly for about 10 minutes before walking into the building separately. I’m guessing this “office romance” is the best part of their lives.
A few 100 feet from the lovers is a homeless man that has been arguing with his imaginary sister for months… he stands in the center of the sidewalk pointing and cursing wildly. He terrified me until one day I handed him my diet coke. He took it and said, “Hey, its sugar free… thanks!”…. he returned to his argument and never scared me again.
On the next block is the Motel 6 where all the dregs of society howl… drug addicts, hookers, hustlers, dealers, a preacher, old people and Japanese tourists all congregate there. Everything about it sucks, but I can’t get enough of it. I love watching the circus life… these people put on a show for free each morning. The police are always arresting someone for something… so, I feel safe walking to Hollywood Boulevard. This is the type of madness I need for some unknown reason. This war zone is just a few hundred yards from where I met Linda.
Hollywood and Whitley is a human zoo. It is where the sex shops, sleazy bars, check cashing places and convenience store serve thousands of people on their way to nowhere. The corner is where you can get a tattoo, pack of Marlboros, balloon of heroin and a pamphlet on how to get to heaven without moving more than 10 feet. It is also where you catch the bus heading out of Hollywood. Lots of people want to get on that bus and forget Hollywood ever happened, others have given up hope and remain. Linda lives there with her sister quietly and has no plans on leaving.
There are two benches at Whitley and Hollywood. Linda and her sister occupy one and a fat man occupied the other. The fat man sold bracelets to passersby and lived in filth. Garbage surrounded him and a portable radio blared soul music 24/7. His was an old, fat black man with grey braids and a matted beard. I never saw him stand or try to clean the area he was destroying. I hated him! I continuously filed complaints with the city about the conditions and nothing was done. One day as I was waiting for the bus, I noticed him slouched over with foam hanging from his mouth. I knew he was dead. He was dead and no one seemed to care. The preacher from the Motel 6 was there praying and waiving one of those huge family Bibles you see on coffee tables. I called 911 and it took hours for an ambulance to take him away. So there he sat… dead… baking in the boiling heat and no one bothered to do anything. In honesty, what could anyone do? He was gone and the city was going to remove the mess he left behind.
According to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center, an estimated 254,000 men, women and children experience homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year and approximately 82,000 people are homeless on any given night. Unaccompanied youth, especially in the Hollywood area, are estimated to make up from 4,800 to 10,000 of these. It also reports, 13,000 people become homeless for the first time monthly in this city.
So Hollywood has 82,000 homeless people and Linda. Linda is the polar opposite of every homeless sterotype you’ve ever known. Everything she owns is neatly folded and stored in a cart. During the day, she and her sister eat take-out from the neighborhood restaurants and at night make a bed in the entrance of the Dollar Store. When the sunrises everything is put away and she returns to the bench where she will spend her day. She is the neighbor everyone wants.
A week ago, I approached and asked if I could write about her life on my blog. I wanted to learn what brought her to the corner of Whitley and Hollywood, and why she stayed. She agreed and this is what I learned…
This morning, I walked to the corner store and bought a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies on the way to meet Linda. She saw me crossing the street and gave me a hug like your favorite aunt would do at a family reunion. I gave her the cookies and we began to talk.
I told her my story, how I got sober in California and started a new chapter of my life in Hollywood. I told her that recently heard a message from a holy woman (Rabbi Denise Eger) that made me realize if I see someone in need and do nothing… I become part of the problem, (there was no reason to explain Reformed Judaism or what a Rabbi does)… I told her about a woman a few blocks away that needed help and by making a phone call someone helped her. I told her maybe someone was out there who could help her. She was very grateful and began to talk. She told me that holy woman sounded like, “good people”.
Linda is from Mississippi and has family there. She had a home and a job until a few years ago. As she explained it, a sequence of events forever changed her life. Linda was a cashier at a Wal-Mart in some Mississippi town for over five years. She showed me a small Walmart pin with a message that read, “5 years of service”. She was proud of that pin. She said it was at Wal-Mart where she had “the vision”. While at work God told her an evil spirit named “Cronius” was going to destroy the earth. It was her mission to stop him. She said she explained the vision to her supervisors and they terminated her. The vision changed everything. Hospitalizations, loss of family, friends and finally an eviction left her stranded and on the streets. Eventually, the source of income she mentioned allowed her to take a bus to Los Angeles so she could find Cronius before he destroyed the human race. Her first stop was the Motel 6 and the bus stop which is where she has been for over a year. I’m not certain when her sister arrived.
Linda made it clear she is not homeless. She and her sister receive a monthly source of income that allows them to survive. By managing her money, she is able to eat daily and live at the Motel 6 for 15 days each month. She does not beg, nor does she bother others on the street. The Motel’s management allows the sisters to use the restroom in the lobby as needed, so they’re able to maintain basic hygiene. Linda said they return to the bench each morning in fear someone else will claim it. Without the bench they would be forced to stand, and she is unable to do it. She and her sister both have heart conditions, so as soon as the dawn breaks… she makes her way to the bench.
Linda wanted me to know that holy woman delivered a message from God and I used it to do something good. She said the woman’s words were changing lives! Linda had no idea how accurate she was … She said, “The holy woman’s mission was to help you… then you helped the woman on the street. Now we’re talking. That’s how God works”. I had to agree with her. I think that’s how God does work.
Nothing else Linda said merits repeating other than she can’t get medical help. She doesn’t know where to go and has no one to watch the bench if she did. So her cycle begins as it ends each day. She never ventures too far from the bench. She hopes one day she’ll leave the bench and be able to stay at the Motel 6 forever. God hasn’t told her if it will happen, but she hopes it will.
Linda is harming no one. She is a woman in her 50s with an untreated mental illness trying to survive in a world she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know who to call for help and doesn’t know what questions to ask. Her fear is being taken away from her sister and losing the cart and their possessions. So, she sits and she waits and nothing changes.
I asked her if she could tell the world one thing what would it be and she said, “I’d tell Cronius is still out here causing people to do bad things and is still trying to destroy us all”. I told her I’d be sure to put the message on the internet so people would know… she was happy.
Tomorrow, I’ll see her on the way to Starbuck’s and waive. While the light is red we’ll talk and then I’ll be gone… she’ll continue trying to figure out God’s mission for her. I hope she figures it out.