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(Santa Monica/Fairfax)"What's your name?" asked the thin, older black man. She shook her head. "I don't give my name to people I don't know." "Oh. My name is Claudius. Do you work around here? What are you doing here?" "Waiting for the bus." She had on a gold-spangled top with a fringed bustline. "I just moved here." He took out a piece of paper and read an address, "1994 Hayworth. I got a bar, TV, stereo, refrigerator, everything, and its only $400. Right around the corner. You could stop by. I'll show you a good time." "Nope." "Oh, you're married."
100 days in LA and I can't drive, grew-up in Manhattan where no one has a car to even practice on, I never even tried. "Learn to drive" has been written on every "goals" list I've ever made, but I never had a reason to. The buses and subways in Manhattan are fine, get you anywhere, and you don't have to look for a parking spot. However, all that has changed as I attempt to get around this giant city of angels. "Drive or Die!" taunts LA, with a gun to my head. Here, let me tell you about it…
(Sunset/Silverlake) "Hi" I sighed to the x-movie star of a bus driver as I paid my fare. "I need a transfer but I gotta get change first. DOES ANYONE HAVE CHANGE OF A DOLLAR?" I called out as I turned toward the crowded passengers. They stared back blankly, a few looked scared. "Come ‘mere," the driver called lasciviously over his shoulder, "I got change for you." I went to him with my dollar innocently extended. Movie star didn't take my money but pushed a crumpled-up transfer into my hand and in that same manner he whispered, "Now you owe me."
(Sunset/Silverlake) Easter Sunday there's a woman on the bus with a turtle in a cardboard box. She's the type of crazy-old-lady that you often see in Hollywood: ancient; way-too-much-make-up applied disturbingly; once- glamorous, now faded, dirty; nuts; probably an ex-actress. I sit behind her and call my 8-year-old niece on the cell. Bianca answers. My "Hi!" spins the lady around in her seat. She glares at me for daring to speak. "Guess what! I'm on the bus with a turtle!" Enraged, the woman grabs her stuff and changes her seat to where I can't admire her pet. Bianca laughs with delight.
(Sunset/Vermont) Another poor soul staggers on the late night bus. I feel worse when it is a woman. The brutality of street life just looks harsher when up against what should be soft. She walks to the back of the bus and pulls down her pants and underwear. Her naked legs are covered with sores. Her private parts are fully exposed as she squats over one of the plastic seats and urinates. She pulls up her pants. Horrifyingly, the brown pee sways with the rhythm of the bus, never spilling from the indented area where you or I might sit.
(Sunset/Highland) My knee is taking-up part of the seat next to me. Some man squats over it until I unconsciously shift onto my seat. He mumbles something to me, breaking through my thoughts. I'm on an empty bus; someone is annoyingly in my space. "Excuse me…" he starts. Pissed-off, I turn to him to end this crap and I see a Sunset Boulevard pimp straight outta "American Pimp" with a flashy green suit, matching hat and long coke nails. "Excuse me. You married?" he askes. Not crazy about lying, I decide to end this nonsense with one false word. "Yes."
(Hollywood/Vine) He points to a memorial tattoo of a tombstone attached to a parachute bearing a company number, on his forearm. "I carried his coffin," the blue-eyed blonde from North Carolina proudly tells the Korean old man, a stranger who happens to be sitting next to him on the bus. His watch-face says "Office Depot" and his name. "These two are old school," he says of the "Anarchy" and the Iron Cross on his shoulder. "I'm not done, but I can't get any more while I'm still on formal probation." "Why?" "Because they need to photograph me every year." "Why?"
"Because I let some people squat at my place. I called this girl's mother, I told her to come and get her. I even gave her the address, but her mother said ‘Let her live.' Then the girl cries "gang-rape." The other two guys went to prison, but the mother testified for me, so I just got probation. It's no big deal to go get my picture taken every year. The mother still calls some times. She feels bad. I learned not to let people crash at my place." "What happened to the girl?" "The girl? Who cares about her."
(Sunset/Vermont) The evenings are cool in the Los Angeles desert. Hollywood is fabulous with bright lights and promise. In the distance the dark silhouettes of palm trees line a purple horizon. My bus rolls by all of it. There is a weekend energy in the air. We pull up to a stop. A homeless guy runs in the door, passing the driver who yells "Pay your fare!" Another guy waving a two-by-four follows him and they both disappear out the back door, one still in pursuit of the other. The doors close and we pull out. Just another Saturday night.
(2nd Ave/NYC) I have been celibate for months. I really need to have sex. It's been too long. I feel myself being driven like a junkie. Give me what I want motherfucker. I see a guy on the bus and I cruise him with the look that my friends say is scary. He silently agrees and exits the bus at my stop. Then he chokes, not sure that this silent contract is really real. "Do you know where to buy condoms?" he asks, testing what just went on. Hearing these words out loud on sunny 14th street changes my mind.
Horrified, I walk away and question whether I can do that bit anymore. The answer is no. I used to, and that was great and terrible, as is all criminal activity. But I have no desire to gamble with anything that might payoff badly. I am too soft and sweet and delicate to mess with that. I feel many complicated things around letting go of an old part of myself- mourning the devastation that made me that way, and celebrating the heroism of once being an outlaw and so tough. I dig my transformation and wait for my crosstown transfer.
(Los Feliz/Riverside) Today is the first time I can remember that the bus doesn't smell like rotten flesh. That is the truth. My back hurts as I stand there crowded and uncomfortable. An old Mexican man sits in front of me in a baseball cap that is embroidered with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He is holding a large bouquet of balloons from Sizzler, which keep pressing into my face, making the whole world appear to be tinted dark red. I choose to endure this and get myself to the beautiful city pool instead of staying home hot.
(Burbank) White-haired and frail, she quietly boards with a cart and shuffles down the aisle. "AHHHHHH!!!!" She erupts in a blood-curling scream. Without knowing anything you can tell she is faking. "GET YOUR GODDANM FOOT OUT OF THE WAY! I ALMOST FELL!." The accused sits dumbfounded. The old lady continues attacking till the driver intervenes. "YOU WANT ME OFF? STOP THE BUS RIGHT HERE, I'LL GET OFF!" He does and she does. On the street she screams with a rage that rips vocal chords, "TO HELL WITH EVERYBODY. I DON'T NEED ANYBODY. I CAN'T EVEN DEFEND MYSELF? GO TO HELL!!!!!"
(Sunset/Western) Who ever is stuck next to me on a long bus ride, more often than not, is thinking about how to get me to have sex with them. Not evidence of my desirability, just cellular fact. The reproductive- consciousness of male cells is constantly at work to get the male to make an attempt at planting the sacred seed. Spending a certain amount of time in close proximity with a woman of decent child-baring proportions causes a cellular frenzy: TRY! TRY! TRY! Did you know that Michael Jordan misses more shots than any NBA player, because he takes more shots.
Forgive my lighthearted nonsense, it's just that I am slightly delirious; between the smell, the heat, the monotony, the long stretches of waiting time coupled with long stretches of travel time, the psychos, the freaks, the perverts, the nausea from the bumpiness of the vehicle and the jerky, poor breaking habits of the driver, the back pain from the hard seats or awkward standing room, and all the crap that might come with any normal transit authority increased exponentially because its LA. God, can the bus come quickly, be clean, safe, smooth in it's ride, and have an empty seat?
The Hollywood Boulevard bus appears different because of tourists, but no... I compliment a slim woman's Gucci knock-off. She wears big blonde hair and a dark-red, low-cut, spaghetti-strap jumpsuit this afternoon. She is concerned as to why the seat next to her remains empty. In front of me, a tall, muscular man is standing slightly on his toes and his head is touching the ceiling. He is wearing a surfing suit and has doughy, feminine hands, which look out of place on his overgrown body. He chooses not to sit. A young, green-eyed, disheveled male-model-type eyes the seat, but passes.
(Sunset/Hillhurst) I am tired of observing; instead I read Dee Dee Ramone's autobiography. God bless him. I am not sure if everything in the book is true. One story claims that one time Marky Ramone was provoking Monte, who they nicknamed "Lambie" and who was driving the Ramones' tour van, by making incessant sheep noises until Monte flipped-out. Speeding and threatening to crash the van, Monte yelled, "No Marc, you're the sheep! You're the sheep! And now we're all gonna die!" Reminded of certain high school teachers, I sit alone on the bus laughing hysterically. Tragedy plus time equals comedy.
(All Buses/LA) I am angry. I am tired. This is hard. Hard to get to work. Hard to see friends. Hard to be late. Hard to be spontaneous. Hard and exhausting to be uncomfortable. Hard to fucking get anywhere and especially anywhere new or outside of my loop. Hard to always ask for rides. Hard to be on someone else's schedule. Hard to be needy. Hard to wait in the baking desert sun. Hard to just miss one and have to wait 45 fucking minutes and I forgot a book. The stories are getting angrier and angrier. So am I.
(Everywhere/LA) I AM FUCKING ANGRY, FUCKING LATE, AND FUCKING TIRED OF WAITING IN THE BAKING HOT SUN. Here comes the fucking bus finally. I breathe a sigh of relief and then watch in disbelief as the bus cruises past me. No words can describe my emotional state. The driver, it seems, has deemed the bus too crowded, and refuses to pick up any passengers. He willingly passes us by, leaving us to die in the desert while all the lucky sardines on board go sailing by to their happy homes. I find myself thinking about how I can hurt someone.
….and much later when my bus arrives, the doors open and the driver announces "getting off", so we wait patiently but no one gets off. And we wait more and finally an old latin woman slowly exits and then turns to help her ancient husband off. He can barely make the two steps down and she tenderly encourages him and patiently guides him and calls him endearing names "Despacio, mi amorcito, despacio". The angry, tired, passed-over crowd that I am a part of watches or helps with kind eyes and smiles. My heart is touched and my day is changed.
(Los Feliz/Riverside) Shaking his leg, holding a vegetable juice, he asks her "You going far? Where are you going? You want my number?" She politely shakes her head no. "Here. Memorize it," he gives the 10-digits and whispers "My name's Christopher. What's yours?" She unwillingly gives her name. He puts out his hand for a shake, bravely she declines, with a shy smile and headshake. He mentions that he is on medication and doesn't drink anymore. "Write it down, you're gonna forget it." "No" she says, then shockingly recites his number. "Call me." he whispers and slides off the bus.
(God knows where/LA) An old woman is explaining some benefits, "you just have to make under 13 thousand a year." "I make 15," replies the old man. "You do not. Liar. If you make that much give me some money, Mr. Moneybags." "15 is not that much" "Oh, I thought you said ‘50' that is why I was teasing you. 15? Well just lie and say 13." "No. I don't lie" "What fun are you? What are you, George Washington or something?" "I haven't lied in 73 years, why should I start now?" "Then just say you live with someone."
(Sunset/Echo Park) Today my bag of groceries brakes and I enter the packed bus with a bundle of wet paperbag rolled around damp organic vegetables. The bus bumps along a curvy road, swinging me about as I struggle to stay upright by leaning hard against a hand-pole. Immediately a Mexican woman offers to take the messy package from me without a thought. She lets me know that it is wet for my sake, not hers, concerned that my groceries are O.K. She holds the bundle on her lap till I reach my stop and she wishes me a wonderful evening.
"Saying I live with someone would be immoral." "RUBBISH!" "I go to Church every Sunday." "I know you do." "The Good Shepherd." "Wait a minute! You go to that Catholic Church! It is soooo boring! I went there 4 or 5 times, you know, when someone dies. Boring!" "It's a good Church. A good one and we have no pedaphiles there." Surprisingly she doesn't take the bait. She is silent. Maybe she is starting to get bored with the conversation and or maybe her stop is approaching. She straightens her pink sweater and silently rides along on her merry way.
(LA/ NYC) God bless the physically challenged, as they struggle to get on and off of this mass of transit, gracefully or not, while their fellow passengers are late, tired, and angry at the delay and there is a problem and the bus has to back up and try to get closer to the curb and the delay increases exponentially and I have a hard time not being an asshole. And god bless the old, as an ancient gentleman struggles to exit the bus, looks me in the eye and, with the wisdom of his ninety years, whispers "take calcium."
(Union Station/LA)"I'm sick over my hat." I left my favorite Cuban hat on the train today. So many things I've lost to the MTA and a few I didn't…Once on Acid waiting for the 6 train at 63rd and Lexington, my pink heart-shaped Lolita glasses somehow, God knows how, fell onto the tracks. I swayed at the edge of the platform trying to get the courage to jump down, and wondering if I could get back up before a train came or ever. Out of nowhere a true hero jumped down, snatched them, and magically hopped back, handing them over.
(Fletcher/Riverside)"Hi," I sigh to my Reggae bus driver as I board. "Not yet." he answers and it takes me a moment to get it. I can tell he is a good one and I decide to stay up front with him in this empty bus. He asks me if I like Toots and the Maytals, and I ask if he knows Donna and Althea. We have a lovely chat while the man in a marines t-shirt keeps saying "Mississippi River". "It flows. Mississippi river. Who named it that? Mississippi River. Ever been to the Mississippi River? Mississippi River. It flows."
Today is my driving test. I can drive, but tests make me nervous. God please give me someone I can charm, who will give me an easy time. An Eric-Estrada-type of a Latin lady-killer approaches me in his icy mirror shades. He barely notices that I am a lady. So much for charming him. I hum "Halleluiah" to myself as I drive. He never asks me to change lanes, back up, or park. I pass the test with zero mistakes. Carlos, my driving teacher, mentions that the Eric- Estrada-type must have gotten laid last night. Thank God. I got my license.
Today I go out driving alone for the first time. This is the killer: I am driving to Howie Pyro's house to pick up a copy of "She-Devils On Wheels". Howie was one of my business partners back in NY where we ran a party and DJ-ed together. We spent many a long evening dancing and spinning vinyl records till the sun came up and we counted out our giant pile of cash. I wish that everyone could be so lucky and make a fortune doing work that you love so much that it feels incorrect to call it work.
Life will never be the same. I pin my hair up in these big beer-can rollers and get behind the wheel. The mid day sun is hot like Sahara but I got AC. I left the directions home, but Howie described the trip in enough detail that I get to his door without a pause, the bridge, Atwater, Glendale, Brand Street, left at the Lexus dealer, Lucky # 200. The man lives a charmed life, always has. That can either piss you off or lead you to count your blessings. I start counting and park behind a classic El Camino.
"It's amazing what can happen when you get out of god's way or when you invite god in." I hear this while a biker on the bus, helmet in hand, evidence of a breakdown, tells me I'm a real cute girl. Uh-huh. David Johansen sings to me …"You pick me up, we go ridin' in your car, when you ask me where I'm going, you're always telling me its to far, but how can you go riding down by my home when you know I ain't got one and I'm so all alone…" Baby, I keep riding just like sally.
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