Monday, October 11, 2010
The downtown LA I used to know has moved. I don’t know how far it is from City Hall, Times Mirror, or Bunker Hill these days; I suspect you can find the cardboard boxes framing the gentrification. I have no urge to seek it out.
For years, I passed the street people on my way from the car to The Times, and from The Times to my car. In the evening, I’d see them on their way to the shooting gallery; in the morning, they panhandled for enough to get the blood flowing again.
Most of these were feral people, like the dogs that followed their trail around the city. The dogs and the people would take care of intimate business against building walls or out on the sidewalk. The city always ran hot and cold on public restrooms. Some politicians believed portable toilets were a basic requirement for human dignity; others believed they’d encourage prostitution. I rather guess both were right.
Aside from the daily trips to the garage, I used to do a lot of walking in LA. I was never afraid, but I never investigated Skid Row or Cardboard City after dark. I found Needle Park the most depressing, partly because they would shoot up in public, and partly because it was across the street from a day care center.
Some of us tried to help the street people, or more accurately, would choose one in particular and make him or her a project. I never did this. A woman I worked with, Linda, did. She brought her project morning meals and gave her clothes. But then Linda got unreasonably angry when she saw a stranger wearing her leather jacket, so that was that.
Kevin over at East of West LA knows where these people are today. They’re often his subject, and he does it better than anyone else. I just wonder what drives him.