I meet my friend/roommate Alex at the baggage claim. Like me, he’s another white suburban kid who takes things for granted, except his family is richer. He came in on an earlier flight (United) with his dad’s frequent flyer miles. I tell him about the batshit crazy old woman on my flight who wouldn’t shut the fuck up and he pretends to be amused, which is enough for me. My bags, thank God, don’t take long to come and then we’re outside
For the first time in our lives there’s nobody to pick us up at the airport. We don’t know the city. We know almost no one. We joke that it’s like college.
We’re real world freshmen.
At the curb there’s a long line of people waiting for cabs. Alex has a list in his pocket of the cheapest companies, but we soon learn that the list doesn’t mean shit because the airport-curb guy is going to put us in whatever fucking taxi pulls up. The couple in front of us gets the bright green cab that we want – the cheapest company on our list – and we get a Yellow Cab bus.
The most expensive one on our list.
The airport-curb guy’s helper, a short, cock-eyed black guy who looks like a handsome version of Beetlejuice from the Howard Stern show, looks in our general direction and mumbles something about the cab. Of course we think he’s looking at airport-curb guy so we do one of those awkward, look-look away-look-look away things that people do when they’re not sure if they’re being addressed. Plus there’s a Hispanic family behind us with more people than there are items on Taco Bell’s dollar menu, so we figure they’re going to get the bus.
After calling us for the third time, Beetle-eyes snatches our bags and starts to load them into the cab. Alex tries to save the situation and mentions something about thinking the Hispanic family behind us was going to get the cab, but it’s too late: he knows it’s his eyes. Sorry, dude.
Our cab driver, from the best I can tell, is a Persian-Mexican hybrid. He has a leather jacket. A smoker’s voice. He drives fast and reckless like everyone else. Alex, for some strange reason, asks him if he knows LA. He gets kind of offended. Meanwhile the fare climbs like cholesterol.
The time doesn’t reset on that 47.5 seconds, by the way. If you stop for 40, go, then stop again, it only takes 7.5 seconds to fuck you out of more bubblegum money.
Outside, storefront signs fade from English, to English-Spanish, to all Spanish. Alex has a baseball cap-wearing friend who goes to USC, and this kid told him that where we’re staying – in a room in a duplex on Packard St and Cochran – is in a good part of town, but when we get out of the cab we realize that it’s really just a not-bad part of town. Our cab driver helps unload our bags and then Alex and I are out $22 a piece – a big black cock up our virgin whiteboy assholes.
This is our porch. The GI Joe is doing yoga; not bending for Satan. Maurice, our roomlord, is a part-time yoga instructor and full-time Zen guru or whatever. Alex thinks he looks like Moby with the lead singer of Nickelback’s hair. I think he looks like a hippie pirate. We agree it’s probably the same thing.
Maurice answers the door with a smile. He’s friendly in a serial killer/employee of the month kind of way. We go upstairs and he shows us around the place: his yoga studio living room, our room, the bathroom, the dining room, the kitchen. Pictures of everything below.
You can probably tell that we’re staying in a place where it takes really, really long for the water to get hot. I’ve already decided that I won’t be shitting in the toilet. There’s little to no suck-power and I have a history of birthing Titanics.
Our room is smaller than we thought it’d be, but it’s a decent, size and having lived in a dorm room for five years I really can’t complain. We start to unpack and I see that my bottle of cologne busted and leaked all over my shit, so now everything smells like fucking Obsession (please no “You wear Obsession?” jokes). Unfortunately, my only good sports jacket, which I just had dry cleaned, absorbed most of it. Now it’s hanging in the closet like a giant car air freshener.
We’re starving so we ask Maurice if he has any suggestions.
We don’t go to Little Ethiopia. Instead we head south a few blocks. And right into the movie Training Day. Well, the Hispanic portion at least. For the first time I realize that I’m the minority in Los Angeles. I know I saw the storefronts from the cab and all, but I might as well have been watching TV. You can nod your head and pretend to know what things are like, but until you’re really living them, walking them, worried about getting shot, you just know what your eyes tell you.
We walk and walk and walk some more. We want to eat at an In and Out Burger because it’s supposed to be a California institution (we think) but we can’t find one anywhere. All we see are Mexican restaurants, liquor stores, and check-cashing places. One after the other, all the way down the street. Like a DMV line. We finally find an Asian-run American restaurant and order a pretty good burger there, eating mostly in silence and cursing our departure from the suburban paradise that is Northern Virginia.
On the way back I see my first hood memorial.
We walk faster. Get “home”. Pass out.
PS - RIP Marcos. And Fidel.