People dash by me as I carefully make my way down the concrete steps, aware the yellow train marked “Los Angeles” is seconds from departing. Can I make it? I hit the platform and propel myself with my snappy black-and-silver cane the last few feet.
A mechanical voice says, “Step back, the doors are closing.”
Two Hispanic guys hold the doors back and pull me in. “Thank you,” I sigh.
There are no seats available. I find myself hanging onto a stainless steel post in close proximity to a black man dressed in a worn blue jacket, jeans, baseball cap. His face is cut, one eye bloodshot, the other cloudy.
“Good morning,” he says.
This is my metro-rail adventure. A real street person is talking to me! I look at him and smile.
As a born-and-raised Southern Californian, I know the rules.
Do not look people in the face.
Do not stray from your safe neighborhoods.
I am breaking all the rules.
Last week I had the opportunity to work the great E3 Electronics Tradeshow at the LA Convention Center. 45,000 geeks and gamers were converging for video game gluttony. Trouble was, it meant going into the verboten territory of downtown LA. I have a personal rule: avoid freeways as much as possible.
So I decided to brave the metro-rail system and have myself an adventure. The first day I was half-an-hour late because I jumped on the Blue Line going the wrong way and first rode all the way to Long Beach. But the shifting landscape was very interesting.
Palm trees, museums, and gated communities in Long Beach gave way to barred window projects and industrial junk yards as we ventured into LA. Pup tents of the homeless dotted one area, along with discarded couches and mattresses ditched beside the rail.
The people coming and going interested me the most. They all had a story to tell. One styling black lady sat beside me and engaged in a most private cell phone conversation, “Anthony, it makes me have to hurt you back when you cheat on me!” Oh, the advice I wanted to give that girl.
Some lively Latinas chattered in Spanish. Another chick punctuated every sentence with “like” and “motha-f***a.” She made me think of writing a modern “My Fair Lady” starring a homegirl as Eliza Doolittle.
At first, it felt like a Disney ride called “The ‘hood.” Then, I began to realize—“but for the grace of God, there go I.” I could have been one of those Latina’s pushing a stroller with two children trailing behind. I could be the guy in the wheel chair maneuvering the train and platforms. I could have to get up EVERY day at 4:30 am to ride the rails to work, not just four days… I could be living in one of those homeless tents.
I was born to middle class privilege. Stable parents, good education, happy marriage. A home in a pretty neighborhood. Luck of the draw? Karma? Whatever it is, I take it a little less for granted after my metro-rail adventure.
The guy in the blue jacket mumbles and jabbers. He tells me about his eye that needs surgery and where can he find a listing of doctors? I suggest going to the library and asking a librarian to give him a listing off the Internet.
“The Internet?” he says. “That’s a great idea. Thank you.”
The mechanical voice comes on. “The next stop is Pico.”
“That’s me,” I say. The monolith buildings of the LA Convention Center and Staples Center are now in view.
“God bless you,” says the cut-faced black man.
“The same to you,” I reply. And I really mean it. God has blessed me abundantly. I’m hoping He has a few blessings left over for that man in the blue jacket.
Yes, but for the Grace of God…