One Night in L.A.
January 27th, 2014
I landed in LAX for the first time that afternoon. My first time in LA. I had just finished a small video shoot in San Francisco with Jenn, and despite her frazzled and off the wall nature, we’d had a great time. I’d hopped on the plane to LA, my flight filled with heavy anticipation for the weekend.
I had a short film that was up for Best Picture in the largest high school film festival in the world. I was meeting up with my friends and collaborators, James and Travis, the next day, but had a free twenty-four hours before they arrived. I’d gotten in touch with another one of my friends, Emmanuel, a Nigerian friend who’d gone to school with me. I hadn’t seen him in almost a year, as he’d joined a rotational program that took him around the country, but he was living in LA now, and had graciously offered to host me for the night before James and Travis made it to LA and we moved into our hotel right next to Universal Studios.
I got out of the plane and entered the hell-hole that is the LAX airport. It was truly as chaotic as I’d heard, but not as chaotic as I’d expected it to be. I circled around the concourse, trying to find a bus that would take me to the infamous LA metro system. After breaking a sweat in the LA summer heat, and getting yelled at by an Asian man, I found the right bus. Once the bus stopped and everyone got out, I confusedly looked around, trying to find the right metro to take. Before I could find the right metro, I found a British man, who was also confusedly looking around, trying to find the right metro. After a while, we both found it.
The metro wound me all the way through the sprawling metropolis of LA. Finally, I got off at the stop, walked up the stairs, and found myself in the middle of a political rally.
Welcome to California.
I snaked my way through the rally and started the long walk down the LA sidewalk to my friend Emmanuel’s apartment. I checked the address.
Checked the address again.
By this time, the wheel on my luggage had started to slowly disintegrate and become difficult to roll. But I didn’t have much of a choice, so I kept on lugging. Which is, of course, why they call it luggage.
I arrived at Emmanuel’s house – His familiar face was a comforting sight. Emmanuel was a muscular guy, but his physical strength was almost less than his spiritual strength. He was a mentor and a friend, and it was a relief to see and catch up with him. We talked briefly and he informed me that he had to leave for work – He was finishing an intense engineering project with his rotational program, and was in an extremely busy time of his life. I was grateful that he had the time to share, and the room to share with me.
He left his apartment, and just asked that I leave the key under the mat. After he left, I crashed on his couch for an afternoon nap after early mornings the past couple of days.
I was awakened by a phone call from my friend Samantha, a long-time family friend who had moved to LA for an internship with Marvel Animation Studios. I had contacted her several days before, telling her that I’d be in the area and would love to catch up. We planned to meet for dinner.
I rose from the couch, tired, but excited for the potential that LA held for me. I peeked my head out and stepped onto the porch, my mouth dry from sleeping in the hot LA afternoon. I surveyed the hazy sprawling landscape before me.
Only good times could be ahead.
I met Samantha for dinner. She seemed happy to be living in LA, her cute smile never left her face as we caught up on each other’s lives.
I had another friend in LA that I wanted to catch up with – A filmmaker named Jana Moser that I’d gotten in touch with through a missions program that I’d heard about through my church. Samantha and I met with her after dinner. Samantha and Jana connected because they had both gone to the same school in Virginia, and had both moved to LA to chase their dreams. We talked about life and school, DC, politics, and the latest Pixar movie. And as every filmmaker, we shared our struggles to make the films that we wanted.
After a good time with Samantha and Jana, we parted ways and Samantha drove me back to Emmanuel’s apartment. I texted Emmanuel to let him know that I was coming, but got no response. Oh well, I figured. Once I get there I’ll give him a call and he’ll come and let me into the apartment complex.
Samantha dropped me off, never letting her cute smile leave her face, and said goodbye.
I walked up to the apartment complex, calling Emmanuel.
Hi, you’ve reached Emmanuel –
Hi, you’ve reached –
I looked around.
Someone left the apartment complex, opening the door and allowing me in. I took the elevator up to Emmanuel’s floor. I knocked on his door.
I called him.
I knocked and called and texted.
I knew he was there – he had texted me when I was hanging out with Samantha and Jana and said that he had gotten back. So I had no idea why he wasn’t answering.
I knocked and called several more times, considerably louder. Finally I decided to wait. I went to a bench overlooking the courtyard across from Emmanuel’s apartment door and waited. It was about midnight.
I tried to occupy myself with my phone, which was not a smart phone. That didn’t work for long. I heard someone approaching.
“Enjoying a smoke in the night air?”
“Uh, no, I’m just hanging out.”
“Do you live here?”
“Uh, no, I’m staying with a friend, he lives in that apartment over there, but he’s not answering his phone or answering the door.”
“Can I see your ID?”
I gave him my ID.
“I’ll let you stay here a little bit longer, but if your friend doesn’t answer soon, you’ll have to leave.”
I tried to explain to him, but-
“Maybe the reason your friend isn’t answering is because he doesn’t want you to be here.”
I looked at him in shock. I gulped in fear.
Emmanuel was too good of a friend. He would never do that. No way. This security guard was an idiot. But there wasn’t really another choice. I left and went out onto the streets of Los Feliz.
At first I just wanted to find a place that was open at 1am. A place that was open at 1am that wasn’t seedy. I thought about trying to call someone, Samantha or Jana or somebody, but that wasn’t going to work – They both lived more than 20 minutes away, and it was already 1 AM. I didn’t feel comfortable calling either of these girls at 1 AM.
I walked down to Sunset Blvd, a couple of blocks away. I felt a strange sense of irony as I walked down the iconic street, homeless on my first night in the city. I’d watched ‘Sunset Boulevard’ for the first time several months before then, and it had been one of my favorite films. As the minutes passed, that film slowly dropped on my list of favorite films.
I passed a hospital and a street called ‘L. Ron Hubbard Drive’, which was coincidentally placed right beside a massive Church of Scientology, which looked like some kind of palace. I kept walking and found a dingy motel, which I found out I could stay at for sixty dollars in cash. I had no cash, so I asked about the nearest Wells Fargo, and made my way out the door.
By the time I got closer to the Wells Fargo it was 2 AM. I knew Emmanuel was leaving for his work at 6 AM, and it would only be about four hours of sleep if I stayed at the motel. I felt abandoned, alone in a way that I’d never felt. It wasn’t comparable to homelessness: In five hours I would be safe. But for those five hours, I was alone on the streets of LA with nowhere to go, and I felt a strange fear that I’d never felt before.
I walked down Sunset Boulevard, back the direction that I’d come, and a pair of homeless guys muttered a question in my direction. I was so distracted that the words didn’t register with me, and I answered with a hesitant:
“I don’t know.”
Which was met with hearty laughter. The laughter made me feel even more lost and abandoned. I ran the homeless man’s words through my head again, and started to realize he’d asked me.
“What color is the president?”
The laughter made sense. But the feeling of abandonment and loneliness were still there.
I decided against the motel- I didn’t like the idea of spending sixty dollars for four hours of sleep, or the idea of staying at a dingy motel by myself. I found a subway restaurant, bought a muffin, and sat down.
The Subway restaurant had wi-fi, so I surfed Facebook on my iPod.
That was my plan for the next four hours.
This seemed to be the place for homeless people, and I tried (with little success) to ignore the awkward belching homeless man in the corner who was trying to sleep.
A man walked up, sat down a couple of tables away. He was a scruffy man, slightly unshaven. He was thin, a little bit shorter than me, wearing jeans that needed to be washed. He had a charismatic personality, he sounded like he could make friends with anyone. Somehow we struck up a conversation – He was talkative, overly friendly. Probably because he was homeless. But he was harmless, and I wasn’t going anywhere, so I had no reason to refuse a conversation.
He took a napkin and folded it up into an origami rose. He told me about how he’d made origami roses when he was young for a girl that he liked. The girl worked at a restaurant, and he’d leave her a rose at her table every week until she started to acknowledge him.
He told me about what he where he was going, why he was homeless. His wife had cheated on him, he had caught her in the middle of the act, and left his home immediately after. He had been walking, trying to find work. I suspected there was more to his story about why he was homeless, but I only cared about what he told me.
He confided that he was diabetic, and that he only needed eight dollars and thirty-six cents until he could afford a vial of insulin.
He kept the conversation going, telling me about how he loved thunderstorms, asking me about my life, what I was doing in LA, complimenting my new shoes (which I had gotten just days before, for the sole purpose of wearing in LA. Little did I know, I’d be walking the streets in those shoes, homeless, in LA).
His eyes landed on the glucometer on my table, and he asked what it was. I was hesitant to share that I, too, was diabetic, but I did, and offered to take his blood sugar. It was 382.
He may have been lying about his wife, he may have been lying about what he wanted money for, or how much he needed, but he was not lying about being diabetic.
We stepped out of the Subway restaurant to get some fresh air. We walked up and down Sunset Boulevard. We passed a convenience store.
“What do you say we stop here and grab a doughnut and some coffee?” He said, like a friend that I’d known for quite a while. I hesitated.
It saddened me that this kind of thing happened. I wanted to help him, but I’d seen enough scams and ploys to get things for free. The feeling of defensiveness that I had from being left homeless for a couple hours on he streets of Los Feliz added to my aversion to spend money for other homeless people on the streets, no matter how small the amount.
“I don’t feel comfortable paying for that.”
The man looked at me for a moment. Not sure what to say. I wasn’t sure how he would react. Angry? Rejected? Pleading?
“Okay. I understand.”
Like a friend.
We kept walking.
When we reached a McDonalds, he rushed inside, feeling the affects of high blood sugar on his bladder.
We made our way back the other direction, passing the bloated Church of Scientology.
He studied the property as we passed. “I’d kinda like to check it out sometime. Just to see what they say.”
We started walking to the Wells Fargo ATM – He’d convinced me to loan him some money for insulin. He wrote down his name and address, and I wrote down mine so that once he got the money back he could repay me.
As it got closer to six, I texted Emmanuel and got a response. I bid farewell to the homeless man, wishing him well.
“If I hadn’t gotten locked out of my friend’s apartment, I never would have run into you.” I said.
“That reminds me of a film – Sunset limited.” He said. “You should watch it, it’s really good.”
After I got back to Virginia, I watched it. It was okay.
I gave the man twenty dollars, and hurried back to Emmanuel’s apartment.
Emmanuel greeted me with a hug. He was confused and couldn’t believe I’d spent the entire night outside. He realized after several seconds what had gone wrong.
“Did you have your phone on silent?”
“No, it was on.”
“Was it quiet?”
“Yeah, it was kind of quiet.”
It didn’t matter. Being back in his apartment felt like being home. He apologized profusely, but there was no need. He was in the middle of his final project at work, with pressure coming from some French executives, moving the deadline closer and closer with the expectations higher and higher. I was just glad to be back.
Emmanuel ran out the door for work. I cooked breakfast, and once again, fell fast asleep on his couch.
Two days later, my film won 2nd place at the largest high school film festival in the world. Not quite lucky enough for 1st, but what could I say?
You could say that my first experience in LA was an adventure, but that would be an understatement.
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