Guess Who’s Back

Finally parked at the station, I shoulder my duffel bag, step off the bus, and arrive at the body of a city in openness, its arms and legs spread out for the morning’s stretch.

On seeing the exit doors of the station toward the street, my body instinctively moves forward, swerving past the shoulders of fellow travelers in silent, untraceable motions.

I push past the exit door, and see the familiar stretch of asphalt that surrounds the Greyhound bus station: the street greets me underneath grey clouds and a residual morning silence. I look up, and see the 7th street sign in white and blue welcoming me overhead.

I move in the direction of the sign in a hurry, as if to make sure it doesn’t fly off and leave me like so many of the dreams I had during my time on the bus.

When I get to the corner of 7th and Decatur, I come across a cheerful conversation between three paisas hanging out. As I angle past them, one of the guys subtly calls out to me with ‘raitero’, disclosing himself as a driver that can help me find some low-wage factory work if I’m interested.

He’ll never know how much I actually appreciate his voice in that moment, my face showing no sign of hearing him as I determinedly make my way further down the street.

In just a few minutes I arrive to 7th and Alameda. West of me, the American Apparel warehouse stands artfully in its long pink walls, while north of me a McDonald’s churns out breakfast for drivers as its own little mini-factory.

My stomach cries out for some food, and I resolve to make my way into the McDonald’s for some hash browns, but on crossing over to the site, I notice a homeless man standing near the driveway asking drivers for something to spare. Though he and I never make eye contact, I’m not ready for even potential interaction with anyone yet, so I keep walking, leaving 7th street behind and heading north on Alameda.

Buses and a slew of commuters zip past me as I continue up the street, their tires filling the air with the swoosh of rubber tearing across concrete that’s still free of the mid-day traffic ahead in a few hours.

At 4th and Alameda, I resolve to continue up 4th for a meal, where there’s more activity as I pass through the crosswalks: people opening their shops, workers hauling boxes, and a barrage of other strangers bustling through the sidewalks.

Above, the walls overseeing the district are crammed with ads and graffiti crying out for a minute of the people’s time. This gives the streets a magical aura, as if it’s a part of some grand outdoor production. For a moment, I want to take pictures of the scene to marvel at its strangeness, but I’m tired, hungry, and in need of a break from walking.

Suddenly, to my right I come upon a ‘sandwich store’. I’m exhausted by sandwiches from my time on the road, but I walk in anyway to see what’s good. I’m in luck: on one side the place is your average humble convenience store selling drinks and refreshments, while on the other side it’s a kitchen serving everything from grits and pancakes to bean and cheese burritos. I get the pancake special and make my way over to the booth, which sits curiously further inside the place, up against a darkly wall just slightly removed from the restroom.

I put my bags down on the booth and take a seat, noticing immediately that the seat springs outward when I gesture towards the table. It’s badly in need of repair, but I’m not there as an inspector; I’m there as a hungry child of God.

My pancakes are exquisite, filled with the warmth and sweetness of a ‘home-cooked’ meal that’s escaped me throughout so much trekking across highways, gas stations, and other ‘quick stops’ throughout the road. I sip it down with some coffee, but I don’t finish the medium-sized cup, figuring to save the rest for later. Time spent traveling on the bus makes me hyper-aware of how much to take in and leave out of my system as I go from one place to the next. I place the coffee firmly in my backpack’s cup-holder, take my tray over to the kitchen, grab my duffel bag, and say goodbye to each of the ladies at the store.

At the train-stop, I almost pause as I glance down at the flight of stairs down to the subway. For a moment they seem like a lengthy walk down, but I know that I’ll cross through in just seconds. In a flash, I’m down at the terminal waiting for the Red Line to North Hollywood. It arrives in just a few minutes, free of crowds and the heat they contain.

I get on board, put my duffel bag to the side, and take a seat to observe the people on the train; up close and personal, I examine their features as if to make sure they’re the real thing. In being away from them for a couple days, it feels like it’s been such a long time that I have to.

To my left, a skater-girl stands waiting for her destination. She is a Chicana of nearly red skin under the dim yellow light of the train, with a nose piercing and red highlights in her hair, rocking vans shoes and holstering her board to her side. A few feet removed from her, a young man stands waiting for his destination with earphones plugged in. He is also a Chicano, with light skin like the color of a bolillo bread, rocking a blue L.A. Dodgers hat, a slim shirt and denim jeans, and a JanSport backpack.

As the train closes in on the Vermont and Santa Monica station, I get up from my seat to take my bag, and stand with the two of them as the stop approaches. Amid the flock of passengers, all three of us are Chicanos, as all three of us are black, white, brown, and yellow Angelenos making their way through the city; a mixture of ages, colors, and history. We listen to hip hop, rock and roll, electronica, classical music, and so much more. We dress to resist as we dress for work, wearing glasses to keep the sun out, and donning black jackets to mark our rebellion. We resemble different kinds of animals, from insects and birds to reptiles and wildcats, marking our place on the train with a healthy fusion of pride and intelligence bred by the concrete jungle. We are on our way to school, on our way to our families, and on our way to our loves. There is nothing that can stop us, save for the earthquake that none of us have time to wait around for. Together, we are all individuals with our own agendas, as we are all a collective just trying to survive. We are The City of Los Angeles, keeping it running as The People of Los Angeles.

When the train stops at Vermont and Santa Monica, I take my duffel bag, step off the Line, and make my way up the escalator towards the street, at last. On reaching the crosswalk and meeting the friendly daylight of a sky still hanging onto its dewy morning, a surge of energy pushes me past the free and open streets of my neighborhood:

Home is ready for me, and I am ready for home; reunited, I know we’re both better for it.

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