No matter how much I love my city, it’s often hard to trace its roots. This is because unlike most historical metropolises, L.A. is constantly remaking itself. On the one hand, this creates a frequent sense of loss for those of us who call it home, as if the environments we know in the city are only temporarily here before some reset button takes them away.
On the other hand, living in a city with minimal roots to point to makes the stories of the individuals here that much more precious; the city they know breathes inside of them, rather than just through a wall or some other still landmark.
L.A. native Roger King is precisely this kind of individual. Born in South Los Angeles in 1945 “[just] three days after the Battle of Iwo Jima”, the sixty-nine year old chess and boxing coach is one of those rare Angelenos who actually knows a thing or two about L.A. through the times.
I first met Roger after spotting a flyer for a local chess club at the Cahuenga library in East Hollywood this past summer, at a time when I was deeply focused on improving my chess game. The flyer stated that the club’s organizer was a former tournament competitor, and while this made me a bit nervous at the possibility that I might not be good enough to hang with more experienced players, it made me even more excited at the prospect of talking with others about strategy, technique, and some of the different philosophies to the game; the following Thursday, I returned to Cahuenga at 4:oo PM sharp, ready for war.
To my surprise, however, upon meeting the chess club at Cahuenga it became clear that my guard-up wouldn’t be needed, or at least not at the notch I initially thought; the community of chess players at the library was a small but friendly group comprised of players of all ages ranging from toddler to senior years. To make things better, the club’s organizer, “Coach Roger”, was a friendly, welcoming club leader rather than a hard-liner, as a former competitive player might be expected to be.
“I only have two rules…” I remember him telling me as I sat down to play with my first opponent, who was a polite young lady in her early twenties named Gohar.
“No timers, and no trash-talking.”
This sounded fair enough. And I guess the rest is history, as they say.Continue reading “Roger King: L.A. through the Decades”