J.T. Salutes You,

Digang Yuzhuang,
Digang Village, 南浔区 Huzhou, Zhejiang, China

At more than 5,500 miles from home, with fervor in my veins pushing as ever before to unlock the best of myself for the rest of the world to know.

Let’s make it happen, Los Angeles. From Huzhou to Shanghai, let’s give these Cuentos what they need, something more to believe in.

J.T.

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Mom Is

The two of us in the car

Stopped at a red light
On the way home
When her phone rings,
Making the little

Ding-da-da-ding-da-da-di-ding-ding sound.

I say, MOM! You know you can turn the volume off
If you would prefer not to pick up.

She curtly replies:
‘Si pero ni quiero hacer eso mijo.’

(It’s not true. She just forgets where the button is.)

We drive along with the Ding-da-da-ding-da-da-di-ding-ding

The concert of being next to her.

J.T.

Enjoying the Silence

What a still moment. It’s late morning in The City, and it’s so quiet at home that one would think the entire neighborhood up and left for the day. I suppose it has.

I’ll be leaving too, but not until later in the afternoon for a late shift at work. Already, it’s been an amazing day. I got up and looked back on some old writing, which was a lot of fun to browse through, and I made some arroz con leche for breakfast.

The arroz was so tasty that even my mom grabbed a mug and poured some for herself when she got into the kitchen. This rarely happens. Usually my mom has to ‘fix’ my cooking with her ingredients, which usually leads us into a disagreement about how to make things just right, and which then leads us into a back-and-forth on how much each of us still has to learn.

With that said, between bites mom still mentioned she thought the rice was just a little under-cooked. Instead of up and heating the rice herself, however, she asked if I thought maybe the rice needed a little more heat, to which I politely responded that I thought it was just fine.

I guess we’ve both learned!

It’s been another great year for us. The home that she and my brother and I have built is a true gift, and I know that we’re still just at the outset of everything else ahead.

With so much Love,

Returning to L.A.

Bus finally parked at the station, I shoulder my duffel bag, step off the coach, and arrive at the body of a city in openness, 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 shoulders of fellow travelers in swift, undetectable motions.

I push past the exit door, and see the familiar stretch of tarmac surrounding the Greyhound bus station: the street salutes me beneath grey clouds and a residual morning silence. I look up and see the 7th street sign in white and blue overhead. It also welcomes me.

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 looms artfully over the intersection with its long pink walls. Just 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 fellow standing near the driveway asking drivers for spare change. Though he and I never make eye contact, I’m not ready for even potential interaction with anyone yet. 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 just an hour away.

At 4th and Alameda, I cross the street to head west on 4th. There’s more activity on the street as I swerve 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 anyway. I’m in luck: on one side the place is your average humble convenience store with drinks and other refreshments. On the other side, it’s a kitchen serving everything from grits and pancakes to bean and cheese burritos. I order 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 at the space to be an inspector; I’m there to eat 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 don’t finish everything inside 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 infinitely far down, but I also know that I’ll cross through in just seconds. In a flash, I make it to the terminal to waiting for the Red Line to North Hollywood. The train arrives in just a few minutes, free of crowds and the heat they contain. It’s still early.

I get on board, put my duffel bag to the side, and take a seat to observe the people on the train for a moment; 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 so long since I’ve seen them that I have to verify their existence.

To my left side stands a skater-girl of Chicana descent with 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. Just two feet away 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 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, our place on the train emitting a healthy fusion of pride and intelligence bred by the concrete jungle.

We’re on our way to school, on our way to families, and on our way to our loved ones. 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 just as we’re all a collective trying to survive another day. We are The City of Los Angeles, keeping it running as The People of Los Angeles.

When the train reaches the Vermont and Santa Monica station, I take my duffel bag, step off the Line, and make my way up the escalator towards the street. Ascending the crosswalk and soaking up the 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’m ready for home; reunited, I know we’re each better for breaking away and then restoring our space. This city. This love.

J.T.

to you(s),

What is the road without a song to it? As I write, I’m on the Greyhound bus leaving Fort Worth for El Paso, Texas. In my earbuds, Max Richter’s The Trees fills the silence with a fiery collision between a piano and violin. In my mind, the instruments conjure images of light-bulbs floating through a night sky, each chasing the other in some aerial dance of perfection. Maybe it’s fitting. The night is on the horizon again.

Tonight I won’t have my laptop or phone at my disposal like the others. The socket in front of me is no good, so I’ll be hanging out old-school through the road. But I’m ready. This evening I feel stronger than I have during any other night. I’ve now observed myself through my time on the bus, and jotted down the little things about how I like to get by, and it’s simple:

A full stomach, a fresh body, and a little bit of a snack or two to fill the mind with some activity does the trick. Whether I snack on some reading or a bag of chips makes only a slight difference: I can devour both just fine. But now, with my trip in the homestretch, I don’t even need much of either. I’m going home, and home is pulling the strings now; no matter what happens, I’ll see my people at the end of it all.

And with this in mind, I dedicate the last bag of cookies in my backpack to all those who have supported me throughout this latest voyage of mine. We made it! And in doing so, we’ve extended the life of our community, which is a community made up of all ages, colors, and backgrounds, and which is spread throughout the West, South, and East coasts of our country. Tonight, we are all stronger together on this bus. And tonight, we are all going home.