Secret Agent: How to Discover Your Neighborhood in Los Angeles

Kev with the new Los Cuentos Black & Gold Cap; Summer 2019

So it’s the second week of summer and you read How to Beat Summer 2019 Parts I III, 10 Ways Not to Beat Summer 2019, and even How to Outline Summer 2019, but you’re still not quite sure what to do with all this newfound time on your hands.

In this case, you’re likely making it just a tad more complicated than it needs to be (I know from experience). But with this blog, we’re going to give it one more shot in a last-minute challenge for you.

The only requirements for this challenge are a few hours of time on your hands, permission to go out for a few of those hours, and either a parent, friend, sibling or pet turtle to accompany you. Okay, maybe not the pet turtle. Sorry pet!

Ready? You’re now officially a secret agent going on an adventure. Your mission: to explore the second most populous city in the world and bring some of its top secrets back to headquarters. Your key ‘weapons’ for the mission are: walking shoes, a smart-phone, a Los Cuentos hat, and a water bottle.

There are also no cars allowed for the assignment. Metro buses and rail-lines only.

Ready to find out where you’re going? You will choose one of the following places for this mission:

  1. Little Tokyo
  2. Plazita Olvera
  3. Koreatown

In true secret-agent fashion, you’re not visiting these places just to ‘have fun.’ You’re going to ‘excavate’ them for some classified info like a world class spy. Sure, you can go with your people, get some ice cream at the stores, and check out the stuff on sale like a lookie-loo. But the real purpose of your visit to these other places will be to find out the following:

I. Where is ‘the heart’ of the neighborhood? (As in, where is the public square, or main area? What kind of businesses are there? Is there any kind of art you see there?)

II. How does it differ from your side of town? (What kind of people are there? How many languages do you hear spoken? And what can you tell about the ‘other’ kids at this other part of town?)

III. How might your neighborhood ‘be’ more like this one? (Could there be a different Metro Station to make it easier to get to your side of L.A, like with these other neighborhoods? If you could choose the stores you’d have in your neighborhood’s main area, what would they sell? And apart from the stores, where would the kids in your neighborhood hang out? Would they have their own main area too, or public square?)

That’s it! It’s true that these are quite a few different questions to remember during your visit to the assignment, but we both know you can glance at this blog while you’re out there on assignment.

We also both know that this is a mission you can definitely accomplish in three to four hours. Metro’s lines were made for you to use for exactly this kind of challenge, just as these ‘other’ places were made for you to visit and learn about.

At the end of the assignment, you’ll feel accomplished for learning about a new part of Los Angeles for yourself, send me the answers to your questions for a top-secret review, and receive a brief follow-up mission, if you so choose.

So, what are you waiting for? Give this last-minute challenge a shot and get out there, young storyteller. Your city is counting on you!



Meeting L.A. at the Register

A lady came into Starbucks today for an encounter I wouldn’t forget. She asked for the cheapest tea that I could give her. I told her that our cheapest tea was priced at $1.75. It was more than she could afford.

She then smiled, and asked for just a cup of water, which sure enough, our Starbucks had recently started pricing at $0.25 cents.

She then handed me two dimes and a handful of pennies, after which she said something I didn’t expect.

“It’s because I need a boyfriend to support me, ya know,”

“I hear you,” I replied instinctively, meeting her smile with my own and then taking her change into the register. I was used to hearing customers’ side-remarks by then and steering the interaction to its close to serve the next person in line.

That’s when the lady said something that’d strike me, when she looked at me and asked:

“Will you be my boyfriend?”

I chuckled, and looked at her then. She was probably in her mid to late forties, and had an orangeish-red complexion. Her hair was thin and dyed, and she had freckles around a small, pointy nose. I guess she must have been of mixed heritage, perhaps somewhere in between white and Native American.

Reflecting about it now, I’m sure she had broken quite a few hearts before we met at Starbucks. She had a charm to her and was obviously aware of it. But we were from two different lifetimes, and being at work, I could only receive her question as a playful one. So I smiled again and said:

“Maybe, but not sure!”

I felt a tinge of self-awareness as I said this, immediately wanting to see the next customer before I started blushing. But the then lady stood there for another moment and lingered on her playful question:

“Maybe then, right?”

Once again, I smiled, and replied that her water would be on the side.

The whole thing lasted just a minute or so, but I would think about it again later in the afternoon.

With just twenty-five cents to spare, the lady was obviously down on her luck at the time, yet her playful question brought something else to mind.

In this world, which is so dominated by the cha-ching noise in the background, we don’t actually need terribly much money to survive; what we need is each other. It might sound sappy and cliche, but as human beings, all we really need to get by is… other human beings who get us!

At the end of the day, the register is just a machine. Money is the fuel the machine runs on. But when the running is done and all that’s left is our humanity, what counts is what we do for each other. In turn, I hope I made a good impression on that customer today, but to be sure, next time her tea is on me.

Hello, Alo! Ni Hao

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Nothing like hanging out with your friend from Taiwan through a bright afternoon in Koreatown.

Los Angeles, California