I live in an area of Los Angeles where trashcans urge us to love one another, obituaries are scrawled in spraypaint on the steps of public stairways, and every sidewalk stain has a sad story left untold.
I walk with my dog Shadow along the seemingly peaceful streets around my Silver Lake neighborhood and I’m shown danger all along our two-mile route that takes us from Occidental below Sunset down to Bellevue over to Silver Lake Boulevard up to Vendome and the Music Box Steps to Descanso to Micheltorena and then her long stairway back down to Sunset and eastward back across Parkman and home. I find that danger in the smashed window of a Honda down the block from my house, shattered glass on the curb and a gaping hole in the dash where its stereo used to sit. I see it in the fresh gang tags applied to the days-old city paint that covered up the old ones. And I learn about it with the cautionary news delivered by a dog-walking neighbor that a woman was vicously attacked by a roaming pitbull near Vendome and Marathon last fall. A day later I confront two loose beasts who advance full of wicked territorial intent out of a yard toward me and Shadow with heads low and ears back, yet somehow they halt when I put myself between them and mine, raise my hand and scold them for being away from home. Miraculously when I tell them to get going they turn tail and trot back up the sidewalk, stopping once to look back at us with tongues lolling in their massive open jaws. “Go on!” I command, and they do through an open gate into their yard. I don’t dwell on the little victory and turn tail as well to detour a block around them.
I’ve lived here just shy of a year and a half. But I’ve known these streets since my early teens. By day I may have attended high school in Beverly Hills with uppercrusties who had no idea what a Tommy’s burger was or that there was life east of La Cienega, but by night I worked the streets of Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park delivering the old Herald Examiner newspaper for my mother who was the distributor for the area. Before I even had my driver license I could often be found negotiating the steep and winding roads in the dark hours before dawn either in my mom’s old ’65 Mustang or my little 50cc Yamaha, flinging papers onto yards and driveways.
Times may be better or they may be worse, but back then as a punk-ass whiteboy far from home and daylight I had to rely on a combination of prayers and good humor in the beginning when I was confronted by groups of gangsters up to no good in the ‘hood.
What would usually begin with some variation of “You lost, puto?” usually ended with me giving out some “complimentary” newspapers and them letting me go about my business. The one time money was demanded I laughingly asked them to look at my old, beat-up ride with its reverse gear long broken. “If I had any money do you think my car would look this way or that I’d be out here doing this?” Perhaps that logic appealed to them, but I think it was my lack of fear and pretension that kept them at bay… not unlike the dogs mentioned above. Hell I hit it off so well with one of them, a kid my age named Francisco who preferred to be called Snoopy, that he became something of my guardian, spreading the word around the way that “the salty gringo in the ‘Stang was cool.” Giving him a ride one morning to his home north of Scott Avenue, he invited me in for some of his grandmother’s homemade tamales… and yes, to my eternal shame I had to be stopped at first bite and told that you don’t eat the cornhusk wrapper. “Looooook,” Francisco said, “he thinks he’s eating a burrito!” Much laughter ensued.
So while I’m no native to these streets I’m no newcomer to them either ‚Äî and only too well aware that evil rears its ugly mug all too often around here. I do my best not to let it weaken the embrace I have for this place. But every gunshot is a question mark and I die a little with every death, of which there have been several in my immediate vicinity since I moved here in August of 2004. The most recent one was Tuesday evening.
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Blood Alley? 1) Sept. 1, 2004, in the parking lot off of Parkman behind Tom’s Burgers a man is shot and killed. 2) Barely a month later on Oct. 3, 2004, in the Los Globos club parking lot, a security officer fires his gun into a vehicle with three occupants when one of them draws a weapon after the guard has asked a second time that the vehicle be moved. The driver flees east down Sunset. Two of the occupants are found dead in the vehicle near Union Station. 3) Not even three months after that on Jan. 25, 2005, is the attempted armed robbery of the hair salon in this minimall in which the 20-year-old suspect is shot and killed by an off-duty LAPD officer who happened to be inside waiting to get a haircut. 4) And most recently is the apparent gang-related murder Jan. 31, 2006. Do the math: 4 shootings, 5 deaths, 16 months.
Sean posted here wondering about the street closures. I was home at the time and heard what may have been two gunshots shortly before 6 p.m. They seemed much farther away than half a block and I didn’t pay any mind other than to glance at the clock to mentally mark what time it was. Oddly I don’t recall hearing any sirens afterward and as a result had no idea until Sean’s post that Sunset Boulevard had been cordoned off between Parkman and Benton. But why it was shut down was a mystery until yesterday when I found the LAPD’s vague news release stating that a young man had been gunned down somewhere within the “2800 block of Sunset Boulevard.”
UPDATE: According to CBS News website, the body was found at 2807 Sunset, shot several times in the head.
So on our walk this morning Shadow and I went looking around. We found remains of the police boundary tape tied off to stop signs and fencing and trashcans. Lines of ashes on the asphalt pointed to where flares had been struck and put down. And suddenly every dark stain we passed on the sidewalk instantly had the potential to be where the person died. But it wasn’t until I stopped in the hole-in-the-wall liquor store next to the Sun-Park pharmacy and asked the owner what he knew that I learned the shooting took place
over by near the Olive Motel.
“It must be drug related,” he offered. “That motel is a very bad place.”
I didn’t disagree, but I did quickly shrug off a silly sort of solace I found in the killing taking place across the street, as if being farther away over a few lanes of roadway was some sort of relief that the killing was over there and on the other side. So Shadow and I walked over there. Crossing at Parkman we passed through the same space that a car sped through Oct. 3, 2004, carrying two men either dead or dying away from Los Globos. Heading east on Sunset we walked by Tom’s Burgers where the first death occured Sept. 1, 2004, then past the hair salon where the robber collapsed outside mortally wounded, Jan. 25, 2005. Continuing past another minimall and a garish red and black building we were in front of the motel, first checking the walls for any bullet holes, then the sidewalk for telltale stains. But it was as if it never happened. As if I don’t live half a block away from a whole bunch of death.
But I do. And it’s getting sadder to see my immediate surroundings become increasingly covered with blood. No matter how quick the clean-up crews wash it away they can’t scrub it from my memory.
So do I have a point to make? Not really ‚Äî and certainly no solutions. I can go on all day (and apologies if I have) about how I can readily face danger, but the fact is L.A. can prove a tough place for courage when it seems death is going door to door.
ADDITIONAL: A Flickr photoset of my Feb. 2 walk around the neighborhood and the crime scenes mentioned can be viewed here.