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Welcome to the land of misfits

“This shuttle bus is very . . . ethnic,” texted Amber, choosing her words carefully to remain politically correct. She was in Los Angeles for two days, killing time before the start of Comic Con, and I was helping her navigate the train system via text. It was my suggestion that she take the trains. I find them fascinating. The bus ride from the airport to the light rail train in Inglewood is a bit like that classic bar scene in Star Wars.

There’s the tiny middle-aged Hispanic women getting into shouting matches with the Armenian guys who won’t give up their seats. There’s the homeless people so doped up that they don’t even know what bus they’re on, staring vacantly ahead with their mouths hanging open like dormant zombies. There’s the elderly black guy with a cane who keeps randomly shouting the n-word to see how uncomfortable he can make everyone.

“He doesn’t like you. I don’t like you either. You just watch yourself. We’re wanted men! I have the death sentence on twelve systems.”

I didn’t warn her of any of this ahead of time, of course. It’s best not to warn people about things they can’t do anything about. If a meteor were about to wipe out all life on Earth, I’d hope the powers that be would be kind enough to keep their mouths shut about it so I could spend my final moments finishing a cold beer instead of dealing with the rioting, raping and general anarchy that people gravitate toward in times of hopelessness.

The shuttle bus is shit, to put it as kindly as possible without sacrificing accuracy. Amber’s use of “ethnic” was a nice way of saying “I’m the only white person here, and I am terrified.” She’s from Duluth, and has never been to a city of this size before. All I could do was remind her of the high-definition cameras built into every bus (none of them work), the skilled drivers there to keep passengers from harm (they will run away) and the gold-heartedness of strangers in times of crisis (that doesn’t work. They will run away).

I also avoided telling her how much worse it would get when she got on the actual green line train, which transverses the entire length of South Central Los Angeles, dropping her off at the border between the Compton and Watts neighborhoods for the next train. Don’t worry, Amber! There’s lots of HD cameras. There’s lots of good people in that mess of a station that will help you rather than run away and refuse to cooperate with the police afterward. You’ll be just fine, my friend! There’s only the smallest of chances that you’ll be dead soon!

Her next connecting train was the blue line. That’s my favorite one. Every time I’ve taken that train, there’s been roughly a 50/50 chance that the hobo with the glass eyeball will show up. He’s very polite and sweet, but also deranged. His method of begging for change has remained unchanged for the seven years I’ve lived in Los Angeles. He politely asks for change. If he’s ignored, he reaches two fingers into his eye socket, removes his glass eye and shows it to the person, and then smooshes it back into his eye socket and asks for change a second time. This works. A lot. Sadly, he was absent from Amber’s train. When she told me she hadn’t met anyone like that, a little part of me was sad. It’s like visiting South Dakota and not seeing Mount Rushmore.

When she arrived to my apartment, she seemed a bit bummed out. I assumed she was sad about not seeing the eyeball hobo. To make it up to her, the first place I took her was the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s literally the worst place in Hollywood, which is saying a lot. Staring at names on a sidewalk ranks right up there with watching paint dry and attending city council meetings as one of the most boring activities in the universe. Fortunately, that area is also filled with creepy, borderline homeless celebrity impersonators who will pose for photos if you tip them.

We walked past a woman who was dressed as Neytiri from Avatar, but looked more like a heroin addict who had devoured a Smurf. Next was Angry Batman, who is well known for threatening to beat up tourists who don’t tip him. Tranny Marilyn Monroe – who is not actually a transexual, just a really mannish looking woman – said hello as we walked past. Perhaps my favorite character is Spiderman Wearing a Fanny Pack. His costume is absolutely filthy, likely because it’s dry clean only and the guy makes $40 per day at best.

I turned around to point out to Amber how you could subtly see the outline of Spiderman’s penis through his costume, but the look of absolute terror on her face told me that one more horrific sight might make her lose it and start stabbing random people in self defense.

It was at this point that I realized I may have a slightly different idea of “fun” than a normal person. Watching a man on the crowded subway inspect the apple he hollowed out to use as a bong may be fascinating to me, but it’s probably a bit frightening to the average Minnesotan. Or Californian, to be honest. I decided to cut short my plans to show Amber the bar downtown where you can drink with actual hobos, and took her to the beach instead.

I’ll have another chance to play tour guide next week when my parents come to visit. I wonder if they’ve ever been to skid row? It’s amazing some of the weird stuff you’ll see down there.

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