During this pandemic I have now found myself in Los Angeles three times. Sometimes business is unavoidable, whether it’s going in to work, or whether it’s going somewhere to work.
And before anyone starts bellyaching about Covid protocols just remember that only a few weeks ago I was the only person wearing a mask in a room full of people eating. Granted they were six feet apart and the room wasn’t completely full, but that grouping was probably the highest risk of infection that I have faced in the last 10 months. Spending 6 hours alone in my car, and then two days by myself in a rental unit certainly wasn’t.
LA has certainly changed, each time. Firstly, on the eve of the shutdown the eerily deserted streets and shuttering restaurants left a decidedly dystopian impression. The second time, several months later, found me struggling to determine what was a homeless encampment, and what was outdoor dining. This most recent trip the outdoor dining tent cities were gone, the homeless ones, however, are not.
I needed to eat. It is a universal constant. And luckily for us bartenders, drinking is usually not far behind. So, like every animal in the animal kingdom, I eventually needed to leave my lair.
My goal was nostalgic. In an unexplainable irony, I have discovered an unusual fact. There is a product called “San Francisco Style” potato salad. That is not the irony. The irony is, that it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere except for Los Angeles. And trust me, I have looked.
I shouldn’t be all that surprised. I have had “sauce Americain” in Paris which bore no resemblance to any sauce I’ve ever seen in the Americas, and I have enjoyed authentic “Tex-Mex BBQ” in London at place called the “Indiana Steakhouse.” But we aren’t talking different countries or different languages here. California is one state, despite what the flat-earthers would have us believe.
I wandered down the sidewalk until I got to the Christmas tree light laden tented entrance to the supermarket. How cute I thought as I moved tent flap to the side. It was an extreme Covid protocol but considering all the testing tents I’ve been in in last few months, not completely off the grid.
The blinking lights outside illuminated the inside through the thin rayon fabric walls. On one side was a desk, the kind seen propped in shop doorways doing ToGo food. On it sat a little jar filled with pencils and a little writing pad. Next to that was an old typewriter.
A typewriter? I looked around the little foyer questioningly: a functioning electric heater, a sleeping bag, and an older iPhone charger.
I sure wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I quickly realized I wasn’t in an elaborate Covid screening entrance to the supermarket; I was in some person’s tent!
I beat a hasty retreat and upon exiting, almost tripping over an old electrical cord spliced into the bottom of a streetlamp, which was now powering the heater, the lights, and presumably whatever was charged by that iPhone charger.
I have heard some discussion back in the Bay Area that outdoor dining pavilions are being taken over by homeless people on the streets. I don’t know why anyone would be surprised, if you had a choice between sleeping in the open in winter or sleeping in an unsecure tentlike building on the corner, which would you choose? And as much as people like to distinguish between “us” and “them,” the reality is that they are just as capable of complex thought as we are. They are not animals; they are human beings. And human beings can think. It’s what sets us apart from all the other animals.
As I made my way out, I almost ran directly into a tattooed young man wrapped in a long dirty trench coat.
“What are you doing in my house?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I thought it was the entrance to the store.”
“It isn’t,” he replied
“Why do you have a typewriter?” I asked after we had sorted out the mistake.
“I’m a writer,” he said. “And now that I lost my job, I think I might have time to write my book.”
I smiled both outwardly and inwardly. We people aren’t that different after all.
“What did you used to do?” I asked. His answer shook me to my core.
“I was a waiter,” he said.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-Ten months of extreme hardship can change anyone’s life.
-San Francisco style potato salad tastes especially good in LA, certainly when shared by two unemployed restaraunt workers.
-When we lose sight of the humanity in others, we surrender our very own.