Summer, 1987. My flat tire rescue by a passing mechanic made me fall in love with the city. One night my then-husband and I were driving home from our friends’ house where we’d all partied till we fell asleep. It was way past closing time on The 134. We passed a pale Corolla, broken down in the median near the Eagle Rock. Given what had just happened to me, we knew we had to go back. My husband exited and reentered the freeway twice so we could come up behind the Corolla. This time a young woman was standing between the Jersey wall and her car. Our headlights caught her shining eyes. She was tall with short curly black hair. We pulled up behind her and I waved so she’d see a woman was stopping. You shouldn’t get out of your car—especially in the center divider. Though it was late and traffic was light, there was no way she could’ve crossed over to a call box.
She was shaking as she got into our car. Lourdes was a nurse, near our age, early twenties, driving home from her shift when the car broke down. She hoped a Highway Patrol might come along. She said she lived just off the next exit, and we took her home. Her father and uncle would come collect the car. Having transported from North Carolina straight to west Pasadena, our experience with Latino culture was limited to eating Mexican food. Lourdes lived with her family in a small white bungalow. As soon as our car slowed out front, her father ran out the door, his Spanish too fast for me. Lourdes said she should’ve been home an hour before and her father was about to go looking for her. She hugged us, he hugged us. A much older lady came out in her nightgown and hugged us too. They were so happy to have her home safe.
I loved my husband way back then.
My expansive feelings toward LA grew. The Night Stalker was in jail awaiting trial. The LA Times said that if you weren’t in a gang, you were unlikely to be a victim of gang violence, so what was the big deal? Later that summer, when my parents were visiting, we were stuck in a huge traffic jam on The 405. As we approached the slowdown from the left, my father was impressed to see that the jam was caused by a motorcyclist walking his broken down bike. The car behind was shielding him from the rest of the traffic, slowly escorting him off the freeway. Weren’t the people of LA just so loving?
A year later our apartment was broken into. We were living in Long Beach then. I’d left to pick up my in-laws at the Queen Mary and was gone only 15 minutes. The perpetrators weren’t expecting me so soon—and they probably weren’t expecting more people with me. The couch was lodged against the door, my tiny runt cat screaming at the window we climbed in. The kids, as I have to imagine them, were already gone via the back balcony. They had stopped to eat the chicken I’d prepared for my in-laws and drink directly from my orange juice container, and so, were unsuccessful actually taking anything. Some people have scoffed at my naiveté, but the whole episode seemed funny to me. Even when the police came and showed me the burglars had been rooting around under the mattress and in closets to see if I had a gun, all I could think was—good thing I didn’t.
Plenty of things I’ve seen in LA are not funny. Once, I looked into the rearview mirror and caught the face of a motorcyclist as he went down. Countless times, I’ve looked into the eyes of the homeless. Every year, so many more. One said he just needed somebody to talk to, but it was a dark street and I was alone so I said sorry and kept walking. Don’t even get me started on abandoned pets.
Then I was gone for eight years, making beautiful babies in a faraway world—Washington, DC. Gigantically pregnant, I watched TV coverage of familiar intersections erupting after the Rodney King beating. My toddlers sang along with Raffi while I watched video of a freeway broken in half during the Northridge earthquake. Months later, I waxed nostalgic along with this fellow during the OJ chase.
By 1998, I was back, this time, in a mountain ‘burb. Not unlike South Park, and growing out of northeast LA like a post-Okie-post-hippie blister. I managed to avoid commuting on a regular basis. The city was right there but I wasn’t in it the way I had been on the road. Even after I moved out of the hills and back down into the city proper, I’ve managed to live close to work. For the past 9 years I’ve had an enviable commute. My most dangerous recent incident involved slamming on brakes to avoid a rooster crossing the road.
I kid you not.