When I was eleven I went to Los Angeles with my Mum. We spent approximately one week there and did all the typical touristy things: Disneyland, Universal Studios, Beverley Hills, Hollywood, saw stars homes, saw stars on Hollywood Boulevard and anything else you could think of. We stayed in a decent little motel in Anaheim and saw a typically Hollywood portrayal of our surrounds. I absolutely loved the entire experience.
Fast forward twenty-seven years and I found myself back in the City of Angels, this time on my own for the sole purpose of attending FYF Fest, a two-day music festival. Due to my earlier trip and due to time constraints, I had no intention of doing any sight-seeing and hadn’t planned any either. However, when I arrived at 8am on a Friday morning I figured I had over 24 hours before the festival started so maybe it was a great chance to see a few things I hadn’t previously seen.
I had booked an Air BnB apartment which was chosen due to a) the price and b) being positioned within spitting distance of the Metro which I needed to take to/from the festival. The apartment itself was wonderful and I would recommend it to anyone, however its location was one that opened my eyes to the reality of LA. I should clarify and say the apartment was in an okay location and within close proximity to everything of relevance, well as close a proximity as the great expanse that is LA allows.
My home was a block away from Wilshire and Vermont in Koreatown. It was East Koreatown, the quieter side of Koreatown and from all accounts quite a safe area. On Saturday morning I decided to head to Paramount Pictures to do a tour, which according to google maps, wasn’t too far away. I’d established I needed to get to Wilshire/ Western station and then catch a bus to Melrose before taking a short walk to the studio. I figured it would take about twenty minutes to walk to Wilshire/ Western so I left with plenty of time to make my bus. This was not a problem, I was all over it!
Armed with my Paramount tour confirmation, money in my pocket, excitement bubbling over the surface and a totally shit sense of direction I started walking. It was an overcast morning, hotter than I had experienced in well over three months, with humidity off the charts.
I kept walking.
Koreatown is best described as an inner city suburb. It’s not shi shi by any means, nor is it Skid Row. But it’s close to both shi shi and Skid Row depending on which direction you head. It’s very middle class, perhaps slightly below even, with an even split between residential and retail. There were always people around, even at 2am.
One of the first things I noticed about Koreatown, which is common across most of LA, was the homeless. Whilst not surprised to see people sleeping in alleys behind the apartment, or in the Metro station, or around the corner, the amount of homeless people I saw was eye-opening.
I kept walking.
The second thing I noticed about Koreatown, which is common across most of LA except the shi shi areas, was the dirtiness. The amount of rubbish on the streets and the sidewalks was unexpected and when combined with the smog made for an unpleasant environment overall.
I kept walking.
The third thing I noticed about Koreatown, which I found to be common wherever I went in LA, was the smell of urine. No matter where you were it would inevitably rise up from the ground and smack you square in the nose. You couldn’t avoid it.
I kept walking, and wondering when the hell was I going to reach the station?! By this stage the streets had become quieter, fewer people were around. It had an eerie quality about it, but I pressed on.
The fourth thing I noticed about Koreatown, which I found to be common wherever I went in LA, was the money that was spent on the strangest of things: new, high quality petrol bowsers in every petrol station; advertising printed on glossy, laminated paper; air conditioners on every mode of Metro transport…but the homeless, the rubbish and the urine remained on the streets. This wasn’t right.
I kept walking until I reached MacArthur Park. I stopped. Shit!
In my spare time I was reading Digging the Vein by Tony O’Neil of Brian Jonestown Massacre fame. The novel was based loosely around Tony’s experiences, was about a has been musician and his fall into heroin addiction, and was set in LA. MacArthur Park was talked about often as a guaranteed spot to score dope. In the 1980’s and 90’s it was referred to as Murder Central due to the heavy gang presence. In 1990 as many as thirty people were murdered in MacArthur Park alone! I was in Murder Central. The fact it was 2015 and the Park had seemingly cleaned up its act thanks to a combined effort from the LAPD and the residents was totally irrelevant. I was in Murder Central and completely irrational.
I walked through the park and into a world I hadn’t ever seen before in Adelaide or anywhere I had previously lived. It was then that I realised what a sheltered life I had led, what a lucky life I had led and, when I checked on google maps where the hell I actually was, that I had an utterly shit sense of direction. I had walked east almost directly to Downtown LA instead of west where I was meant to be going. The time had arrived to obtain a crash course in the Metro and I hopped on the first bus heading west because I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk all the way back to where I came from.
The fact I was one of the few, occasionally only, caucasian in the area and on the bus didn’t escape me, but I wasn’t made to feel out-of-place at all, on any of the buses I caught. In fact, I was so impressed with the friendliness of everyone and their willingness to help me every time my sense of direction sent me travelling the wrong way. This was, I’m embarrassed to say, a common occurrence during my four-day stay. That morning I got so lost I missed my pre-paid tour of Paramount Pictures, but I experienced a side of LA that I wouldn’t have gone and sought out intentionally and in retrospect I’m glad I did.
Over the next three days the Metro became my only mode of transport and its reliability and ease of use did come as somewhat of a surprise and helped to highlight a disconnect in LA. How could there be so much money put into things like petrol bowsers, advertising flyers and the transport system, yet there be so much poverty everywhere you looked? I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand.
FYF Fest was a wonderful experience, one that deserves its own full length description, and I will take from LA such a content feeling from the event, however it will forever be underlined by a feeling of confusion. Los Angeles is void of logic and I find that unsettling.