The Guy with the Plastic Cup at the Bottom of the Off Ramp
You know how it goes. Traffic, long light. This town has gone to hell, like most these days. I see the homeless guy in camo fatigues jumpin’ around like a lot of them do, high speed friendly patter and big smiles trying to get whoever’s pulled up along side them to open the window and give them some dough.
Me? I ain’t along side him yet and although I usually think of giving people whatever change rattling around in the bottom of my purse I can or a buck or something, generally by the time the light changes it’s too late.
But this is the Van Nuys Boulevard exit off the 101. A dinosaur has chewed it up—must have been something like that-- so it takes 800 years to exit the freeway. I’m staring at the particle board siding slapped onto the concrete butting. A Tyrannosaur bit it. That's the only reasonable explanation.
The car in front of me moves a few inches. Light changes. I’m here for another cycle. Plenty of time to get a buck for the camo with the plastic cup.
Some people say these guys begging for money aren’t really poor, they’re just scam artists. This means they live at big houses with swimming pools and saunas “south of the boulevard,” as they say around these parts. I find this interesting. I’ve stood on street corners before. If you’re a woman, within five minutes someone comes up and asks if you want a date. Probably if you’re a guy the same thing happens although maybe it takes longer. Stand there long enough looking weak or vulnerable and you generally get spat on, old McDonald burgers thrown at you, that kind of thing.
So as a career choice, it doesn’t seem a particularly wise one.
Light changes, I pull up a couple of dozen yards.
Anywho, I figure the nutzoid patter they all do is to keep the flung fast food and expectorating to a minimum. If someone is batshit, flingers and spitters possessed of even a modicum of imagination must entertain the notion that said individual, particularly one in military fatigues, might be capable of violence and even possessed of a firearm or two.
I pull up along side him, put down the window but only part way. His face is all scarred up, particularly around the eye, leading me via my lightening fast Touring machine circa 1957 mind, to calculate the probability that some kind of head injury may have occurred, wot with the eye being so close to the gray matter and all. I give him a buck, he says thank you lovely lady and all that other crap. We chat a little. Let’s face it, the light at the bottom of the ramp is not going to change for, like, another 30 years. He tells me of all the celebrities he’s seen. Jay Leno, someone I’ve never heard of, Mark Wahlberg gave him 20 bucks. Patter, patter, patter. The light changes and it’s time to move on.
He puts his hand on the top of my car, looks me straight in the eye. One of his, the one with all the scarring is a little milky. I wonder if he can see out of it. For that moment he does not look crazy at all.
“This is Uncle Sam part 2,” he says.
Under the freeway waiting for the next light to change. Some woman’s come off her ramp, sits in the middle of the intersection but even though all the other drivers, at that particular moment, hate her. She’d rather endure that than sit through another interminable cycle of the goddamn light. This is Los Angeles, after all, and inside your car is the safe zone. Like a hermit crab tucked inside its shell. It’s why it will never change. It’s not about movement. It’s about invulnerability.
The woman moves out of the intersection. Traffic moves. It is clear for a little while in front of me.