Bright Lights, Big City



I’ve been spending a lot of time in the city lately. A project I’ve been working on for years is suddenly racing to a conclusion against a tight deadline, which means long hours and not as much time running. Weekend long runs training for Javelina Jundred have been flat and sandy and mostly in Griffith Park or along the lower Arroyo Seco. There’ve been no mountains trips to get away from all the city grime and stresses. Walks out of the office to stretch my legs along Sunset Blvd in Echo Park have brought me back onto streets I used to walk on every day; this is my old neighborhood. This is a small collection of notes and photos from those streets.


Blind guy jaywalking across Sunset Blvd, 4 lanes of traffic. Seems like a bad idea. Talk about putting your fate in the hands of strangers Down the block, a guy in a wheelchair, trying to operate the wheelchair with only one arm as the other is in a cast. He is mostly going in circles.

I find myself wondering how these people manage to get through the day intact, although maybe they don’t, given the condition each is in. Maybe alive is a better word than intact.

The blind dude shows the secret to his success a few minutes later, buying a plastic bottle of Crystal Palace vodka at the corner market. It’s 10am. I notice that Crystal Palace vodka is very budget priced. “Wow, that’s cheap vodka” I say to the shop owner. He shrugs his shoulders. “The people who drink it are cheap people” he says.


Olive Motel

Olive Motel.


Conversation on Sunset Blvd, in front of the Olive Motel.

Gangbanger: “Did you see that?!”

Me: “The guy with no pants on, pushing a shopping cart?”

Gangbanger (nodding his head): “My goodness.”




Working on a Sunday. Truck parked on Sunset Blvd. Car alarm goes off, sounds like the SWAT team is on its way. I run downstairs. Some sketchy looking kid comes up to me. “Love your car alarm!” he says. “Hey, you got a dollar?”

Yeah, right, kid.


Walking down the street I passed a little old guy who made some sort of weird twitching grimace of recognition.

I realized that this was Jose, the ex manager of my old apartment building. Jose used to be about my size and about my age. Now he’s about 15 years older, and 6 inches shorter. Speed has reduced him down to not much, and what’s left won’t stop twitching.

I noticed he had no teeth. The last time I saw Jose, his teeth were really oversized. He’d picked them up in Mexico, I think.

I wrote about his teeth about 6 years ago:

Jose the tweaker manager of my ghetto apartment building has new teeth.

I’m not sure where he got them or why he has them. He’s a relentless scavenger. Maybe a tenant left them behind after moving. Maybe he found them on the street. There seemed nothing wrong with his old teeth. They appeared to be pretty regular, which is to say unnoticeable because the only time you notice teeth is when something is wrong, like they are unnaturally white or they are rotten or they are seriously snaggled or they are really stained or several prominent ones are missing…

Jose’s new teeth are very noticeable.

They were made for a head much bigger than his, and the weird effect is exacerbated because he seems to be shrinking, maybe due to all the speed. Because they don’t really fit, his speech is a little slurred and he can’t seem to get his lips to cover them, so what he does instead is the sort of freakish grimace that I think is meant to be a grin.

Whatever drugs he’s doing, it’s a combo that has him at his most agreeable in the 6 years I’ve lived here. He’s not looking so good, but he’s happier (in a manic way) than he’s ever been…


I realize I’ve known Jose for about 12 years. Our relationship has not always been cordial.

(May 01, 2009) I stopped in at the old corner grocery store next to where I used to live. Annie and Terry the Armenian ladies who run it were very glad to see me.

They said I got out just in time. My old building has been going down hill. No more single folks living alone in apartments. It’s either families of 4 in a small one bedroom or groups of drugs addicts, rockers and party boys turning singles into crash pads. The police are out there regularly now.

Jose the building manager has been wasting away. He’s lost a lot of weight on this latest tweaking binge, which makes those weird oversized false teeth he got in Mexico look that much larger. His wife has left him. I’m not sure if she took the kid. His beautiful truck that didn’t run is gone, as is his motorcycle.

I’m not sure why the owners keep him on. As he goes, so goes the building. They set up a conference call between them, me and Jose so that he could tell me (in between smacking on his weird false teeth) how I’d stolen the window screens, the closet door, the light fixtures, the carpet, and everything else I guess he stole out of my apartment after I left so he could trade it in for crack…The owners weren’t buying it any more than I was, and after he ran out of things to accuse me of and just started prattling inanely they cut him off, apologized to me, and asked if it was okay if they keep $50 of my deposit just to make him happy. I was cool with that, but when I went to pick up the money, in cash, from Jose, he tried to short me $200.

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