Day 55. Outside of the Women’s March I haven’t spent much time in Downtown LA. Today it’s time to get down there and make sense of the place a little. I meet Marilyn in a Buddhist centre. I’ve not met her before but she’s just found 20 bucks on the floor and she offers to get breakfast. That’s an excellent start to any day. We drive in and I splash most of my days budget on valet parking for my ramshackle beast of a Chevy at The Ace Hotel. Free breakfast! The Ace is one of a number of Art Deco hotels that pepper the area. It’s a little run down but has an old fashioned charm, so it feels like home. There’s a pool on the roof, which is essentially a jacuzzi surrounded by half naked men. Nobody is in it when we go to look. They’re just sitting round the edges in their towels staring at each other. But the view from the roof is great. The whole area puts me in mind of the lower east side in New York. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the architects were the same.
We decide to go for a walk to the Art District. This involves going through Skid Row. I’ve known the term Skid Row as long as I can remember. It’s a term I associate with being at the bottom of the wheel. The reality of the place is remarkably bleak. I’ve already blogged about the river, and the shanty town that I walked through at the beginning of my trip. Here there’s not even flowing water. It’s a few streets that have just been designated as the place you end up in when you’re at rock bottom. A recent census had the population of this area at upward of 17 thousand for under 4.5 square miles. It’s a tent city. The energy here is desperate. Everyone is moving around in circles. People are trying to carve out a little patch of ground for themselves, and there are flashes of community, love and friendship evident. We are almost invisible, just passing through, not part of it. Not under threat, but definitely alien. There’s a lot of big drugs here. Sunken broken faces and bodies, people passed out flat in the street, open mouths gaping, young men who are old, people who are tweaking and mumbling by lamp posts like extras in a zombie film. Tents everywhere, piles of filthy possessions gathered over years and dragged here. All this is less than 5 minutes walk from City Hall, and the municipal centre of LA. 5 minutes walk from the courthouses and vast squat stone buildings housing the machine of government. Built to look impressive, impassive, impenetrable. If you were on Skid Row you’d be aware of all the unused space in those huge edifices. You’d see the nicely dressed people protesting notions and distant pipelines while you were worrying about food and shelter, and maybe your next hit. And if you worked in City Hall and had a spot of empathy you’d be aware that you’re only a catastrophic string of events away from Skid Row. There are targeted billboards here. “Need bankruptcy help? Just 5 streets up that way.” It’s a sobering juxtaposition, the bottom so close to the top. Then we find some all American trucks and they distract us before we drive home.
Needing entertainment I went to the theatre. Also because they got me a comp. Son of Semele, for The Offending Gesture. It was a play about a dog in occupied Finland that could do the nazi salute, and how the nazis took offence. Delightful and very strange, ending with a quote from Trump – our contemporary example of a humourless leader with far right tendencies. After skid row and city hall I can’t help thinking about how so many of the poorest people in this nation voted for him. Im glad the theatres here haven’t been torn down even if people do occasionally chase me with a megaphone.