The Final Score

Posted: September 20, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row

I was riding the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus for the last time and I wasn’t singing spirituals. What do I care if this city has more sunshine in one day than Britain has in a year? I was leaving this town and I was happy. Los Angeles had beaten me: LA 1 – Tom 0.

I should have done my research before I left home. If I had known California was dealing with record unemployment I might have reassessed my chances. Who am I kidding? Even if I had done my homework, who’s to say I would have changed my mind? I needed to escape and LA sounded fun.

Jack Kerouac called Los Angeles “the loneliest and most brutal of American cities.” Sixty years older and it hasn’t changed, it’s just had a little work done. As soon as I arrived in LA I was struck by how people took pride in their ignoble reputation.

So what if we’re lonely? I’d rather drive a car than sit next to a weirdo on a bus.
New York is corrupt? We’re so corrupt I have to bribe my Priest to get Confession.
LA tears itself up every generation,
one person said, not many cities can riot like that.

I remember meeting a guy in MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) on my second day who had this look of glee in his eyes as he told me about all the sick murders LA can claim. There’s even a tour which shows you the “delightfully twisted underbelly of Hollywood.” Angelenos gloat about their homicides in the same way Parisians gloat about their pastries. That’s how fucked up the place is.

Maybe it’s the movies? Maybe Hollywood has blurred the line between what’s acceptable on the screen and what’s acceptable in real life? Teenagers drive Bentleys, homeless people live in shanty towns, cops routinely abuse their power and bank robbers have showdowns that make Assault on Precinct 13 look like a bunch of kids playing Cowboys and Indians.

For all its showbiz excess and bad-ass reputation, LA ground me down using the least Hollywood method around. No action sequences, no explosions, no entrapment by beautiful Russian spies, sadly, just boring old, I-can-barely-pay-my-rent, poverty. But this was poverty in a country where everyone chooses their destiny.

This was your poor and it’s your fault, poverty. I didn’t hear it at first, the voice that says fuck you, you’re poor. I am sure it was there, whispering in my ear, but I didn’t hear it until I got to Skid Row. When I got there and saw things no one should in so-called civilisation, the voice was screaming louder than a cop with a megaphone. That was when I joined Occupy Los Angeles, when I had almost given up on seeing anything angelic in the City of Angels.

Los Angeles 1 – Tom 0. That was how it ended; that was how I went from being comfortably middle-class to nearly out on my ass. That was the final score, now here is the ninety minutes before the final whistle blew.

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