It started because of a misunderstanding. Someone suggested that we do a photoshoot Downtown Los Angeles, near Skid Row. These’s a catch; it had to be around midnight and we could bring tents and ‘camp on the street’.
“Hey girls, just wanted your opinions in regards to something that came up…” I asked of those who shared my previous record of sleeping in caves and climbing up cranes.
“I would go if there would be other street smart sturdy big people, especially if it was a “safe” neighborhood. I’d be most comfortable going if I had a personal connection to someone in/from the area who would be there,” came the first response. The other agreed with a ten if conditions during the campout matched the stated description. Fair enough.
Unfortunately, due to distance, cave dwelling buddies wouldn’t be able to make it. Never the less, two of my local friends were down. We spent hours plotting the perfect street light campout. Week one would be location scouting before the real deal. Everything was going to be perfect.
As weekdays were checked off the calendar, certain flaws became more evident. Most specifically, my fourteen year old cousin’s excitement surpassed the rest of us. Problem was, her parents didn’t know about it. In order for her to come, we would have to say the right combination of words … no lies of course, but definitely nothing about sleeping on the street in the most dangerous part of town.
Because of a prior commitment, my cousin was unable to make it to the location scouting. Instead, I messaged Pallas on the way to LA. She was totally up for it.
“Don’t wear makeup,” I told her “you need to be as under dressed as possible”.
Funny thing is, no matter how badly we’d tried to dress down, it wasn’t enough. Our guy friend, the one who drove us, was much better fitted for the occasion. He lent us t-shirts and beanies to further the effect.
“Do I look bad?” I asked Pallas.
“No, you look like a bank robber.”
We watched boys ride across the street on low riders, women walking dogs and men bouncing basketballs. They all seemed to know their ground and were confident in what they did. The didn’t glare or threaten but instead went about their business. As we opened the doors, the fear that we would get swarmed like the characters in World War Z faded away.
We strolled up, down the streets and among their residents. Eye contact was avoided with the locals but I did smile at a few of the dog walkers. The first smiled back but after a while, I realized that many were weary because of how I was dressed. It was our cheery attitudes that gave our true identity away. Interestingly enough, this was only spotted by those we tried so hard to impersonate. The others didn’t see it because to them, we – the unfortunate, were all the same.
The three of us returned after dark out of curiosity, just to see if the ambiance would change. This time, it was the rodents that gave us away. They roamed the sidewalks like cattle on the range. Normally, I’d take a rat over a hamster, but these were no ordinary creatures. I almost tripped in my attempt to stop. Pallas screamed. The furry things seemed unfazed as they continued scampering across the concrete jungle. From then on, we were very aware of where the rodents were.
Some exploring and a couple pictures later, we were back on the freeway, facing the red and white streaks. Overall, Pallas and I decided that the streets weren’t as scary as they’d been painted. In fact, the worse thing we’d encountered was a menacing character stenciled into a wall.
Our friend said that although we’d survived this adventure without incident, it wasn’t guaranteed that we’d have the same luck the next time around. We concluded that perhaps the rainy weather had contributed to the lack of violence on the streets.
We were indeed lucky. The next day, police shot a man five times near one of the spots we had visited. It was infuriating. Five times is rather excessive force, especially when a man can be killed through a single bullet. The threat hadn’t been felt the day before. The people had been peaceful then. Now an unrest grew among the crowd. It would not be wise to spend the night.
The day after the shooting, I met up with the person who had suggested Skid Row. He was very concerned that I’d gone in with such a small group.
“You need to take guys, lots of guys with you.”
As it turns out, it wasn’t supposed to be for a photoshoot but rather for filming a humanitarian project in which people could choose to camp out among the homeless.
The friend who drove us down to LA got in huge trouble as soon as his parents found out. I too was scolded in regards to wanting my fourteen year old cousin to come along.
“You know that she is better suited to stay out there than me,” I protested.
“Yes, but she can’t legally choose for herself,” came the reply “If her parents are ok with it, fine, but you should not be encouraging this behavior.”
I agree, but now that is the problem. My little cousin knows me as a friend, not a mentor. She knows how I respond through the lack of authority and in a concerning way, she looks up to me.
“What are your goals?” I asked her, thinking that maybe I could encourage my cousin in the right direction.
“Break into somewhere, not someone’s house (but) explore an abandoned building, for pictures.”
Her other goal of entering college by the age of sixteen or seventeen was much more appropriate. She sure knows how to get me, though! Regardless, I hope to be a better influence on her in the future. If anything, I want my little cousin to be better than me 🙂