Friday, May 31, 2013

My own Gran Torino moment
I live in Mid Cities Los Angeles. It does not matter whether you are from Los Angeles or not.....nobody knows where this is. It is the land of the forgotten. In between Hancock Park and South Los Angeles and just east of Culver City, 5 miles west of Downtown. It is famous for it's Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles and on La Brea Ave. there is a company, Grey Goose Framing, that has the exact replica of Gort the robot in it's storefront window. We are also home to La Maison Du Pain, where you can get the most delicious, the most flakey and most buttery croissants this side of the Mississippi. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration on my part....but trust me, they are THAT good.

Aside from Roscoe's and the croissants and Gort, Mid Cities is a rather "mixed" neighborhood. Yes, mixed racially, but also mixed in income levels. There are pockets of neighborhoods within this area that have very nice middle class homes with the neatly mowed lawns and all. And then we have little areas where the homes and/or the occupants are less than desirable. In fact, there are 2 blocks of motels that rent rooms out by the hour. This of course lends itself not only to prostitution, but to drugs and "street" people. There also happens to be a couple of "half way" houses or rehab places within two blocks of my place. Not exactly a high crime neighborhood but most people have wrought iron on their windows. I have an alarm system, wrought iron and a dog. However, I do find the majority of the people in my "hood" to be friendly. It is not unusual for me to get lots of "hellos" or "good mornings" when I am out walking my dog.

The other thing I do not care for especially are all of the gas stations and automotive shops. The automotive shops especially make the place look "dingy" or "dirty". But there is not a lot I can about it and I suppose I should be happy that the owners still have their businesses to operate. Perhaps their customers patronize the markets or shops in the neighborhood and then that becomes a win-win for everyone involved.

There is one gas station just down my street that I do patronize frequently. It is run by a couple of Asian-American gentlemen. It is a nice station. It is a "76" station in fact. The owners keep it nice and clean and during the Christmas Holiday they put up a huge Christmas Tree on the corner. I really like the tree and  I think helps to make that little area brighter amongst the wino's, gangsters and street people that usually occupy that area.  I have taken my previous car to the mechanic at this station and they have always treated me very nice and have always been reasonable. In fact, whenever I go to get gas or to have my car washed there (they have one of those drive thru car washes) either one of the owners always greets me with a kind smile or simple nod of their head.

One morning last week I stopped to put gas in my car before heading out to work. When I stepped out of my car a young Hispanic male approached me. He looked like he may have been in his late teens or early twenties. His hair was cropped rather short and I couldn't tell if it was a gangster look or that he was just let out of jail. His clothes were rather baggy on him but there was something about them that told me they weren't really his clothes. By that I mean, they looked like they belonged to someone else at one time and "donated" to him. But other than that, he appeared clean.

He approached me, put his hand out and said "Ma'am, is there anyway you could possibly help me...." and I didn't hear the rest because I immediately shook my head "No".  He replied "OK, thank you". 

I make it a rule never to give people on the streets money. Although I have helped people on the street in the past, maybe by giving them food or clothing, I never give them money. Having said that, I have to admit there is always this little voice in my head (or is it my heart?) that says to me "what if he is really hungry or needs bus money"? Then then my better sense says "that is what you wish, but you know they are going to either buy drugs or booze".

So, the kid walked away and went over to the bus stop. There always seems to be a crowd at this bus stop and most of the people that stand there look a little down on their luck. I often wonder if they come from the rehab places. I went on with my business of putting gas in my car. I noticed one of the gas station owners at the cashier booth and he waved "hello" to me. I smiled and waved back and finished up with my purchase.
As I got back into the car I heard some shouting and when I turned to see what it was I saw the nice Asian owner yelling at the kid. At first I thought maybe he was telling him to stop bothering his customers, which I was rather grateful for, but as I continued to watch, the owner was becoming extremely angry. I could hear what he was saying to the kid, but the kid was replying "F--- You" and other nice things like that!  Then it seemed the owner was accusing the kid of doing something with the trash can or the window wiper that is held on the side of the can. The kid just kept yelling back.

Then the owner picked up the trash can and threw it at the kid. All the while he continued to yell at him. The kid was now saying to him "you better leave me alone or I will kick your ass". The owner never relented. I noticed now the owners hand were clenched and he was becoming more and more angry. I also noticed the kid was now off the property and standing only on the sidewalk. A few more words were said and then one of the mechanics came over to calm the owner down. The mechanic picked up the trash can and both he and the owner began to walk back towards the station. But the owner kept his eye on the kid. Meanwhile, the kid was yelling a few nice things at the owner and pleading his case to the other junkies at the bus stop.

While this was going on my first instinct was to call the police. My fear was that someone was going to get hurt and I didn't want to see my nice neighbors (the gas station owner) get hurt. But I talked myself out of it. In Los Angeles, unless someone has a gun, the police normally take 2 to 4 hours to arrive. Especially if it's a non-emergency. So, I buckled up and headed out.  As I drove away I was still a little shaken up at what I witnessed. Mostly, I was shocked to see the owner behave so violently!  As I let the feelings pass I started to wonder if perhaps there has been some history of people vandalizing the station and the owner reached his breaking point?  Maybe he knew who that kid was? But, then I had the thought of "what if this nice man who ran a nice little business in this rough neighborhood knows that his is the only way to deal with these types of people"?  Because the more I thought about what took place I realized that while the kid threatened to hurt the man, he kept backing away. Then, the kid stepped off the property. You see? This kid was not new to the rules. He knew it was smarter for him to go to a public area. He knew he was wrong. And the owner, having this business for as many years as he has, knew the only way to protect his business was to stand up against this kid. He was not going to let the kid bully him. In fact, he turned the table on the kid and went on the attack.

Why?  To survive. We are a world attached to "things".  We want things, we have things and sometimes other people want our things. So we have to protect our things. We have to stand up against the evil in this world and protect our things. And while I am against violence I cannot hardly blame the owner. Because I am of this world too. Attached to my things. I suppose the owner could have simply done nothing. Maybe walk over to see what damage the kid had done and smile...walk away. I do not have an answer. I cannot answer for him.

There have been times when I have had to stand up to protect my families' property. Sometimes I have looked the other way. I too, have had to learn when to fight which battles. But I always remain vigilant, noticing my surroundings when I get out of my car to open the gate, looking out the window when my dog barks at a passerby. This is not to just protect my things but to be wise about my life. To learn from the past and from others. While, my world inside is calm and full of love, the world outside is not always on the same level.

As I continued my drive to work I was overcome with sadness.

Sadness with a sprinkle of reality.

Then I remembered once seeing a bumper sticker that read "Trust in God, but lock your car". 

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