A couple of years ago I met a lovely Aussie boy, on a very long Greyhound bus trip from Banff, Canada to Vancouver. I was broke, my shoes were falling apart and money was still a couple of days away.
So, without a second thought, he gave me $100 and said: “don’t worry about paying me back, just pay it forward”.
Even before this I had been an advocate for such exchanges and always helped the homeless out with food, tipped buskers and always been willing to lend a helping hand.
Fastforward to June 2014, and I was in Los Angeles, for the second time in my life. The city was familiar and I did not feel like a tourist, as I did the first time. Despite being on holidays, I still had my ‘news hat’ on and saw things a bit differently. Instead of being fearful of the homeless people that lined the streets in Santa Monica, like a lot of “tourists” I encountered, I wanted to know their stories, buy them a decent meal and not ignore and discard them the way society and the US Government has.
My boyfriend, Lion and I met a middle-aged African American man, whose name was ironically Sydney. We bumped into him at the corner of Broadway and Third Street, Santa Monica. He had said something about borrowed time with this angel (me of course) and I thought he was asking for the time, so we got to talking. He told me he was a Vet and he had lost his wife and kids post-war. The tall and slender man was well dressed for someone who sleeps on the streets, but his greyish, patchy stumble along his jawline and cloudy eyes told a different story.
I said: “I won’t give you money, but do you want us to get you some Starbucks?” To which he replied: “I don’t eat that shit”. I laughed, at the thought of a hungry man turning down a hot drink and savoury snack. So, I asked him what he wanted to eat. He said: “I could go for some Asian food”. For $15 he got a good, hearty meal with a drink and you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. I asked him if he would pose for a quick photo, to remember him and he was happy too (photo to come – can’t upload from camera on this computer).
We encountered a lot of homeless people during our time in Los Angeles, on the most part there were a lot of “slack homeless people”. Just to clarify, I will not give money or buy someone food who is not doing something to better their circumstance. It is one thing to walk around asking for money, but laying in your own filth with a sign saying “Will take money or food” is just insulting, unless however, you are disabled.
One homeless man we met in the Metro at Hollywood, was a man leading by example. At first, I thought he was actually working as a Metro station attendant, as he had intricate knowledge of the Metro system, all the way down to the fact you had to get off at the LAX airport stop and then get on a free shuttle to the terminal of your choice. He showed us the lines we would have to take to get to our destination (three line changes) and even how to save money, by buying a day pass. The well-dressed man even showed us how to operate the teller machine. And it wasn’t until he said: “If you feel like my advice has been helpful you can donate some money to me”. I surely did! Best few dollars I have ever spent!
This trip to the States, it seems I am on a different journey to my first trip. As I have already done all the touristy things (well, I have now done them two times as this is my boyfriend’s first trip abroad) I was really trying to get to know the locals and find out more about the city full of dreamers (and those whose dreams never came true).
One of my first observations of Los Angeles in 2012 was it is if America’s dreamers rushed west and stopped where the land stopped. I still believe that is true. There is something sad but beautiful about watching the hundreds of super-talented buskers scattered around the county, playing their hearts out in the hope they are noticed by someone important. My second observation that still rings true is success in LA can be spectacular and failure equally so.
Los Angeles is definitely right up there on cities to visit, be open minded and don’t have your head too far up your arse when you come to visit or you might miss some incredible and lifechanging experiences.