Overheard: Everyday Conversations and Observations in Panorama City, Mesa Angeles, and Compton

A sampling of stories, quotes, quips, glances and people I've heard while walking on the street, waiting at the library, waiting at the supermarket, etc.

As I've delved deeper and deeper into the NPR Storytelling lineups, I've come to appreciate people's stories a bit more, and the ones that I've come across.

However, me, I'm not getting the full story usually, I'm just around when I happen to hear them.

From a man at a Thai restaurant in a gas station in Panorama City:  

"It was worth it, you guys should try it," said the middle aged mustachioed white man whom I suspected to be Latino.

My mom recommended that my fiance and I order Thai food for the family.  It was on a flyer.  They had a menu.  I ordered via phone and went to pick it up.

I had already been frustrated because:  1)  it was hard to understand the lady taking my order over the phone  2)  they didn't have what I ordered  3)  their delivery person wasn't there at the moment.
After about 10 minutes of driving up and down Roscoe Blvd and finally locating this restaurant at the Arco, I took a deep sigh of relief and walked into the restaurant.

I looked in there.  Reminded me of house cooking.  The woman who was there seemed to be all alone.  Smelled good though, and at the very least I could be assured of its freshness.

The man, middle-aged, middle-sized was sitting down and rubbing his belly.

"Ahhh" he breathed in his own sigh of relief.

"It was worth it, you guys should try it," said the middle aged mustachioed white man whom I suspected to be Latino.

He recommended the curry.  He said, "she is working so hard that I feel like I need to be behind the counter"

He looked at my fiance and asked if we were married.

"Almost" I responded.

"Well, congratulations!"

He told us that he was going to be a grandpa, for the 2nd time.  He was getting a quick dinner before seeing the new child and his son.

He told us that stopping by restaurants like these for a quick solo dinner would be something we'd do when we were his age.

Random outsiders thinking of Mesa Angeles while in Mesa Angeles:

  • "When I got the call to work in this area, I thought, "this is the worst idea"
  • "If you have a nice phone, don't show it out here"

From a young man at the Smoke Shop on Crenshaw and Slauson:  I was carrying my bike and backpack through a long day of work.

I was waiting for someone in a visible area just outside of the chain-linked fenced in parking lot of a smoke shop that shared its lot with a dry cleaner business.  The parking lot's capacity was about 10 cars at the most.  There was quite the line entering in or exiting.

Not only was the area visible, but it was also highly trafficked.  Cars were in and out, as were the people, likely not for the cleaners.

About 10 minutes into my wait, a young man from behind the chain linked fence saw me, and asked, "hey do you have a quarter on you?"  No, I responded.  "Really?"  He looked at me, probably in suspicion. 

"Really you don't have a quarter," he asked as he went around the fence in a way that seemed like he wanted to take my bike and bag.

"Naw dude sorry"

"Really, you don't?" he looked at me directly in the eye, now in my face as I clutched onto my bike.

"Naw dude, man" I thought of some change I probably did have, but didn't really feel like giving, particularly at a smoke shop.

"My homies are right there."


"My homies are right there in the corner."

"Wow, you have pennies", I stared at the stacks of pennies in his hands.

"What?"  He looked at me face to face like he was trying to stare me down.  We were about the same height. 

Realizing that he was threatening me, I just pretended to brush everything off "Ahh it's cool, man, sorry dude."

Then he turned away figuring that I wasn't going to budge.

To assure him everything was cool, I just grabbed him by the shoulder like you would a relative.

He said something to the effect of "I might've had a gun on me."  He saw his taller homey down the corner, and said, "hey this is my homey."  He pointed at me and say "This guy tried to rob me." 

I looked at the taller homey and kept a haha type smile, as if to communicate, you should know your boy, he probably has tried to pull this dozens of times.

From an elder woman at a library near Mesa Angeles:  An elder black lady sat down at a desk in the library talking with a library employee.  I didn't know what the employee exactly did nor what clout they would have.

The elder woman was talking about properties she'd owned.

While someone was making money off of her, she was getting nothing.

Someone had swindled her.

However, at this point, she didn't care about the money. She just wanted help, and for some justice to be served.

From a resident of Mesa Angeles: Seeing that I was on my bicycle, she asked me if I knew of any bike clubs that were tearing up her streets. I told her I knew nothing of it. 

From a man on the street in Mesa Angeles: For one job, I walked around the neighborhood of Mesa Angeles, which is just south of Leimert Park, but north of Inglewood.  The streets are the 50s-60s, and the numbered avenues.  Nearby is Crenshaw High School.

I met a stumpy older black man who was hunched over. The briefest of glances would lead you to believe that he was simply a homeless man asking for change.  Heh, maybe he is.  But in the brief conversation I had with him, he'd worked for Frito-Lay and some paint companies. That is until his body gave out on him.

For 14-years, he has been on SSI.

Made me wonder about how this particular society, by design, de-values you if you're old and not able-bodied anymore.

From a boy and his mom in Mesa Angeles:  As I walking the neighborhood on a Friday afternoon, passing one house that had a fence.  Behind it a dog's barking.

A black mother/aunt/family friend was walking a little black boy and girl, about kindergarten aged.  She noted that this particular residence had just acquired a new dog and put it behind a tall white fence.

I passed by them and heard the restom of what they were saying as I was walking forward.

They were about to pass the house when I saw them.

The dog barked into a kind of howl: argh argh argh argh.

The boy apparently now past the house squeaked proudly: YEAH, UGLY DOG! Passing through the big dog was an accomplishment.

From a Friday Night Bike Ride Home down from 60th St/11th Avenue through Van Ness Ave, through Florence to the 150s/Central in Compton, this is what I saw:

  • A restaurant on Florence near Central avenue featuring live mariachi
  • A black motorcycle club meeting at a bar on the 80s and Central.
  • A handful of wide and awake taco trucks
  • Friday Night Church Services and sermons, probably en espanol
  • One sleazy looking night club along Florence
  • Trucks accumulating junk or junk-accumulating trucks

Revelations While Biking "'Hoods" in the Afterhours Darkness

Central Ave from LA to Compton.

My new favorite street that takes me to home sweet home in Compton.

Never was I so relieved than to reach home sweet home in Compton than after a 13 mile bike ride after a 17-hr workday which included a 13-mile bike ride at 5 in the morning.

I rode Central relatively quickly.  At least it felt quick. About an hour to my destination in Leimert Park.

But biking at 5 in the morning in neighborhoods that have long been stigmatized as 'bad' is not everyone's cup of tea.

This leads me to wonder how we can eventually flip that script and make biking it (though not at 5 AM) any willing bicyclist's cup of tea.  Changing the norm of decidedly NOT biking Central into decidedly biking Central.

As I was pondering this in my head, I was wondering a few things:
  • To what extent does darkness or lack of light factor into street design? To what extent does rain factor into street design?  I imagine 'a little bit', but it'd be difficult for the planning department and Public Works to account for every single nook and cranny of every street, especially in as big a city as LA.
  • The idea of bike-friendly one-laned streets is something I've had a conflicted relationship with. As a bicyclist, I do like these streets to pass through, if I know about them.  That "if" is the key.  There are still many neighborhoods I do not know of in LA, even as a "native", and not all of them lead to the street I am going towards;  this means that I am likely to stay on bigger, well-known thoroughfares even though they may not be bike-friendly at all.  For instance, the terrible East-West thoroughfare that is Slauson Ave in South LA.  

View Larger Map
  • Slauson is a four-laned street with cars averaging about 35-40 mph, that parallels an old railroad track, but with virtually no passing room whatsoever for bicycles, which means a bicyclist riding it has to take the right lane.  Its not bad in itself, but factoring in the fact that drivers expect to go 35-40, you're likely to cause tension amongst drivers.  En route to work, I was kind of stuck on that street because I didn't know any better and I don't have a smartphone (and/or) the time to do a quick route map or or anything. 
  • This may upset my progressive friends, but I was looking forward to buying something from Wal-Mart.  That something?  A bike lock.  I needed it by 10 AM, and sure enough I knew Wal-Mart would have it.  Didn't know of any other alternative in the area, though I could've Yelped a bike shop, but those stores usually don't open until later.  
  • Thinking about the lack of light as well as how biking would be exacerbated in inclement weather, I think the next step in improving bike infrastructure for bike commuting would be emergency preparedness or some type of AAA for bikes, where you can call someone or stop somewhere and fix your bike or have someone pick you up, just in case.  I'd hate being stranded anywhere, but I'd like it even less in areas where there's plenty of darkness, a lot of hiding spaces, and potential for people to see you as an "opportunity."

Trick or Treating, Running, and Other Briefings about the 2nd Month in Compton

So, first year of Halloween here, near the Westside of Compton.

As I was biking back from our local Food For Less there was some excitement building up in Compton. A few houses were appropriately decored, however, none on our street, which by observational accounts appears to be a quiet neighborhood.

My fiance and I were anxiously anticipating trick-or-treaters like a community leader at a community organization anxiously anticipates community turnout.  Only we actually want to give away candy, give free stuff away, and not somehow sell people on something.

By the end of the night, 9PM, we had about 13 trick or treaters for the whole night coming in 4 droves.  One appeared to come in a van and rolled up with 5 kids.  I guess it's quite telling that they came in a van.  This is probably not a lot, but hey we got some!

Our 15 dollar bag of candy from Costco is half-empty and that's because we were giving candy away in generous amounts. 

Our neighbor, the lifer, said that not many trick-or-treaters come here.  They go to the "nicer areas."

Apparently the same happened to my cousin in Highland Park;  not many were visiting her, according to her statii on Facebook.  This had me thinking about where the kids actually were, and if trick-or-treating was somehow ruined by some combination of new generation of parents/kids, social media, technology, etc. etc.

It would be interesting to map the areas and kids trick-or-treat in.  Seems like it would be a good indicator of perceived neighborhood safety amongst residents.

* * *

My fiance and I in our efforts to re-establish/establish our lives in Compton have been running a bit.

One good thing that I do notice about Compton's sidewalks is that there does seem to be an effort to ensure safe crossing during school dismissal hours.  During this time, I do see vested crossing guards on main thoroughfares.

Otherwise, there are plenty of open, lonely sidewalks that accompany the industrial warehouses that line the East-West corridors.  Also unlike in any other neighborhood, people do look back at you as sort of a nervous tick when they hear you running behind them;  that hasn't happened as much in any other neighborhood.

All the lonely sidewalks, along with scant lighting at night, probably make it difficult for women to run around, and that is probably a contributing factor as to why there is not much of a "running culture" as Olympic trial distance runner and fellow Loyolan David Torrence put it.

In one of my longer runs, along Compton Ave to the 110 freeway, I actually got a nail stuck at the sole of my (new) shoe.  In my 12 plus years of running around Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, Van Nuys, Long Beach, Wilmington, this had never happened before, only in Compton (more accurately Gardena, but Compton has the "ring" to it)!

One of our local pocket parks, Tragniew Park, is not as scary as it sounds online.  In our weekday twilight runs, we see kids playing soccer, people casually milling around, and not in the intimidating, get off our space kind of way.  A band appears to practice there at night on the basketball courts.

* * *

We have now discovered a few of our local stores.  Food4Less is a short bike ride away from us as is a General Discount Store.  Our more durable items are available at a local Home Depot, Staples, and, Target.  What more do we need?

Probably just more money so we can get enough gas to make the trek to our local Trader Joe's.