In Search of the "Progressive Way" to Deal with Panhandlers and Informal Entrepreneurs: Surpluses

Two demographics that dot the public spaces of LA.

Though, those dots are invisible to most.  Panhandlers and informal entrepreneurs, on a freeway off or on-ramp near you, whether it's the Pacific Coast Highway exit off the 110-North or the 405 North Nordhoff exit.

The panhandlers beg for money.

I see them mostly in and around freeways, sometimes outside storefronts, the gas station, the restaurant, usually in the comfort of my own car.

The informal entrepreneurs are a significantly larger class of folks, which involve someone trying to sell you something, whether it's roses (specially during Holiday events), candy, water, fruit, pirated DVDs, headphones, cigarettes.  They are found any and everywhere, especially on the Metro.

Some in need of materials that you could provide.  Some genuinely needing to temporarily soothe something.

Some, more in your face.  Some with really funny posters.  Some looking perplexing.  Some just really sad-looking.
Being de-sensitized to each of these categories of people is just a part of living as a better off, probably advantaged Los Angeleno whether you're from Compton or Malibu.

***Catholic guilt seeps in***

If you've been in and around stores and have tried to ignore someone who was asking for change, you're simply doing what probably everyone whose ever lived in any big city has probably done.

Though were probably not far away from a viral video showing someone engaging all panhandlers and informal entrepreneurs they meet.

* * *

I'd like to think that I'm something of a "progressive" person.

I'm pretty sure that somewhere in that adjective "progressive," there's a binding agreement that you not only share generously with others, but also attempt to not to pity or look down upon someone.  As I understand it, the progressive line of thinking champions "solidarity" instead of "charity," meaning that you don't just come and "give" something away as a pittiance to someone but you show that you're with them, but I often find that in real life it's somewhat difficult for me to understand what would be "extending solidarity" and what would be "extending charity."

One time I did see a "progressive" person turn down a panhandler.  We were in fact coming from a meeting about social justice in Downtown LA.  A panhandler approached us, and my progressive friend replied, "Sorry, sir, I don't have anything."

From that moment forward, I wanted to say things just like my friend.  "Sorry, sir, I don't have anything."  He looked firmly into the panhandler's eyes, acknowledging the panhandler's existence, used the respectful term "sir", but I knew my friend had money to spare.  It made me wonder if he was consistent, which I've never gotten to see again.

My giving patterns have been quite random, though I'm not in a hurry to find out what I'm biased towards or away from.

My policy (though inconsistently applied) for about 5 years has been to offer granola bars or whatever I already have.  My most memorable application of this personal policy was after a party where I'd stuffed myself with pizza.  There were many leftovers and I ended up taking a box home.  On the way home, with an extra pizza left, a woman was on the street asking for change.  I was thinking about how I didn't want to give money, but the idea occurred to me to offer her something that she could immediately use.  I gave her the pizza.  She opened it and said in a amazement, "it's the whole pizza!"  I said, "yes, I know" as if I was giving away my meal.

Sometimes I'll buy a meal, or groceries, to which people will be thankful.  Other times it's like, OK.  One time after a Bambu concert in Echo Park while my friends and I got "dirty" dogs, there was a light trickle of people while a homeless person and his dog sat and looked on.  I just went ahead and bought an extra dog and soda and gave it away.  I know you're not supposed to expect something when you give it away, but a thanks would've been nice, though he wasn't necessarily asking for the dirty dog.

* * *

I don't like giving money away.

I think of this daily random stinginess, and then juxtapose it with the way I basically give away a lot of money.  I think of sports games and buying concessions.  I think of Disneyland buying food and souvenirs.  In those privatized spaces, I buy concessions out of convenience;  one of my needs/desires needs to be satisfied.  My wife always makes the point that "here we are about to spend money on enjoying ourselves and then some people still can't find a place to sleep,"

Then I think of all the waste that I have and that there are people who waste even more than me.  I think, "well, couldn't we put those extras to use?"

I guess the answer relies on determining our extras and excesses and finding a way to recycle and re-use them part and parcel of our infrastructure.

The Song that Almost Every Young Black Person on the Metro Green Line Knew

Something general that's always piqued my interest:  where do people get their music?  If not on the radio.

The past few weeks I've been wondering about Boosie Bad Azz.

On the Saturday that I biked to and from Marina Del Rey and ended up taking the Green Line to Avalon station, a young black woman was blasting her music for all Metro's patrons to hear.

Generally, I don't know why or care how people blast their music on the Metro.  Personally I think it's young folk trying to show something to the world, which I have mixed feelings about.

One song came on what appeared to be her Pandora playlist:

Boosie Bad Azz's No Juice.

Almost every young, (non-alternative, hipster) who heard was mouthing the lyrics.

One black dude holding a Madden 15 XBox One cover.  Several dudes who passed by.  Some women.

It was a popping ass song that I had to Shazaam.

Being a fan of rap/hip hop (most prominently of the Mos Def, Roots, Blue Scholars), I'd never heard of the song, which is considered "Dirty South", a sub-genre of rap that I probably I would never run into anyway.  Even if I listened to a Power 106 or KDAY, I don't think that any radio station here would play this.

Basically, it's a song about being real and not lying about how tough you are.

I did a cursory search of the song, and it turns out that Seahawks Running Back and current representation of intolerable/raw blackness Marshawn Lynch made mention of the song during an interview.

Just an everyday curiosity that makes me wonder about people's frame of references, in which music probably plays a big role in establishing or reinforcing an expressed identity. 

Bike Commuting in LA Should Not Be an Extreme Sport

Whenever I tell people (usually those who don't bike) I biked to whatever destination I'm at at, people respond like I've just climbed Kilamanjaro.

Sensing that I might get some respect/brownie points out of a fellow interlocutor I respond like I've just climbed Kilamanjaro.

It does not matter who my fellow interlocutor is, whether it's a professor, co-worker, family friend, the conversation starts with me somehow mentioning biking to the destination particularly if I'm carrying a back pack with my helmet.

Professor/co-worker/family friend:  You BIKED all the way here?

Me:  Yes, yes I did (all proud)

Professor/co-worker/family friend:  WOWWWW/Geeze you are crazy!

Me:  (Ego inflates)

I mean, it's great to have my ego inflated because I do something "crazy" or "wow" worthy (in their eyes), but if were supposed to seriously make bike commuting for everyone, bike commuting should not be "crazy" or "wow" worthy, but something that they know they could conceivably do.

Ideally, it should be something boring and mundane, as boring and mundane as bikes on the beach, something ANY soccer moms (and not just some elite group of wolfpack soccer moms).

* * *

As I was making my way to pay the water bill in Gardena, cruising on Compton Blvd. which becomes Redondo Beach Blvd) a driver got really close to me, and was able to zip away with zero consequence.

No thought whatsoever at the fact that they were close enough to hit me.  See 2:29 in the video embedded below.

Suddenly, a burst in thought:  People value their time and their convenience over any of my safety concerns.

Inversely, I wonder if there is a way to make my safety on a bike part of their convenience and time. 

A Day in the Life of a Comptonite - Sunday - 2-8-2015

I guess this type of blog is for the person outside of Compton;  essentially my life here in Compton is pretty mellow for the most part, and a part of me wants to show the mellowness, the mundane-ness of life here partly as a counter-image/narrative to the dominant narrative/image of gangsta rap hardness. 

I feel like life here is like life anywhere in the US;  we all live in mini-tribes called our households, occasionally re-unite with people mostly through internet or phone communications and/or physically driving to actually be with those people.

To show how life can be mundane (or not), I kept times and activities of yesterday, a Sunday.

A Sunday Morning in February.  Not cloudy.  A bit sunny.  Typical LA Winter, except for the whole kind of in a drought thing.

On my academic mind, the day before on NPR TED there was a podcast about how violence can be almost epidemic.  That is the patterns of violence can resemble patterns of epidemics.  If violence affects someone, that someone can be tempted to spread the pain felt from that violence onto others.

On my mind that thinks about every day survival, I wonder how I'm going to make enough money to support a g-dang fam, especially with the Sunday that we just had.

It appears this Sunday was a shopping Sunday, and we didn't spend much time at home at all until later in the day, which is typical.

7:15 AM:  Woke up.  Late, because I'd actually been up till 2:30 AM.

7:45 AM:  Pulled out of driveway on our journey to Kaiser Permanente in Harbor City.  We go up Central to the 91, to the 110 South.  Traffic's pleasantly light as it typically is for early Sunday morning.

8:05 AM:  Get to Kaiser for quick lab work.

8:11 AM:  Done with Kaiser lab work.  We get in the car on way to our sweet hipster morning treat, 85 degrees in Gardena along Artesia Blvd in a plaza with an Asian supermarket, Daiso Japan, and McDonalds.

8:24 AM:  Get to 85 Degrees.  Slightly annoyed by the tightness of the parking lot combined with the fact that cars are always passing through, making it difficult to back out.

8:40 AM:  After marveling at the selection of sweet breads, gathering selected ones, standing in a line for 5 minutes, we finally pay for our loot at 85 Degrees.

8:43 AM:  Depart the 85 Degrees/plaza parking lot.

8:51 AM:  Neighbor offers us an avocado, 2 big ones for $1 dollar.

9:25 AM:  Teacher arrives at our house and we begin classes.  Shocked that she could find parking on the block.  Serve her up some 85 Degrees.

11:30 AM:  Another neighbor has workers do yard work with very loud machinery, which kind of distracts us from our class with the teacher.

12:30 PM:  Lessons with teacher finish. 

1:45 PM:  Leave to buy stuff from Costco in Torrance on Rosecrans.

2:15 PM:  It's actually Lowe's in Inglewood that we end up going to.

2:35 PM:  End up at Ross next to Lowe's.

3:01 PM:  Leave for Costco on Rosecrans.

3:10 PM:  End up at Costco, get annoyed at all the traffic and people we have to fight through.

3:50 PM:  Exit Costco, only for wife to tell me that were going to Babies R Us, about 4 minutes away.

4:49 PM:  Get home, finally.  Day pretty much ends in front of the TV and respective computers as the wife gets ready for work for the next day.

All in all a fairly quiet day in the neighborhood, at least the time we were here at home.

A Shift in My LA Driving Mentality

Maybe it's the coming baby.

Maybe it's the fatigue of driving anywhere for work with a range spanning from Bakersfield up North to Mission Viejo in the South and Santa Monica in the West to the border of California/Arizona.

Maybe it's about not wanting anymore tickets.

Maybe it's having been involved in way too many fenders that involve a car rear-ending me the past 2 years or so.

Maybe a little bit of everything.

I have gradually changed the way I drive, mostly from a gap-closing undercover speed racer...

to a

gap-surrendering overly cautious non-speed racer.

In the 13 years I've been driving LA streets and highways, I've logged around 130,000 miles, endured countless traffic jams on the 405, 101, 5, 110, 210, 1, 710, 605, 10, 110, 60, 91, 22, 118, 14,  mostly in a Corolla.  

Driving in LA really gets fatiguing, a sentiment shared with me by a fellow high school classmate I'd run into recently.  He himself having grown up in LA was also disgusted by the traffic --- to the point where he wanted to move away.

Driving as a habit in traffic is starting to get really, really old.  Some days I'm just ready to mentally check out and opt for a Google self-driving Smart car, which I actually would be scared of because of the potential for hacking and a lot of things that could go wrong with computerized systems, but that's another story.

I feel less like the teenager who on his way to a family party was egging on my dad to chase down someone who cut him off in Azusa and more like my mom who on every trip with my dad keeps her eye on the speedometer and tells him to slow down but also participates in the road rage expressions with him.

I feel more like the teenager terrified of the road and all that could happen rather than the teenager switching in and out of double yellowed lined carpool lanes in attempt to weave through traffic.

I think it's mostly my descent/ascent into design thinking, where I give people/other drivers a 'margin for error', that is room to make a mistake, such as a quick move into my lane.

Example:  if there's traffic in other lanes and there's a large gap between me and the car in front of me, I won't rush to close that gap, I'll proceed cautiously sure enough give to those who appear to be in a rush enough space to get in front.

Example 2:  Given that a lot of fenders have happened to me with the rear-end of my Corolla taking the punishment (and apparently not showing), I try to brake much in advance to ensure that the driver behind me will brake in advance as well, as opposed to braking only when the see me brake.

* * *

Having made this shift into allowing for a 'margin of error', all I see are drivers with the football running back mentality (which to be fair is not actually everyone on the road, but is everyone that I usually get mad at on the road).  See a gap?  Shoot at it.  They make an error?  It's their fault!  One idea brought by reading the book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt.

I think those people with the 'running back mentality' including my very own CRV or Corrolla driving dear old dad, see the roads as something to get through quickly and efficiently.  They expect nothing more and nothing less.  They expect to 'get through', and god help us if someone gets in their way unexpectedly. 

'Time' is a big determining factor for how people drive, but I guess the eternal struggle/question in LA is deciding how were going to use 'space' and other drivers to help control this.

Metro Train Travelling in LA: Awesome at Making You Really Really Plan Ahead

I've been thinking a lot about the ways that Metro seems to be a very herky jerky way of travelling through LA.

The past 2 weeks or so, I've gone 2010 all over again;  I'm biking and riding Metro consistently for work.

It costs a little more than those days.  The price of a 1-way is now $1.75, up from $1.25.  The price of an all-day pass is now $7 when it used to be $5.  That means, instead of fumbling for just 1 quarter, I'm fumbling for 3.  And if I want an all day pass I'm scrambling for two bucks to stack on top of the 5. 

What makes Metro a herky jerky way of traveling?  Basically, Metro's unpredictability vs. the supreme controllability, flexible-ness of your own personal vehicle. 

If by chance you are travelling by Metro train, you better have a lot of buffering time if you plan on making it anywhere by a certain time.

Unexplained delays do happen especially on the Blue Line, but thankfully I leave early enough that I have not been seriously screwed.  You really do have to plan very very ahead to ensure that you won't be screwed.

1)  I never know when their trains are coming.  Their time table schedule on their website is in PDF. 

That means every single time you want to check their times on their website, you have to download a PDF, rather than looking at their website.

I mean, it's 2015, I have a smartphone and can use trip planner on Google Maps.  But still if I wanted to really plan ahead and know all the routes, I'd still like to quickly see a timetable.

For reference, I checked how Boston and Chicago did their respective Blue Lines.

I'd remembered a grade school friend raving about the transit system in Boston, so I checked theirs.  They sort of had a timetable which shows first and last trips of the day.

Chicago's interface was a little confusing, but I got to where I needed to be.  Points for showing multiple times of arrival.  Points off for not creating borders in their interactive module.

For LA (and NY, apparently) implementation of tables on their websites would probably break their servers.

It's bad enough that the only line that gives you any sense of when the train is coming without calling that emergency phone is the Red Line.

Solutions:  How hard is it to put tables into a website?!

2)  You might miss the train spending time fumbling for change.  It honestly probably takes a good minute or 2 to get your tap card loaded with the appropriate pass because you're doing the following:  You're getting your money, you're pulling out your tap card, your answering all the prompts about what kind of fare you want loaded on your stupid ass tap card.

Even with your money and tap card ready, the process is still cumbersome if you see a train passing by and it appears you're not going to catch it, but you're just. Right. There.

I had that happen to me a few days ago transitioning from the Blue Line to the Expo Line.  I'd just gotten off the Blue Line, was headed towards the ticket booth to get another 1-way pass, but then within a minute, the Expo Line came my way.  There was not enough time to get to the ticket booth, and I wasn't about to be late to work.  I hopped the Expo hoping I would not run into any Sherriff patrolling for tickets;  I was lucky to get away with it.

Solutions:  The task is cumbersome, so if I can, I'd like to just be able to walk to Metro station, tap my card each time, having prepaid the card.  My best solution would be to have an online payment program or application that can pre-load your tap card. 

Either that or being able to pay ON the train somehow with a kiosk or Sherriff or something.