Everyone has their own version of a perfect burger joint, whether it’s Fred's on 59th Dr. or Pete's on 29th St. But around the corner of my house, next to an auto body shop and Manual Arts high school, lies one of many other burger joints, Toms Jr.
They offer well seasoned fries, a drink, and a standard burger. I have zero complaints about this establishment and I'm sure anyone in the neighborhood would agree. But what peeks my interest isn’t Toms delicious food, it's what I see as I’m heading towards the place.
Next to the body shop is an alleyway that has been covered in graffiti for many years. This graffiti is much older than the grand opening of Toms. There on the wall use to lie a piece painted by an acquaintance of mine. I've known of this person for more than ten years, yet as hard as I try I can't seem to remember his damn name! What I do remember is that little prick once tricked me into eating a dog mint thinking it was candy.
He was a self proclaimed artist who painted abstract images and patterns on street walls. I used to think that his tags sucked and his patterns looked like snails. However, one time on my way to get some fries, I did see one piece by him that I really appreciated. It left me in awe. So I tipped my hat as a gesture of recognition of his work.
His art was on the wall for many months, but like every other piece of graffiti, it eventually faded away. I can tell he was determined to put in many hours to hone his skills. I too can relate to his ambition. At one point I was also determined to sharpen my graffiti skills.
Although the piece may be covered by countless layers of paint, I can still clearly see what was once there. I can pick it out like a file in a cabinet. All I can get from it now is empathy. At a young age the artist had developed schizophrenia due to drug abuse. He was more than just a graffiti artist, he was a member of our community. I've seen him grow into the person he is and now his identity is forever engraved along the alleyway. In the hood, just like how everyone has their own version of a perfect burger joint, everyone has that story about the one “crazy” person. But I challenge you to ask yourself, what kind of life did they have?
If you’re an alumni from Foshay, then you know that one of the greatest perks of going to that school was the abandon train tracks. I didn’t understand how much of a privilege it was for us misfits to walk along the tracks. Back then, it was just normal for me to try and balance myself along a stretch out metal bar. In between the swift traffic a group of us walked together with friends and classmates before going home.
That track did belong to us kids. I'm glad that I had the great fortune to be a part of that, but that time has up and left. Now we have the very convenient Expo Line that can take anyone from downtown LA to Culver City. It will soon extend all the way to Santa Monica. What used to be special to some of us in South Central, is now enjoyed by everyone in greater Los Angeles.
In 2006, I became friends with a fellow skater. My home is close to Manual Arts High School while he lived on the other side of the Slauson train tracks, by the Swap Meet on Western Ave. I was drawn to his neighborhood, even though it was said to be a very dangerous place. _
There are certain areas you just have to zigzag around, to us its just common knowledge. The most impactful time of my youth was spent on the corner of 59th and Normandie in between the Pupusería and a Liquor store. Strangely, it felt more wholesome than my own neighborhood.
I took the 204 bus line two miles south almost everyday. And also just skated with my new friends. This was where I met girls, got myself into trouble, and played hours of arcade games at the 99 cent store. Even though this place was bad, we just brushed it off like nothing. In one case someone's cousin had came to visit wearing a red shirt and was later chased by members of a crip gang.
As kids this was our reality. Our understanding of the bad side of life made us appreciate the goodness in it. I'm thankful to have made the right choice to remove myself from that environment even though it gave me so many fond memories. Kind of bitter sweet. But there's a bitterness to this story because not everyone made it past the grittiness.
We were once venturous kids. We’ve grown to either conform with crime standards or accept a better alternative. I hate the fact that so many of my old companions are stuck in a street life act. To see them as alcoholics, as drug addicts, and as murders is painstaking.
Its not fair to have grown with so many people in both neighborhoods only for them to turn out like that. I hope at some point we adults have the right mind to change our reality for the better sake of a younger generation. Its an endless cycle that we must acknowledge and fix.
Public Space, Memory,