Arrived

Los Angeles is one of the most special cities in the world. Even when the weather forecast announces that it’s going to be overcast with possible showers, you can still feel the presence of a bright yellow sun behind the clouds, and within hours the sky clears and that bright orb makes its appearance just in time for a last walk in the sunlight before dusk falls.

Beautiful as it still is and will always be to me, there are things that have changed. Nothing that’s unique to LA, but rather things that have changed across the United States. Melrose, the hip-happening street of fashion, food and fun, has now more FOR LEASE signs that it ever has before. Shutters are drawn across the empty store fronts, and the glass looks dusty, as if it’s been waiting for a new tenant for longer than it’s used to.

When we ate lunch today, a dark-haired, scruffy, tall homeless man walked over to the table behind us and took the tip that was left there for the waitress. We saw it, as did a woman inside the restaurant, and none of us did anything. It seemed to happen so fast. We all were sure he was going to take some item of food, but then he was gone and so was the waitress’ tip. What do you even do in a situation like this?

I’ve been taking photos. Too many, and probably mostly bad ones, but I’m finally going to try to catch some of the essence of this bizarre half-city-half-suburb in more than words.

I’m jet-lagged and exhausted and our trip took more than twenty-four hours. I think now is the time to sleep.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams

One evening in late August, Daniel and Caroline, known to most of their neighbors as Mr. and Mrs. Adams, sat in their rocking chairs on the porch. The sun had just disappeared over the hills and the sky was a wonderful canvas of pastel colors, ranging from soft orange to a deep purplish-blue.

Mr. Adams, glasses perched precariously on the edge of his nose, was doing the big Sunday crossword-puzzle. He was chewing on the end of an unlit pipe, but sometimes he laid it down and chewed on the end of his pencil instead as he thought about the clues. Mrs. Adams was holding a large square of needlepoint and stitching away at it. Every few moments, she put it down in her lap, rested her chin in her hand and gazed at the sporadic lights of the fireflies winking in and out in the front garden.

A stranger, happening to walk past this picturesque scene, would think that the grey-haired pair sitting on their front porch in wooden rocking chairs were a regular Granny and Gramps. The stranger would probably imagine that, inside the house, there would be something baking in the oven and an afghan thrown over the sofa. Easy to imagine, too, were the long weeks of bingo and naps, phone calls to the kids and an anticipation for the weekends during which the grandchildren would come over for milk and cookies. Strangers didn’t often walk past on this suburban street, though, so Mr. and Mrs. Adams weren’t subject to many such misconceptions about their lives.

In fact, both of them were professors at the rather prestigious liberal-arts university that sat in the valley twenty-five miles away. Mr. Adams was in the literature department and Mrs. Adams was in the psychology department, and although both were in their mid-sixties, neither had ever yet played bingo. Their weeks were normally busy with drives to and from the university, quiet evenings of grading papers interspersed with outings to lectures, staff-events or dinners with friends. They were even seen at the community center every Saturday night for salsa-lessons, along with a variety of young and old folk from the neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. Adams were definitely not an idle pair.

Still, in late summer, they were on vacation. The summer term, which was an easy time for both anyway since they each taught only one or two courses for it, was now over and both husband and wife had finished grading all the final papers a few days earlier. In two weeks, they would both be beginning the fall semester and their lives would become hectic and busy again, but they were now enjoying some rest and relaxation, and sitting on the porch in the evening was one of their greatest pleasures.