They All Laughed I skate to work. Being able to commute via skateboard every day in sunny So Cal—a relatively flat two-anda-half miles—is a dream come true for an obsessed skater. But some days it’s a nightmare. This was one of those days. DOWNTOWN, HISTORIC CORE: My legs were creaky, my eyes were bleary, and my mouth was cotton-dry. No, it wasn’t a late night—I’m just old. That harsh early morning sunshine always seems to work against me when I take those first few pushes at the beginning of the day. Maybe I’m just superstitious, but I believe that those initial pushes always determine how my day will go. This morning was a doozy. I went to throw my board down, but I saw something shoot across the sidewalk out of the corner of my eye so I hesitated. That awkward stutter step threw me off balance and I never regained my rhythm. This is the section of downtown LA where the hoity-toity come to play. “Art Walk,” impromptu parades at midnight, flash mobs (yes, that’s still a thing), and nude bikers with boomboxes blaring commercial ‘70s disco. All of this—and more—is just a small part of the colorful tapestry that is life in downtown Los Angeles. I hear that ten years ago it wasn’t like this; it was virtually a wasteland. I guess I was ten years too late, because this bougie wonderland is driving me crazy and I can’t wait to just get to work already. I went to my corner coffee joint, “Bean There, Done That,” to get that first delicious cup o’ joe. The remnants of the previous night’s debauchery was being pressure-washed off of the sidewalks, as per usual, and I managed to soak up a little bit of that gooey detritus on my shoes. When I finally did get to jump on my board, I was slip-slidin’ away on a not-so-fantastic voyage and kinda rolled my ankle a little bit. I recovered quickly but my coffee went flying. I was a little embarrassed, but no one noticed. I just whistled and pretended that it didn’t happen. SKID ROW: I take a quick trip through “Skid Row” in the mornings (and again at night). It’s a bracing reminder that things could be worse. This area’s name is sometimes the butt of jokes. Like, when you’re “on the skids” it means that you’ve hit rock bottom. I had to re-up my coffee, so I stopped by the convenience store “Corner: The Market” for some slightly less rich java. My morning in Skid Row was nothing to laugh about. Coming around a corner, I saw that I was free and clear so I went for broke and just pushed to my heart’s content, enjoying how the early morning rays reflected off of the oily puddles and glinted off of the discarded syringes. I should’ve known better. Out of nowhere, a man pushed his caravan of shopping carts out of an alley and into the street. Like me, he probably saw that there was no traffic on the street. Or, even more likely, he didn’t look at all. I flew face first into a funky blanket. I was picking little bits of pink fur (or fiberglass) off of my skin the rest of the day. Looking at the engineer of this crazy train, I said, “What the hell, man?!” Casey Jr. was unfazed, and he kept on truckin’. I looked down and there was coffee all over my griptape. And I imagined that my power skid in Skid Row possibly left skid marks on my Ethikas. I am barely ten minutes away from home and I’ll be ten dollars in the hole for coffee by the time I get to work. I curse my luck and then move on to Little Tokyo. LITTLE TOKYO: Sushi, Hello Kitty, sneaker shops, poke bowls, and other things I can’t afford. Little Tokyo is the ultimate window-shopping destination for someone like me who will never find himself in
Japan, but who loves “Hibana Spark” (on Netflix, check it out). Li’l Tokes is typically empty this early in the morning, except for a few fish delivery trucks. This morning, I glanced ahead and saw that a new poke bowl spot is opening across the street from the other poke bowl spot. Pretty soon we’re gonna run out of tuna. I stop at “Café Joe Mama” for a nice, hot cup of joe. This will be the one. I skate along the sidewalk (as opposed to the street, because I like the little bumps and grooves that the expanding tree roots create), blowing on the lid of my coffee like a deranged flautist. I see two pretty Asian girls approaching and I instinctively go into what I think is a very cool Dogtown cruising stance, swerving around like I’m Eric Dressen dodging bullets in Venice Beach. Like the rest of downtown, the sidewalks of Little Tokyo aren’t the cleanest. You can typically find wellfed street rats scurrying from Yogurtland to Pinkberry, trading toppings with the lethargic pigeons. Now, with the copious raw tuna, the local rats have a veritable found feast to keep them busy every day. They’ve got a good thing going, and they don’t particularly seem to feel any fear or threat from the various humans who cross their paths on a day-to-day basis. Case in point: as I did my Z-Boy shtick for the girls, a bloated rodent came waddling out of the darkness like Fred Sanford after a pie-eating contest with Aunt Esther. I tried to swerve, but I hit a rock. Down goes the coffee. My loaded backpack does the rest, pulling me down face-to-face with one of the least shook vermin to ever scurry. Oh, rats. The girls seemed more scared than I was. Looking down the barrel of a loaded rat, I was resigned to accept my fate. That’s what I get for thinking that these girls would be impressed by an old man on a skateboard. Pathetic. Luckily, the rat had places to be so he just scampered off. So did the girls. And, eventually, once the color came back to my usually rosy cheeks, so did I. ARTS DISTRICT: By now I was half-thinking of taking an Uber. I’ve already wasted an exorbitant amount on coffee that was currently caffeinating the sidewalk. But I’m one of those guys who just won’t give up—even when it would make sense to do so—at least that’s what my wife tells me. I decided to stick it out and go for yet another cup of coffee. I needed the fuel now more than ever! The local jail is a few blocks away, and most of the cops go to “Five-O Grindz” (50 Alameda Place) for their regular fix. I’d never been there, so I thought that I’d check it out. Hell, if the coffee is good enough for the police then I’ll cop some of that, too. I take my first sip and I’m thinking, this coffee sucks. It figures that the cops like it so much. Every sip tasted like entrapment. And, since it’s in the Arts District, the only doughnuts they carry are vegan ones. It suddenly makes sense: the cops come here to keep an eye on the vegans. With all of the militant vegan propaganda popping up around downtown, this is like killing two birds (so to speak—killing birds is wrong). I’m already late, but at least I’ve got my coffee sorted. I dropped my board down and pushed right into the back of one the biggest policemen you ever did see. I spilled my overpriced “coffee” all over his back. My life flashed before my eyes. I remembered every single representation of prison life that I’d seen in popular culture—from “Barney Miller” (yes!) to “Oz” (ouch!)—and my heart skipped a beat when I thought, Who is going to take care of my dog? Half a dozen on-duty officers crowded towards me, looking me over with their right hands on their hips and their left hands reaching for their left shoulders. Once they had a moment to appraise the situation, their eyes darted from me to the soaking wet victim of my flying coffee. They exchanged glances with each other. Their expressions softened, and then they all laughed. It turns out that the big officer I accidentally assaulted was a rookie and this was just the latest in a long line of scheduled and unscheduled hazing for him. When I told them about my travails this morning on the way to work, they offered me a police escort. I said, “Really?!” They said, “No, not really,” then they all laughed again. Well at least buy me a coffee.