On my birthday, only a few weeks ago, I ran along dirty sidewalks with a plastic bag of Subway sandwiches slapping against my side. Earlier that morning, I’d driven from my hometown Las Vegas to my new place of residence, Los Angeles. Anthony and I planned to sign a lease to a new apartment—one that cost more than we could ever fathom forking over in Nevada. But such is the big city life, even for an antiquated abode by the train tracks.
We’d arrived with thirty minutes until our appointment to receive the keys. So we parked our cars streetside, asked Siri for the closest place to find lunch, and started our walk. Let’s just say: Subway wasn’t as close as we thought. We purchased a couple sandwiches from the man behind the curtain—no, counter—with six minutes and a mile between us and our new apartment.
Now I like to run for fun on occasion. But I can safely say I can’t run half a mile, let alone a full mile, in six minutes. But Anthony apparently possesses Batmobile wheels in his shoes. With my consent, he jetted down the sidewalk to our appointment.
As he sped ahead like a lion on the hunt, I ran along more like an orangutan. Stomping, panting, breathe, breathe, crosswalk—go!
“Hey!” A middle-aged man with gray hair and a disheveled rust-colored baseball cap shouted at me and stepped into my path mid-intersection. He shoved his hand forward to point behind me. “Be careful,” he said and jutted his chin in the direction he pointed.
I stepped back from him and turned. A pile of filthy clothes lay on a patch of dirt where all the grass had died beside the sidewalk. A dented shopping cart filled with tied plastic bags sat nestled in leaf-ridden bushes. Pigeon poop littered the sidewalk, trash gathered in the gutter, and the nearby underpass boasted words I couldn’t read in bold, black graffiti.
“People live here,” the man said and shoved his hands into his pockets. I didn’t know what to say. I dodged out of his path as he passed.
I walked most of the way back to our apartment, where Anthony had met the landlord streetside.
“You okay?” Anthony said, his cheeks still ruddy from his run.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “We’re not in Reno anymore.”
Lively Mediterranean music emanated from an open window above us. Nearby a multigenerational family gathered on their patio, passing plates, speaking Armenian, and laughing loudly. The elderly landlord, in his plaid shirt and suit pants, surveyed us as we surveyed it all. He smiled, then shook my hand.
“Welcome,” he said, “to California.”