A penetrating, foul smell lived in the air. Downtown Los Angeles has a place known as skid row. L.A.'s skid row is flooded with activity, sleeping bags, shopping baskets and tents pitched on the street sidewalk. These are people pushed to life outside the world that towers around them.
My friend Tim brought me to skid row to meet his buddy Tim and to experience the only church on skid row called church on the corner. Several classmates also came (Wayne, Bob, Barnabus). We had come to go to Karaoke night . . . yes Karaoke night. But first came the kids. Each day the church has an after school program. There were several kids the age of my kids. They hugged me as if I were their own father.
We served the kids their dinner, cleared the table for the teen program to eat dinner. For my lunch, I had eaten off a huge buffet of Mediterranean food. I was so full from lunch I had not eaten dinner (along with Tim, Wayne, Joe and Moses). My bulging stomach was a striking contrast to everyone I met. We had food left over, so we took it out on the street and offered it to people. Only one of the people I asked politely refused. Many people looked me in the eye and said, "Thanks, this is the only food I've eaten all day." I could not eat tonight. I could not take food from the hungry.
With our duties complete, we had a good hour until Karaoke night. I had no idea what to expect at a karaoke night with homeless people. To pass the time, I went out on the street and sat down. I felt like I fit in pretty well. I had not shaved in five days and wore old clothes. People had already begun to line up outside the door. They were talking about songs they would sing. One woman explained that she was going to become a famous singer so that she could get on Blue Cross & Blue Shield to cover her medical expenses. Another younger man was dressed in a black cowboy had, complete with a sheriff's badge and a long black trench coat. I saw an elderly woman mumbling something indistinguishable walking the street wearing only one shoe.
My most memorable acquaintance was Marita. After I had been sitting outside, the blanket next to me began to move. The face of an elderly woman appeared. She smiled and we began to talk. She had no idea who I was. She had been on the street for only two months, after she lost her apartment in Phoenix. Actually, she has a job as a cashier at the ballpark in Phoenix. It does not start again until April. She looked as if she had always been here, when in reality she was new. We talked about the missions, the lack of markets and the safety of the streets. Homeless people are not much different from those "inside the world." Maybe a little more friendly, maybe more dirty and maybe more hungry, but only one eviction separates those outside from those inside.
It is astounding that a few blocks away tower the world's most powerful bank buildings, renovated loft apartments, fancy chain restraints, and the hotel presidents sleep in. It is a world of separation that is inside out.
Thanks to Tim Neufeld for giving me an inside out view of Los Angeles. Tim is a new friend who shares my fanatical love of U2, mexican food and taking people on "experiences" like this one.