Thai Nguyen, former middle school chemistry teacher turned eye doctor, invited me to play the next time I’m in Whittier. So I woke up at 4:40 this morning, saw rosy dawn through the windshield of the 33 bus and the waxing crescent moon out the side window, shining on.
The lustrous light from beyond gave me the spirit needed to reckon with the Sanborn Hotel, where the bus dropped me at 4th and Main. I had just read an LA Times news report saying this hotel, used to house unhoused people, is a dump not fit for human habitation. The reporter even shared an account of the dump-filled toilets in the rooms that have no locks on the doors.
No. No. No. No. NO said the sign at what was supposed to be the bus stop. They’re re-routing the buses for the LA Marathon. So I walked in the dawn’s early light straight through Skid Row, where at top volume from a zipped-up-tight tent in a parking lot came “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” by the Four Tops. The sound of sanctified gratitude echoed off the dawn-bathed storefronts of the wholesale bong district.
This calmed my nerves, which have been jangling a little more than usual because of another Times story about people smoking fentanyl on the Metro. This story caught my eye because they had a picture of a guy smoking up who must have given them his name and signed a release because there it was on the front page.
It makes you think — although what to think, I don’t know. Maybe not surrender public transportation to people who are so far gone; maybe keep riding to support turning things around.
Hopefulness got me onto a fresh new bus. The driver told another passenger it was three weeks old. She transported us 20 miles from Skid Row to Whittier, where I was greeted by sequoias, which is like being greeted by whales or the Grand Canyon or Babe Ruth’s home run record.
Meanwhile: tennis! Yeah, when was the last time I played singles? Weeks ago. It’s been raining so much. Sometimes you come back from a layoff and can do no wrong. This was not that. I can play better. Bend those knees!
I had a great time anyway. Thai is a fine fellow who supported the quest by playing in two different parks. The Whittier Tennis Club had dibs on our court after we played for an hour at Palm Park, which was fine because that looks like a fun club. They put out quite the spread, including a chocolate cake I took a picture of in my mind’s eye, where I see rich chocolate frosting slathered on top of a cocoa-black cake that looks like it can absorb sorrow.
Thai and I had built trust by him beating me 6-1, so I hopped in his car for the short trip over to Broadway Park, which has two courts and no divider. The folks playing doubles next to us only hit one ball on our court and afterwards one of them took a picture of me and Thai right after he beat me 6-3, which is improvement. He also gave me a whole list of other great courts in the San Gabriel Valley — Smith Park in Alhambra, La Mirada Park in La Mirada, Live Oak Park in Temple City — and sounded up to play together on them, so that is even more hope for the future.