#78 Hollydale Park, Southgate

It’s a good thing I drove, breaking my own rule about only riding my bike or taking public transit. I was headed 20 miles southeast to Southgate from Sixpax Gym in Culver City, my weight-training home away from home. After after my long journey out to San Dimas on Thursday, I just did not feel like putting in another four hours round trip on the bus.

Driving is bad for the planet but good for personal uplift in LA on no-traffic Sunday mornings. When you accelerate onto the freeway you are gazelle or puma except faster and stronger. When you accelerate from one freeway to another freeway higher still up in the sky you are pure spirit rising. Just don’t smash into another car! — which is facing death and smiling with quiet confidence.

The zooming around made me feel low-key jolly all the way from the 405 past the airport to the 105 past Watts, past Compton, to the Garfield Avenue exit — Garfield, really? that’s so East! — and well here we are now cruising an empty main streets with multiple burrito palaces on every block and looky-here, a side street with a statue of a sketch of a horse.

Hollydale Park was hopping. I saw a guy produce a full-size road bike out of the kid-sized backseat of an old-time beige-and-rust colored Corolla. I saw oldsters playing soccer, shouting as they chugged along. Folks banging racquetballs off cement walls painted flower and rainbow. And lots of good doggies getting walked along the uncharacteristically surging LA River on this first non-rainy Sunday since I don’t know when.

It was power to the people right on until I got to the two courts at Hollydale Park, one empty, one occupied by a littler-than-me tennis coach giving an attentive guy a lesson using a ball attached to a punch-the-clown-and-it-pops-right-back-up type of device.

Oh cool, I figured. This must be the meet-up I signed up for. Me and that attentive guy will rally and the coach will give us pointers! I was up for some pointers. How to hit harder, for example.

But before I even said anything, the coach started shaking his head no at me. “No time,” he said, smiling. “Come back another day.”

My good mood swerved into anger from chest to throat. I asked myself one question, “Are you gonna go off?”

But what can you really say to somebody who doesn’t want to play? Some curse words suggested themselves, but I decided nah, just walk away. Which I did, but then I doubled back to the open court intent upon a quick game of hit-the-can. You know, where you put a can of balls in one corner of the court and try to knock it over from the other side? Three tries and done, just enough to qualify as playing on the Hollydale Park courts, which despite being cracked and having no net-strap did have big polka dots painted behind the baselines, faded but still buoyant.

Playing hit-the-can, even though I missed, nevertheless smoothed the edge off that anger. I got right back into the pleasure of driving around LA on Sunday mornings, listening to KDAY, respecting the classics with no traffic, highlighted by a sullllllllttttryyyyy “Nobody” by Keith Sweat ft. Athena Cage into “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” by Ms. Lauryn Hill into “Ghetto Superstar” by Pras.

Cheering things up even further, I stopped by my home court in unincorporated LA County between Inglewood and Ladera Heights. Amid the oak, sycamore, and pepper trees, my pal Eddie was hitting a bucket of balls all by his lonesome while some other guys on the other court played doubles.

“Are you having a private moment?” I bothered him.

“I’m always having a private moment even when I’m with people,” he replied. This is Eddie, tennis ambassador to the world, of the Top 5 most outgoing people I know, singing my introspective life with his words.

We hit for a bit, then took on the two guys on the other court who were brave enough not to scram when they saw me coming. There are other fellows who did scram, the way they characteristically do whenever I show up. They cannot handle the slop, the slurve, the where-did-that-come-from hard flat serve, none of that.

Or maybe they can handle it just fine. It’s given them trouble in the past. Maybe someday we’ll get an update. Today, they melted away.

What can you say to people who don’t want to play? Everybody’s carrying some kind of burden. I respect that. Today, me and Eddie carried each other. I believe in you, you can do no wrong in my book, you’re amazing, on and on along those lines, triumphant as the hawk we saw soaring off with a lizard in his beak.

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