There was a job offer I received quite some time ago, through a friend from college, who lived in Los Angeles.
It sounded pretty good and so I packed a bag and moved to the coast.
Unfortunately, the job did not pan out, wasn’t as much of a sure thing as he had outlined it.
But Southern California was the land of opportunity and I went banging on doors. And pretty soon found myself out of funds.
The friend went north to work in the fishing industry in Alaska and I didn’t even have a place to stay after the funds I had brought dried up.
And that’s how I found myself living on the streets of Los Angeles.
It could have been worse. I could have been stranded in some city up north, New York, Chicago, Montreal, a place where the weather would be very hard on those living on the streets.
Living in Los Angeles was almost a picnic by comparison. The benches in MacArthur Park were not altogether uncomfortable and, when someone chased you off “their” bench, there was always the grass… unless, of course it had lately rained.
And I was astonished how many restaurants threw out food that was still edible. It was not what I preferred to do to live, but I had to eat somewhere, you know. And after a couple of weeks, your taste buds ignore the rather unpalatable features of the buffet.
Seeing some of the other homeless people panhandling on the corner, I thought I would give that a shot as well. Several hours later, I had enough to buy myself a hamburger.
Best damned burger I ever ate.
Then I started thinking… the pickings were a little slim around MacArthur Park, it being an economically depressed area and all, and I thought Hollywood and Vine might be a better locale.
A few hours walking brought me to the promised land and I was pleasantly surprised. I rather quickly had enough for dinner, today and tomorrow.
But then it all ended.
A guy came up to me and asked me where was my license.
“What?” I looked him over. He certainly did not look like a cop. He looked like another vagrant. “What do you mean, license?”
“This area is controlled by the Panhandler’s Union. You can’t work this corner except you got a license and you can only work at your appointed times. We all gotta take turns, you know.”
I could not believe this! In this country where you were free to do most anything, you could not panhandle a certain corner without someone else’s okay.
So, I asked him what areas were covered and I moved just beyond the “promised land” of the corner. I found another good spot about half a block down in front of the gay bar.
None of the fellows coming out of there asked me for any silly license.
At the end of the day, with the Sun setting in the west, I walked back toward Wiltshire Boulevard and my waiting park bench and I saw a fellow walking on the other side, parallel to my position.
It was the wrangler of the local Panhandler’s Union and he was counting a handful of cash, folding money, as he walked. He turned into and alley and got into his car, a new Porsche, and drove off.
Once I got over that shock, I walked to the bus station on Wiltshire and bought a ticket to get me back home.
Los Angeles just hadn’t grown on me.