One Night in Hollywood
10th May 2014, Saturday, I have just landed in US, Los Angeles airport. It was midnight about 2 AM. I looked at Saravanan my colleague who was looking equally tired. We landed in US 2 weeks back for a transition assignment and since then was traveling from one corner of the country to the other. Fontana was our last stop before heading back to India. This time there was a problem. Both our check-in baggage did not arrive with us.
“ Sorry, sir. We will send it to your hotel address by tomorrow evening “, said the hot looking airport staff. Even the slightest of the anger inside evaporated the minute she smiled.
“ No problem, these things happens”, I said stopping Saravanan who wanted to put up a fight with her. After giving them our hotel address, we took a cab and left to Fontana hotel where our stay was booked. It was about 6 AM when we reached the hotel and by the time we woke up half the day was already gone. We only had the next day to explore nearby places. From Monday we had our official duties to perform and on Wednesday we had the flight back home.
“This might be the closest we get to Hollywood ever and we should explore all the nearby places tomorrow”, I told Saravanan.
“ I agree. Who knows when the next US travel is. I am game”, said Saravanan.
After a few searches online, I found a good day tour which was costing $110. Calculator in the head quickly converted it into rupees as usual and gave a RED signal, indicating the price is high. 7000 RS for LA tour is worth it, I told myself and turned the light to Green. I looked at Saravanan hoping for a green light. But his face was all RED indicating he wanted to stay back in the hotel and save the money instead. My attempts to convince him did not work out, he was fine looking at the pictures of LA in Google, rather than spend money. Just then I got the alert that only one more seat is left out, a few clicks later I have booked it for myself. I wish the baggage girl also turns up for the tour.
As the baggage was to come only the next day, I started my next task of washing my clothes and getting ready for the big Sunday tour. My pick up point was “Hollywood Highland” which was about 2 hours journey from my hotel by train. Trains were available from 4 AM as per Google. Taxi will take lesser time but the cost one way will come to $200, which was a critical RED of Rs 13000 as per the calculator.
“I have to be there by 7:30 AM for the pickup”, I told Saravanan. You are going to miss the fun Saravanan, I said giving him a naughty smile.
“You are going to miss the fun and also the $110”, Saravanan replied. By his looks, I understood that he has found some problem with my plan.
“ Sunday the first train starts at 10 AM from here and you can reach Hollywood only by 12 PM”, Saravanan revealed his discovery.
“ What !!!! “, I left my washing and came running towards the laptop screen. Saravanan was right, my Sunday LA tour dream was crashing down. In the next one hour, I explored all other options to reach the pickup spot by 7:30 AM. Bus, car hire, auto, helicopter, horse ride, nothing was working out. Either the option was not available or was too high for my budget. As it was the last few days we had already used up most of the advance we have taken for the trip.
“ There is one way I can still make this plan work”, I said. Saravanan looked all confused. “ I will take the last train from here today which is at 9 PM. I should reach LA by 11 PM, will head to the airport and spend the time in some waiting area and head to Hollywood in the early morning”, I told him.
“ Don’t do it. It is very risky. Here people roam with guns, what if someone robs you”, said Saravanan. He looked genuinely concerned. But I had already made up my mind and there was no turning back. I headed to the bathroom to finish the washing. Clothes were equally important for the plan to work.
8:30 PM, I said bye to Saravanan and started walking towards the railway station. As per Google, it was 15 mins away from the hotel. Unlike in the afternoon, the night was cold. I just had a regular sweater. The entire road was empty as if it is a strike day and occasionally very good looking cars will pass by in full speed. The wind was blowing hard and dry leaves on the ground were making a lot of noise as if asking me to return back to the hotel. I felt someone is following me, I turned back a couple of times, but couldn’t find anyone. I was so not used to such emptiness and was almost running towards the railway station. Google said I have reached the station. In front of me was a huge empty ground, a building in one corner and not a soul around. What a contrast? Is this really the railway station? Why is it empty? Not even a tea shop? No porter? No announcements about the next train? No one to sell tickets? No one sleeping on the floor?
Just then I saw a person coming out of the building towards me.
“ Excuse me. Is this the railway station? “, I asked.
“Yes, it is. Where are you heading to ?”, he asked.
“Los Angeles”, I replied.
“The last train to LA will be here in 10 mins. You can use my daily pass and save the money for the ticket ”, he said.
I just met this guy and he is offering his daily pass. I felt happy about his gesture. After thanking him, I went inside the station which had only minimal lighting. I passed the automated ticketing machine, luckily I didn’t have to use it. The images from all the haunted Hollywood movies was running in my mind. The wind blew harder and I was getting goosebumps with all the chillness. Did the lights just flicker or is it just my eyes? I was feeling very scared and started praying. Suddenly someone touched me from behind and I almost had a heart attack. I turned back to see a black guy in shabby clothes.
“ Are you a Pakistani ?”, he asked.
“ No, no, Indian”, I replied. From the looks, I could make out he is a beggar. Is he going to attack me? Should I start running? Things were not looking very rosy. Just then one more old lady came into the picture screaming at the guy whom I thought was about to attack me.
“ Simon, why the hell did you leave her. You cannot just run off like that ?”, the old lady told our hero. So he is Simon, I registered his name. They started having a heated argument about a woman whom Simon has possibly left. Just then a silver color double-decker train came and I escaped in it. Not sure if Simon also escaped. The train had very few people. Soon a very serious looking policeman came towards me. From handcuff to gun his uniform had everything. He verified my daily pass and moved to verify other passengers. Although my initial plan was to spend time in LA airport until morning, I changed that decision right away. One, because someone just called me a Pakistani and other by the looks of the policeman. What if someone questions me on what I am doing in the airport without a flight ticket? The last thing I wanted was to get into trouble. I reached LA Union railway station at about 11 PM. As per Google, I need to now take the metro to Hollywood Highland.
Unlike the other railway station, this station had many people. The station was built in 1939 and had a grand looking waiting area. This is one place I can stay until morning, I thought. However, by then I had made up my mind to catch the metro and go to Hollywood right away. Inside the metro, I was the only odd one out. Everyone else was huge Afro-Americans. A couple was feeling each other and kissing from a corner. The metro was mostly moving inside tunnels. Suddenly there was a loud gunshot and a few African Americans came running inside. As the doors closed and the metro moved again, the guys spoke to each other in loud voice:
“ Can you believe it? He just shot at us? What a crazy man? “
The metro continued to move and the couple continued to kiss. I had my mouth open, shit scared hearing what the gang just said. I have only read about gun shootings in the US and here I am witnessing it first hand. The gang moved forward to get seats and I couldn't listen to them anymore. 12 AM, the metro reached Hollywood Highland station. The couple was still in the locked up position, as I got off the metro. The station itself was inside a mall. People around me were smoking in public. Only if they have seen the Rahul Dravid ad on why we should not smoke. I got out of the building to breathe the first fresh Hollywood air. Before me was the Dolby theater where Oscar awards are given every year. The walk of fame had “Stars” embedded on the footpath with the name of popular Hollywood stars. The famous Hollywood sign was seen from far. There were theaters which run the Hollywood premium shows and the best part was the street performers. Jugglers, singers, people dressed up like Super Man and Jack Sparrow. The initial excitement died soon. It was 1 AM and streets were almost empty. One guy was singing aloud with no audience and a homeless guy was screaming at him for disturbing his sleep. I looked around for options to spend my night. Before me was hard rock cafe but found it to be closed already. I walked into an open pub nearby to find that the last song is being played and they were also closing. The realization that this night is going to be long gave an unusual chillness inside.
I sat on a vacant bench inside the nearby mall and just then a security guard told me that they are closing the mall and I need to leave. Outside the temperature have dipped further. Hardly about 8 people were seen on the streets. A lady was selling ‘hotdogs’ and I had one of them. Maybe I should just take a taxi and find a hotel nearby, I thought. I found a taxi waiting close by and the driver had an Indian look. I went inside and told him to take me to a budget hotel nearby.
“ Hollywood is an expensive place sir”, he said.
“Do you mind if I drop one of my friends on the way”, asked the driver. Before I replied, one more guy has joined the driver in the front. “ Where are you from? “, they asked.
“India”, I said.
“ We both are from Pakistan”, they replied. For some reason, Pakistan is behind me from the time I started today. I gave them a wired smile not sure how to remain calm and tame my thoughts. Should I initiate a peace talk on Kashmir? It is high time we find a solution.Then one guy pointed to a car on the opposite street and said:
“ You see that car “
“It is FBI inside and they are watching us”
“ STOP!! Please”, I said.
“What happened? “, he asked.
“ Sorry, I just changed my mind”, I said stepping out. The last thing I wanted was to get held in US along with two Pakistanis. Maybe I was overreacting, as they did not look like the bad guys from Hollywood movies, but the atmosphere overall was very suspicious and I didn’t want to take any chances. I was back in the Hollywood street not knowing what to do. All the excitement had died and the only thought inside was how to spend the rest of the night. My mobile ran out of battery to make things worse. I just realized the fact that this was the first time in my life I was on the streets for a full night. I have not even seen most of the attractions near my hometown. We take life for granted, we think the life is too long and we can see them whenever we want and we don’t realize we have wasted half the life this way. The only reason I was in Hollywood tonight was the realization that I may not come back to this place ever and this is the only chance. I walked back to the Hollywood Highland metro station. The station just has two more people apart from me. As I waited for the metro, I felt as if I was losing my strength. I wanted to sleep badly but where? The metro kept running the whole night. Maybe I can just spend the night in the metro train like the way the couple had cuddled and ignored the surroundings. Suddenly the picture of the grand waiting lobby of the LA Union station flashed in my head. Yes, that is where I will spend the night, I decided.
I reached the union station by 2 AM. To my shock, the waiting lobby was empty. A security officer told me that the station is closed and will open only at 5 AM.
“ Is there a place close by where I can stay till 5 AM”, I asked the officer.
“ Head North, there is ‘Denny’s’ and they will not mind you spending a few hours”, said the officer.
“Thank you sir “ and I walked in the direction he pointed.
I walked for 5 mins and couldn’t find any “Denny’s”. I wish the phone was on. Google Map, I miss you. There was no one on the street and occasionally vehicles passed by. I looked above to look at the moon. Regardless of where you are, the moon always watches you. God, please help me, I said.
“ Pakistani, what are you doing here”, someone called from the other side of the road. To my surprise, it was Simon, the beggar I met in Fontana station.
“ I am Indian”, I replied.
“What are you doing here ?”, I asked Simon.
“ I live in the streets brother. This place is not very safe in the dark. You should not be walking around here”, he said.
“ I am looking for Denny’s. Do you know the place ?”, I asked.
“ Of course, that is my favorite place. I will take you there, but you need to buy something for me”
“Definitely”, I said.
We found the place soon. The place had a lot of people. We both sat on the long stools available. I picked up the menu and started looking at the options.
“Don’t go with that. It is a rip off “, said Simon. He asked the waitress for the one dollar menu. The waitress who was a serious looking old lady gave a new menu which had reduced rates and started to take back the menu which I was looking at.
“ Is it okay if I order 2 things ?”, asked Simon.
“ Sure”, I told Simon. I wanted a coffee to keep me awake and ordered a Cappuccino from the original menu. The old lady stared at me and said, this is $6 for the coffee, are you sure? She was very certain that I was also a beggar and usually beggars don’t order a $6 coffee. I showed her the money and she finally got me the coffee. In between, myself and Simon became good friends.
“So what do you do Simon”, I asked.
“ I rape “, he said.
“ WHAT !! RAPE??? “, I almost spilled my hot coffee. Is that why the old lady was screaming at him, I thought?
“ Not Rape. RAP!”, he said.
“Ohh Rap, singing. I also sing”, I said.
Simon stopped eating, took an old dirty looking notebook from his pocket and gave it to me. Every page of it was scribbled with notes.
“ This is my rap, I have written it”, said Simon.
“Can you sing it for me?”, I asked. In the next second, he started rapping. It was difficult for me to understand the words but it had good rhythm and randomly a lot of “F**K” words were coming out. The old lady was not liking it much, so were others in the restaurant. Once Simon stopped, I appreciated his work and he liked it.
“ This country sucks man. This country is only for rich and powerful and not for people like me.”, said Simon and continued to abuse America. I looked at people around me. I wanted to hang a disclaimer around my neck that I have nothing to do with the person next to me who is abusing America.
“ India is good. So is China. Europe sucks equally. You know a guy from UK took some of my songs and promised me a lot of money. He never came back. I hate Europeans”, he continued.
I tried to console him and asked him to reduce his volume a little bit. That did not help much as he was by default a loud person.
“ Can I come to India? “, he asked.
“ I can sing, I can talk in English, would it be easy for me to get a job ?”
“ Just with the communication, you should be able to get work in call centers. The whole world wants to come and work in the US, so you will get better options here”, I said.
We spoke a lot more, had some more food and finally, when the clock showed 4:30 AM, I started back to the station. He told me where exactly in the station I can find the charging points, where I can fresh up etc. Walking back he sung and I joined.
“Oh, when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah, I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life”
“ You made my day friend. I had good food today”, he said.
“ Thank you Simon. If not for you, I don’t know where I would have ended up”, I said and parted ways. Sharp 7 AM, I was back in Hollywood highland in the first metro from LA. 7:30 AM was the pickup time for the day tour. I had breakfast along with the strongest coffee possible so that I can keep myself awake for the day. The pick up came on time. The bus was full of lovely couples and a fat guy who kept sleeping throughout the day tour. I wonder what others would have thought of me. But every time the bus stopped over, someone will wake me up and I will explore the places. I did not meet Simon after that, but still wonder how I met the same person twice that night when I was feeling very lonely and scared. God is great!
The End - Please add your comments below.