By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The smell of landscaping lasts more or less until Poinsettia Place, where it gives way to the primal baked-sugar aroma of Scotties Donuts. Yet it is here that Sunset gets gloomier, as office buildings become small, old shops -- photography and dance studios, tuxedo rentals, barbers -- the backdrop to every Rockford Files. Quaint in daylight, at night this stretch takes on a depressing Main Street opaqueness as 100 doomed actors’ 8-by-10s smile upon the empty sidewalks. The darkest places are the occasional boarded-up office spaces, where old newspapers and a condoms collect in the sidewalk flotsam. Vending racks for the softcore L.A. Xpress seem forever pillaged and plundered, while for some reason all the New Times racks have a Xeroxed page of biblical verses from Isaiah taped to them.
By now, prostitutes are becoming unavoidable. While not as active a carnal corridor as Santa Monica Boulevard, Sunset still offers a sporadic sighting of transvestite and female hookers between Ralphs supermarket and the Travel Inn. Here and there, traffic signs ban any kind of turns between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but the savvy john will scan the coast and cut a turn into Poinsettia Place or Vista Street, where tall whores shimmer like statues a few feet off the boulevard. Or the randy wallet will drive through the parking lot of Kinko‘s at Spaulding Avenue or a corner strip mall to do business. Whistles and shouts signal pending transactions up and down this Boulevard of U-Turns, while cabbies slumber in their beat-up Dodges.
Forget the movies’ vision of Sunset as an endless rack of Pretty Women in hot pants and feathered boas -- except during the first of the month, whores are few and far between, even along this motel-dense territory. Mostly you are aware only of crushing stillness and uneasy quiet that exists inside the swoosh of traffic and the insect hum of neon signs. Everything suggests a city of the dead: the bicycle that‘s always chained to a pole outside the Sunset Palms Motel, the vacant lot next door to the Travel Lodge, filled with Sleepers and empty beer bottles.
Not everyone on the street is bending the law, though. A grizzled but tidy old Zombie with an American flag sticking out of his backpack marches west with the determination of a soldier; an old black lady obsessively picks up trash and pulls fliers off the palms in front of Ralphs, while a few blocks away an elderly white guy is attacking fliers on Gardner Street, and up the street at Genesee Avenue yet another old-timer, with ”Security“ written on his black T-shirt, picks up litter and checks pay phones for left change on his way to work at a coffee shop near Fairfax.
Where have all the white people gone?
Where have all these black guys come from?
Depending on your own personal racial perceptions, you’ll be asking yourself one of these two questions along this stretch of Sunset as you realize that nearly everyone on the street is African-American. Most are men, many are homeless, and many are security guards. Some sit on bus benches, promising the predawn stroller the best women or drugs, others patrol the prostituted sidewalks on bikes, while still others approach white guys they seem to know in the Ralphs parking lot. At Rock & Roll Denny‘s, more men might be found at the counter talking animatedly while checking cell phones or pagers. Outside, a pair of young dudes are following a black prostitute, taunting and cursing at her as she crosses back and forth in front of Ralphs and finally ducks into a 7-Eleven. It’s not clear if she‘s earned their wrath for a territorial infringement or for not being a she in the first place.
On Hollywood Boulevard, one black man is selling drugs to a blanket-wearing white Caveman who’s counting out his change in front of the Highland McDonald‘s. One man in his 30s spends half an hour arguing with a white guy behind the Plexiglas of a check-cashing office window. The employee sits impassively behind the protective window as though he were suspended in a shark cage, while the other tries shouting in different tones, searching for just the right frequency that will unlock the place’s safe.
”I work 10 to 6. I could work the 2-to-10 shift, but I don‘t want it. Way it is now, I go off at 6, get some sleep and maybe catch some movies later. Then I go to school at Harbor College, get my general eds taken care of. I want to go to a place like USC, but my parents don’t have that kind of money to send me. I‘m too short for basketball and not big enough for football. I guess I could be a jockey -- how about me getting in as a jockey?“
Hollywood & Highland
With the opening of the TrizecHahn shopping center, the intersection of Hollywood and Highland is now ablaze with more light than ever, and it seems to have at least temporarily cowed away the prostitutes, although one drug-smoked black woman of indeterminate (or interminable) age eagerly approaches a pedestrian across from the Kodak Theater to improbably offer ”weed, crack, sex.“ Between the Gap clothing store and the Kodak entrance to the shopping mall, a small cadre of mostly young security guards makes sure that this and other Zombies don’t slip into the shopping center‘s grounds.
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