One of the most iconic of these lowly centers is the Greyhound Bus terminal. When I was a kid, Greyhounds provided a route out of the dozy suburbs to political rallies, bookstores and art-house movies. Once, years later, I’d gotten cut loose from the county jail in Indio with hardly any money and the sun setting fast. I tried hitching but got nowhere. So I wandered back to town and spent most of my cash on a Greyhound ticket to L.A. It turned out there were a couple of other guys from my cell already on the bus, and we silently smiled at one another as the bus rolled across the desert, Indio falling back on the horizon far behind us.
The station I arrived at in downtown L.A. was in the midst of a bustling neighborhood, although Skid Row was just a drink away. L.A.’s main Greyhound terminal has since moved to Seventh Street near Alameda. It bears the signs of low-rent undesirability: The attendant shack at its parking lot is abandoned, “Free” has been written over a sign that once listed parking rates, and the moment you pop the hood of your car, some helpful soul will come over to help you out.
One morning two men in the outdoor bench area are talking — one wearing a blanket, the other a beat-up sports coat that’s too small for him. Sports Coat asks me if I have a pen, but when I reach for one, it breaks apart in my hand. All I can give him is the plastic straw filled with ink and tipped with a ballpoint.
“Thank you, sir, thank you,” says Sports Coat. “I just want to write down a poem for my friend.”
When he’s done scribbling, he hands back the pieces of pen.
“Keep it,” I say. I don’t ask him if he’s coming to L.A. or leaving, but I hope he stays.
Hollywood Park 1050 S. Prairie Ave., Inglewood, ?(310) 419-1500 or (800) 465-9113 (racing office)
Greyhound Bus 1716 E. Seventh St., downtown, ?(213) 629-8401