Today, I have no podcast audio to share and only one photo. So my words will have to be your eyes and ears. I just left Los Angeles this morning and I’m headed north towards the Bay Area. In a lot of ways it would be really easy to say that my time in LA was a disaster. But I’m a believer in letting life be what it is and not dwelling on expectations not getting met–because inevitably they don’t get met.
As I was coming to LA I didn’t have any firm interview opportunities set up. I had some leads and ideas, but nothing set. I couldn’t even find someone to host me as a couch surfer, which I’m finding is a great way to get an unplanned interview. Thus, there was this part of me that wondered what I was doing even spending any time in LA.
I found a hostel through Airbnb and headed there after a last afternoon in San Diego. The Airbnb didn’t make the place out to be something it wasn’t. I knew I was going to downtown LA and that it was essentially a warehouse with bunk beds in it. As I drove up to the location, I started to wonder if my car would be safe over night and that questioning thought came to the front of my mind: “What am I even doing here.” I sat in my car before going into the building for a few moments. The realization struck me that this is what I’m doing this trip for, to get out of my comfort zone. So I grabbed my pack and went in. I was greeted by friendly hosts and others staying in the hostel. I settled into my top bunk and let myself wind down from the day. As I drifted off to sleep, I decided to take this lone photo from my time in LA. The view from my bed.
It was a view I couldn’t have conjured. It was beautiful and unexpected. I truly hadn’t thought to find myself in that sort of a sleeping situation in LA. But thankfully, that’s where I was.
As I went out the next day, after tinkering with the website and reviewing audio from the interview I did in San Diego, I just tried to do a few things I would enjoy in the area and wait to hear on the interview possibilities. I went disc golfing at the La Mirada course. It was a beautiful day and the course was a sublime experience. Because I had never played it before, a local caught up to me and I offered to let him pass, because I had never played the course and would be slow. He offered to play with me and guide me through the course. As we wrapped up the round and parted ways, I couldn’t help but feel amazed.
I’m a low-key introverted guy. Talking to strangers takes effort. But here we were, spending an hour together, talking about this hobby we love, giving some background on our lives. We were brought together by a hobby. Perhaps that’s a mundane moment to find profound. But a man from Utah and a man from Southern California shared an afternoon and connected. That is the beauty of our humanity. We can find ways to connect.
As the day went on, dinner time was approaching and I had decided to head out to Long Beach to find some Cambodian food. I spent a couple years living in Cambodia, so any chance to be around significant population groupings of Cambodians must be taken advantage of. I found a well reviewed restaurant and greeted the woman at the register. I ordered my food in Cambodian. I sat down to wait for my order and as there was no one else in the restaurant, she sat down and chatted with me. She talked about coming to America, where in Cambodia she was from. She asked about my ability to speak Cambodian and my experience with that small Southeast Asian country. I shared my deep love for the nation and its people. It was another beautiful moment of connection with a complete stranger.
I got back to the hostel with my take out Cambodian and sat down at the dinner table with my food. Two Asian gentlemen were finishing up their meals. With my limited ability, I could tell they were speaking Mandarin. They proceeded to talk to me in English and we exchanged basic backgrounds with each other. They both were strangers, one from Canada and the other from China. The older man turned out to know about Salt Lake City when I mentioned that I am from the state of Utah. As luck would have it, Salt Lake is actually one of the cities that he planned to visit, as his brother teaches at the University of Utah. He inquired about Temple Square and what to see there. Here I sat, connecting to this engineer from Beijing.
As I continued to eat my dinner, I began speaking with one of the other men in the hostel. He lives in LA and had come from Virginia to work as a writer. He shared thoughts about his time at the University of Virginia as an athlete and the great education he received there. He talked about coming to LA, like so many others to follow a dream. We talked about the ways one can get sidetracked, but that the possibilities in dreams remain. I brought up one of my favorite books, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I noted my belief that the theme of the book is true: when you are trying to live your legend, the universe will conspire to aid you. Certainly, there are twists and turns, but life seems to lead you there. He talked of a chance moment recently where he needed someone with a particular expertise to help with a project he is doing and ran into someone looking to do the exact thing he needed. It was too perfect to not be what the universe willed.
I went to sleep feeling full at witnessing and experiencing so many beautiful moments of connection throughout the day, despite not getting the chance to interview the people I had expected to interview or even having the chance to interview some of the people I was staying with. The theme of connection played out beautifully. How different all these people were that I shared myself with and that shared themselves with me. And there was no reason to share other than we as humans are built to connect and long to connect.
As I left LA this morning, I thought I might drive around the warehouse district where I had slept the last couple night and take some pictures of the graffiti and life in the area. I’m no photographer. I don’t have any skill in taking photos. As I started to drive around though, an essay I read in college came to mind. It spoke of an unusual form of entertainment that arose in the U.S. during the industrial revolution. People from wealthy parts of town would take day trips to the slums of their cities to just watch people. Now I don’t want to imply that people watching is bad–I think it’s fun–or that capturing pictures of places different from where we live has some moral implication. I think it’s important we know what else is in the world. But the essay illuminated to me that sometimes there is this sort of voyeuristic mentality that creeps into our minds. We watch, take pictures of and display the lives of others without really knowing what we’re doing. For some reason, I felt like stopping to take pictures today would be overly voyeuristic, that I just need to watch and see for myself and feel.
I started to drive through town and work my way out of LA. The textiles, the bulk produce, the delivery trucks everywhere all filled my view. Industry and motion were happening all around me. Beautiful graffiti covered entire walls. Bright colors, filled the lettering that spoke to an individuals craft. I was seeing things I would never see anywhere else. The artist will never be known to me, but their moment of impact of me was undeniable. They captured my attention, turned my gaze and moved me.
Then I rounded a corner and realized that just a few blocks from where I was sleeping was the mission in downtown LA. The sidewalks were lined with tents and people. Homeless men and women milled about. I’ve spent time around the homeless shelter in Salt Lake City, and I lived in Cambodia where I witnessed poverty unlike any other place on a daily basis. Yet my heart was overwhelmed as I saw this scene in downtown LA. Tears started to well up in my eyes. Poverty never gets easy to see. And suddenly I realized why I felt like my taking pictures was a little voyeuristic: the outer walls of this area are the inner walls of these peoples’ home. They live here. This is their home. I was a guest. I was an outsider, coming from a charmed life in the racial monolith that is the place I’ve called home for the last several years.
I think it’s important that people do capture images of these scenes and share it. We all share a part in this universe where other people sleep in tents on the sidewalks of LA. I’m not the one to capture those images though. All I can do today is tell you that it’s so easy to isolate ourselves as humans. We have that capacity and we so often do it. When we do, we miss out on what is happening. We miss out on connection. We forget our brothers and sisters in life. Connection is powerful. It can move us and shape us. But isolation can move us to forget and falter.