Downtown in 600 Words

by Richard McDowell

The alley on Fifth, between Spring and Main, still smells of urine, I thought to myself as I walked past the other day. That is, on the south side of the street. How strange. It was some years ago that I formulated a plan, had an idea, and told myself that, as a gauge, when the allure of this pungent smell was gone, when this scent was cleansed from the corridor of humanity passing to and fro as you transition from skid row, when it was erased from the passageway (while that which is real was replaced with translucent, Walt Disney-like caricatures, like life itself), the absence of this stench would mark the epoch of revitalization, the beginning of the end, and Downtown was finished. Anyway, I hope some day it is officially designated the Nickel, as this stretch of road is sometimes called. From it, I make my way to the woman sitting here at the La Café. She is wearing a pair of dark blue shoes, and at the right angle its surface mirrors (replicates) a small part of this street, the beauty of cornices above, marble columns distorted like the dream of arriving downtown just in time. And it’s just a floating microcosm that makes up inner city living. Wouldn’t you agree? The Flower Market, The Jewelry District, toy stores, old banks line the boulevard, and I walk almost everywhere. I will never own a car, or maybe as a collector’s item. As part of my collection, it would do more to help infer who I am, who we all are, and when you drive past look for me…in Chinatown, or sometimes completing an installation near MOCA, or taking in an opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I ate sushi last night in Lil’ Tokyo, but the Arts District seems like the place to be. While buying art supplies I can contemplate the skyline, and the Cecil Hotel is sometimes just down the street. The Biltmore will never be what the Baltimore was. While I stare at it, and take in a drink at the King Eddy Saloon. You can sometimes find me here, or in St. Vincent’s Court talking to a friend. Someday, I hope we get it right, and Spring and Main are turned into one large park…just a solitary footpath with lots of trees and gardens that leave a little less of an imprint. Give back Broadway its trolley car, and help reopen some of the greatest movie theaters in the world, but leave it as it is. Can you tell me how to get to that little deli again? Why do they give parking tickets to Federal Express, UPS, and the Postal Service. How many sweatshops are left? Standing here, I look my best, and something smells good, I thought to myself. And stepping out into the street, and crossed as fast as the Craby Joe’s was gone, and I wish would have gone there, but most will say we’re making progress, slowly moving forward. I can still remember when Bert Green’s art gallery was an ailing hat store, and from another time, but considered by many to be the best in LA. The Fashion District is not so far away, and I sometimes wish Bunker Hill had remained unchanged. Who remembers the name of the Banquette three owners ago, and before Pete’s Café? Whose name is etched in the concrete? Whose legend will rise above? Who was the first to suggest Downtown needs to change? Before my memory fades, Downtown was a backdrop. Who ever loved a homeless man as much as I have, yet can’t imagine digging through the trash, except when I drop something into it that I deem to have value, yet but which is probably worth less than a bag of cans.

Originally appeared in dtlax Magazine Fall 2009; reprinted with permission.