by Dan Johnson
It’s fall in Los Angeles. The mercury still hovers mid eighties. The sun is brutal. The outfits in the fashion district are all swamp-ass accommodating.
Nevertheless, there was a brief chill last week. The shadows are lengthening. Halloween plans are being laid out as we speak. The words “pumpkin spice” blurt out inadvertently.
It’s the subtle changes. You come to appreciate that. Fall is here and with it a certain scholastic nostalgia for simpler times, more studious times before intense profit seeking and careerist posturing wracked my soul with tremors of existential doubt.
I found myself yearning for that “college feel” this week. So I slipped down the Expo Line to a campus I like to stroll through from time to time to remind myself of those joyful days I spent in the tutelage of the ivory tower.
Since 1925, the Los Angeles Trade Tech College has offered vocational degree programs in a number of practical pursuits from cosmetology and welding to automotive technology and nursing.
As the institution approaches a century of educational excellence in Downtown Los Angeles, the greatest testament to its relevance, besides scores of successful alumni, is its status as the lone college to be serviced by two metro rail lines. Both the Expo Line and the Blue Line flank the lush campus south of Washington.
Here young minds gather from across the Southland to be shaped for an unknown future made all the less unpredictable and brutal with a certification in one industrial art or another.
Upon stepping through those hallowed gates, I am impressed with a certain energy. The campus is a mix of modern multi-story lecture hall buildings and squat outlying structures. Vast tents cast cooling shadows across the wide and verdant green spaces between pathways.
Somewhere ahead of me, a student yells, “Erika! Give me my fucking shit, bitch, before I press charges!” He trots towards the main gate in pursuit of a hard-charging female booking it off campus. His steps elongate as his hand slips down to secure the waist band on his sagging shorts. Other students chase after him. I get the distinct impression from their attempts to hide behind an empty sheriff’s car that they are mere voyeurs not good Samaritans.
Across the quad, a gaggle of staff members grins and looks on, trading stories about the couple who have apparently been bickering for a while. They laugh when four security officers corner the man and the woman in off-road security gators. “Damn,” they say, “I thought that would never end.”
I venture on past the “Bridges to Success Center” commons and an ad hoc weenie stand. On the northern limit of the campus across from Business Sciences building I find the proud home of the Culinary Arts department and their vaunted cafeteria.
Just spitting distance from a Superior Court and the Blue Line station at Grand, the cafeteria serves old standards like pizza, sandwiches and breakfast alongside daily specials. Monday through Thursday, 7:30 to 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the linoleum squeaks as tables fill with content diners pouring over textbooks or coping with the reality of working a bureaucratic court job for thirty years before retiring to Lake Castaic.
I dive into the milieu headlong. It is the first day of school again. What clique will I fit in best with? The greasy-smocked car jockeys? The Magic the Gathering coven working their manna’d mysticism by the door? The man in the Muslim prayer cap dutifully reading the Koran?
The world is my oyster. I feel my choice of lunch item will be crucial in securing an invitation to sit at one of few empty seats through the cafeteria. I parade down the line of hot food items and eventually settle on veggie lasagna, spicy eggplant and collard greens because the woman behind that counter smiles at me and those foods look better than the stuffed peppers and potato croquets.
How much does this heaping plate of house made delicacies run me? Seven dollars and thirty cents. Hot damn!
I emerge into the fluorescent light illuminated expanse of circular tables. Here I am LATTC—love me or leave me!
These fuckers opt to leave me. No one even returns my pleading gaze as it segues from optimism to desperation.
So, in a repeat of first days of school past, I dine alone outside. I pretend to swat at a marauding fly so others within eye shot won’t be able to tell I am wiping tears away from my eyes.
Amidst all of this, I am delighted to discover that the food is incredibly scrumptious. The spicy eggplant has a delectable texture with notes of ginger, cayenne and lemon. The greens have a stocky, down home taste that invigorates my palette. Nary have I tasted such a delicious veggie lasagna, oozing as it is with various cheeses, ridged pasta and a medley of vegetables.
Things are going to be OK for me. I’d figure it out. Make a friend or two. Go on with my life. Make something of myself.
On my way home, I happen to gaze down at a string of curious words imprinted in the Blue Line station cement. “Better to ask questions than to know all the answers.”
On top of my meal, I get a little food for thought, which was especially welcome eight or so minutes after arriving home again when I experience a noteworthy gastrointestinal defugalty. For those who haven’t studied the language arts, that means I shit myself.
This wasn’t an impromptu boxer-brief filler. I have ample enough warning to heal-toe myself to a safe space where my colon is triggered in an onrush of undigested waste product.
Firstly, I’m shocked in the months that I’ve spent writing my weekly 8.72 report that it took me less time to get my credit card stolen by a vendor than it took to suffer a full bowel evacuation. That’s a testament to our life and times.
Secondly, it couldn’t have happened at a more opportune point in my week. I skipped dinner the night before and awoke with a growling stomach. My hunger was briefly sated with a banana and a half cup of Uncle Sam, a tasteless but fiber-rich grain assemblage I augment with Trader Joe’s “Almond Beverage.” These are fairly conservative food items that have never burned me before.
It is then with a heavy heart that I feel qualified to say that something in today’s lunch felt the need to see the light of day and was willing to travel around a few dimly lit internal hairpin curves at a high rate of speed to bask in the rays of the sun again.
I award the LATTC cafeteria a “1” on the binary. The food was fantastic and of a great value. That it made me poop uncontrollably is no concern of mine. People pay good money for that in Beverly Hills. I also award myself the honorary certificate “Doctor of Bowel Studies” to be conferred upon me at the forthcoming June graduation ceremonies at LATTC where some girl be stealing.