Robert Pacheco Photography

Downtown L.A. Who Needs It?

page 2

On Hill Street, a staggering, rumpled, tooth-less old man is
stopped by two policemen. One of the policemen says, "How
far do you have to go? Where do you live?" The old man looking
down at the policeman's shoes slurs, "Just down 2nd Street, sir."
The policemen exchange a glance. Then one of them says, "You
be sure to go right home. OK?" The old man, still looking at the
policeman's shoes, replies, "Yes sir." He then staggers off down
Hill toward 2nd. On the street and out of jail.

A woman sits at a small table at the
edge of the sidewalk on Broadway. For $1.25 she will imprint
your name and Social Security number onto a metal card. She
simply punches some keys on a typewriter like machine, pulls a
lever, and your name and Social Security number are embedded
for life. From where she sits she sees all of the people."The
people downtown are very warm and friendly. Some of them can
be frowning with a long face and looking very mean. But if you
smile and talk to them, their faces will brighten. They will talk back
to you. Everyone thinks the next person is mean, but he's not."

She's a grandmother, wearing a blue and white
flowered house dress. A white knit shawl is draped over her large
rounded shoulders,and on her broad lap rests a Bible. When she
speaks she looks straight into your eyes. "I've been preachin' the
gospel since a week ago last Friday. I was lying in bed, and the
Lord spoke to me. He told me to go out and be a preacher."
Sitting atop a large old wooden packing crate on Broadway,
her feet hang five or six inches above the sidewalk. As people
walk past her she offers them a religious tract titled, "Are You
Working For WAGES? The wages of sin is death. Or Would You
Rather Have A Free GIFT? The gift of God is eternal life."

"God bless you," she says when people accept her tract. "God
bless you, God bless you, God bless you." A man in the crowd
says, "I don't deserve it." The woman's forehead wrinkles. She
shows special concern. "What's that you say?" Their eyes meet as
the man speaks again. "I don't deserve God's blessings." Motherly
the woman says, "Of course you do, you're a child of God."

"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna," says a young man with a smooth
shaven head, wearing a long peach colored sari that touches the
tops of his bare rubber thonged feet. A string of bells, tied around
one of his ankles, jingles and jangles as he walks. A member
of the Krishna Consciousness religious sect, he is handing out
long sticks of orange blossom incense, and cards with the words
of the Hare Krishna mantra written on them.

"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare,"
chanting of the mantra is the recommended process for God
realization and should generally make you feel good, "Hare Rama,
Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
"Hare Krishna," the young man says, as he
offers passing people a stick of incense and one of his
cards. "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna."

The grandmother who is offering God's blessings,
sees and hears the young man. Quickly her eyes are squeezed
tightly shut, her face becomes strained, as she goes into a rapid
running together of words.

"The blood of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, you
nasty filth, get that devil out of here, get that devil out of here,
you nasty filth, get that devil out of here, you rotten human
you, you lying one, you're a liar, you're a liar, you're a liar."

Suddenly she pauses, her eyes open, and a smile comes
to her face."God bless you," she says, as she returns to passing
out her tract. "God bless you, God bless you, God bless you."

"Hare Krishna," a gentle voice in the background says, "Hare
Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna."
A young man with shoulder length hair approaches, wearing a pair
of faded blue Levi's, and a faded blue Levi jacket. Selling a
communist newspaper, he says, "Let's put down the bosses and
have heaven on earth. What's wrong with that?"

"Downtown, it scares me, it's so crowded. The people remind me
of a bunch of little ants, all lined up and moving," says a young
woman, who tries never to go downtown. A younger woman, with
a similar phobia says, "I tell you whenever I go down there, I feel
like I'm being strangled. The crowds of people and the dirt!"

A man who before World War Two would frequently go downtown
recalls, "Downtown used to remind you of being in a city, only it
wasn't as crowded and dirty as it is today. The buildings were not
so tall, sunlight used to be able to reach the street. The air was
clean. It was a nice place to be."

On Broadway, a friendly newspaper vendor mentions an article
about plans for bringing people back downtown, and the
reconstruction of the whole central city by 1990, that appeared in
the morning Times. He says "There's enough people down here
already. I'm glad I won't live to see it! But, I would like to see
them rebuild for those of us who have been here all of these
Walking down Broadway is a slight built woman, with short
blond frizzy hair. At first she appears to be in her early twenties,
but at second look, her appearance is that of a woman of
around 40. Her faded blue jeans are rolled up above her ankles,
her white t-shirt has a small hole in the left shoulder, and her
much walked in dirty white tennis shoes are worn with no socks.
She walks slowly and deliberately, dragging her right foot
slightly behind on the sidewalk. A deep frown causes her face to

Approaching the friendly newspaper vendor, she shyly says,
"Do you know how far it is to the Goodwill?" The newsman
instinctively extends a hand to help her, but then holds back,
smiles and replies,"About three or four blocks" "Thank you,"she
says, and slowly walks away, among the many other people on
the sidewalk.

A short time later the same slightly built figure of a woman is
walking up Broadway, now on a pair of crutches. Moving much
faster now. Her face is relaxed, and she appears young rather
than old. She stops near the same friendly newspaper vendor,
while waiting for the traffic light to change. The newsman asks her,
"Do you read the paper?" Timidly she shrugs and answers, "Yes."

The newsman then gives her a copy of the morning paper.
Working together, they devise a way to wrap the paper around
and through one of the crutches, so it can be easily carried.
The woman says, "Thanks." The newsman replies, "It's OK, I've
got three or four extra."

Just then, the traffic light changes to "walk," and she begins
moving across the street. Before she reaches the opposite side,
her figure is lost within the crowd coming and going downtown.


images & text © robert pacheco 
Photos are watermarked. Not to be stored, used, reproduced or altered
without permission.