And then there’s me. I suppose I look a little like I fit somewhere between the two groups.
This guy approaches me. He’s in a wheelchair and he’s got a huge, blue bag on his lap. He rolls toward me and asks, “Which side to Westlake?” At least that’s what I thought he said, since he has a bit of an accent. I can't make out where he's from, given the accent.
My wallet is where it's supposed to be.
During the short ride to Universal City, I learn that the guy in the wheelchair is visiting the United States from Germany, some village near Hamburg. He tells me that his girlfriend couldn’t make the trip because of obligations at her job, so he decided to travel alone.
I am impressed. He later told me that he didn’t know anyone in Los Angeles and that he traveled all the time. I’m thinking, “Wow!” I’m nervous just exploring the next town over … during daylight hours even. And this guy is in a big city, in a wheelchair … alone. In the dead of night
We get off at our stop and I show him where the elevator is so that he can get to the street level. He tells me he’s going to a hostel, the Banana Bungalow. I’d never heard of the place, but then I’m relatively new to L.A. and I’ve never heard of a lot of places. I ask him if he knows where the place is and he pulls out a map. Real touristlike. I’m tripping because I lived in New York City for about 13 years, and I NEVER pulled out a map and looked at it as I’m on the street — especially after I’d first gotten there. I didn’t want to look like a tourist.
And this guy pulls out a map, and one of those travel guides. Like there is nothing to it. The guide he pulls out must have been outdated, because the phone number he gave me out of it was no longer working.
So I tell the guy to wait, and I phone a taxi service.
After several minutes of a back-and-forth with the dispatcher about where we want to go, where we are, what my phone number is, my name and the fact that the address of the building I am looking at is not coming up in the company’s database — I persuade the dispatcher to send a taxi to where we are, near Universal City, across the street from the Metro station.
Mercy! The guy in the wheelchair was easier to communicate with. And he was German, with a thick accent.
“OK, OK,” the dispatcher, says. “We’ll send you a cab. It’ll be like, five to 20 minutes.”
“Thank you,” I tell the guy on the other end and hang up.
Turns out the hostel the traveler wants to go to is a few miles from where we were standing. We’d gotten off the last Red Line train for the night and the buses were sporadic at best at that hour.
I update the traveler and he seems relieved. He pulls out a package of tobacco, and some rolling papers, and proceeds to roll a cigarette. I smile. He nods as if to offer me one and I shake my head. This dude is something else, I’m thinking. Here we are, out West and he does a roll-your-own-straight-out-of-a-movie move on me with the cigarette.
He takes a drag and we talk. I find out that he likes to travel. A lot. I learn that he’d missed his intended flight and got on the next one, which put him at LAX hours later than he’d originally planned. He told me that he had a hard time trying to get a bus from the airport to downtown, despite what he’d read about in his travel guide. We talk about 9/11, President-elect Obama, the Euro. In short, he's a pretty cool guy.
I tell him a little about myself.
I see the taxi pull up. On the opposite side of the street … so I motion the driver to cross. I point to the traveler.
After the driver maneuvers the car, I tell him where the traveler wants to go. The driver looks at the guy, and back at me.
“I’m not going,” I say to the driver, and he nods and the two men proceed to maneuver the traveler from the wheelchair into the front passenger seat of the taxicab. I hold the chair steady.
After the traveler pulls his legs in place and closes the door, we watch as the driver proceeds to put the chair into the trunk. Then we shake hands.
“What’s your name, anyway?” I ask the traveler, handing him one of my business cards to him to show that I am legit.
“Nice to meet you, Martin. You have a safe trip and enjoy your stay in Los Angeles.”
“Thanks. I will. And thank you for all your help, Cliff.”
Then I watch as the taxicab driver folds Martin’s chair, puts it into the trunk, gets into the car and pulls off into the darkness, heading toward Hollywood.