Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Traveler's Aid"

So I’m waiting on the Red Line subway platform, heading toward Universal City Station from Union Station. It’s late. The crowd of passengers, well, they’re mainly people getting off work. Tired. Hungry maybe. Ready for some quiet time. A good night’s rest. Then, there are the ones who look as if they’ve been out partying or enjoying a night out.
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.

I nod to my left, in the direction of the oncoming train. He thanks me and when the train pulls into the station, we get on. The train pulls off. A little while later, I realize the guy with the big bag didn’t get off the train. We’d passed his stop. I look down the car, and I see him, looking up at one of the Red Line maps that are on the side of the car.

The guy stands out. A target. A potential victim. And it's late. I approach the guy and tell him that he’d passed the stop he’d asked me about. He looks a bit confused and says he can get off at a later stop, the one I am headed to. The train starts off and the guy’s chair rolls backward from the momentum. He tumbles onto the floor of the subway car.

Now, I’m feeling a little guilty. After all, the guy had taken the brakes off his chair when he began talking to me about missing his stop. I bend down to pull the chair off the guy and another passenger who saw the fall lends a hand. Between the two of us, it took a few minutes to untangle the poor man’s legs from his chair to the point to where we can sit him upright. After a little while we get the man back into an upright position. The man is flustered, but not upset. I think I might have been more upset had I been in his place.

By the way, for a couple of seconds during the falling incident – and with the other passenger giving a hand — I think this is a scam of some sort, with the two men working together to get my wallet, which I pat myself  after we get the guy on four wheels again.
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

He’s got my vote.

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.

I don’t want to leave the guy on the street by himself. It was after midnight, for goodness’ sake. I suggest the guy get a taxi, but he’s stubborn. He shows me, on the map, the street where the hostel is supposed to be and he says he won’t need a taxi. It looks like it is several blocks away, too far to go in a wheelchair … with a huge bag on his lap. He tells me it’s OK. He can do it, but I’m like, “No way am I going to let you go off into the night by yourself.” Only I don’t say that to him. I mean it is a fine line I find myself on. The guy is in a wheelchair, not helpless. And I want to help.

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.”

I nod.

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.

Thursday, December 4, 2008



You might as well call it "Crackbook," as addictive as it can be. Lately I've been sitting down in my favorite L.A. coffeehouse/WiFi-equipped jaunts: the Starbucks on the corner of Hollywood and Western; the one on Ventura in Studio City; the Kinko's on Brand Boulevard in Glendale ... and "friending" and friending and friending.

I started out looking up people with whom I'd lost touch with over the years, being a transplant from the East Coast and all.

Damn Facebook! It's getting bad, but I'm getting into it just the same.  

In my attempt to re-connect with folks, I started sending a message:

So whatever happened to Cliff Redding?

I left New York to be a family man, moving to the bucolic Eastern Shore of Virginia, only to have another marriage (to the mother of my youngest daughter, Aryn, who is 18 now) disintegrate. By the time things got really, really bad on the home front, I was working at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. I designed pages, copy-edited and tried to hold onto my sanity.

Fishing helped. It probably saved my life. Croaker. Shark. Eel. Perch. Striped bass. Black bass. Catfish. Sheepshead. Puppy drum. Toadfish. Flounder. The Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean became my friends. I was always on the water, or near it, or in it. I even owned a small boat once.

Two years ago, I moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., to work at the infamous News-Press. Things were OK for me there for a while. I basically kept under the radar by designing pages and copy-editing. After a while, I was promoted to lead A1 designer, then interim copy desk chief.

Then I was cut out of the picture. I was let go. You can “Google” me and learn more about that mess.

After being fired from the Santa Barbara News-Press, I just wanted a job. And I didn't really want to leave California. I'd been freelancing and part-timing my way since my firing. I'd landed a spot at, another at the Santa Barbara Daily Sound and a gig copy-editing Richard Prince's "Journal-isms" with Maynard. Between the three jobs, I was barely able to make rent. And I had no benefits. I knew, however, that if I stuck it out, things would change for me. They would have to.

When I got a call about the possibility of working for the Glendale News-Press, I was not excited about working for a community newspaper ... until I learned that News-Press was owned by the Los Angeles Times. So at the end of February, I took the job — at a salary level that I hadn't seen in years — and was thankful. Then, I got a call from the Los Angeles Daily News in July. I interviewed, took a test, met some folks, sat in on their afternoon news meeting, met some more folks and got offered a job. Though I liked the idea of working for the Los Angeles Times, at this point that's about all it is to me... an idea.

Being in the community news division, is seen by the folks downtown at the main paper — from where I sit — as being in the minor leagues. Think "New York Yankees' triple-A" ball clubs, where the organization goes to get players, if they are lucky, whenever a spot opens up. A lot of the players never get to Yankee Stadium, though, even though the organization is paying them. Get it?

When I accepted the job with the Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader, I figured I had gotten my foot in the door of the main paper, the fabulous Los Angeles Times, and that if something opened up, I would be in place already, ready to slide right into position.

About a couple of months before I left the organization, there was a position open for a night national desk editor. I went for it, sending my resume to the appropriate people as soon as I saw that there was an opening. I thought for sure I would get a phone call and an interview. I mean, have you checked out a brother's resume lately? Really. So anyway, I get this e-mail from downtown saying that although I have some strong experience, the position would have to be filled "from within."

I was completely tripped out. I thought I WAS "from within."

I had an employee ID card that said Los Angeles Times on it. I had access to the offices downtown in addition to the one I worked from in Glendale. I learned about the job I was interested in via an in-house job board. When I logged onto the system each day, I saw the list of all the Tribune papers on one of my start-up screens. My e-mail address was and, most important, my paycheck said Los Angeles Times on it.

So I'm scratching my head in bewilderment. I make a phone call to one of the people I'd sent my resume to, the one who wrote the words "from within." I wanted some clarification. Something just did not add up. When I get the guy on the line and engaged in conversation, he basically reiterates the fact that my working for the community news division was not considered REALLY working for the Los Angeles Times.

I was too through!

I realized that the money I was making at the News-Press was not Los Angeles Times money, and that was OK. I felt I just had to wait until I could get my shot. I realized that the stories I was editing were not Los Angeles Times stories, but instead community-based stories about council meetings and kids in school and local businesses going under and police reports.

Community news, and that was OK. I felt I just had to wait until I could get my shot. In the meantime, I'd learn all I could about how to run a community paper. I was even OK — for the most point — with people on my team constantly trying to one-up me after they’d learned that I'd worked at some serious newspapers back East. It was almost like the gunslinger who isn't about killing folks anymore, but he's more about enjoying life in a small town, doing something mundane, but some folks want to try him — because of his reputation. "Yes, there is a difference between 'convince' and 'persuade.'" "We can NOT say, 'Police arrested a 24-year-old man for drunken driving.'" "There shouldn't be a hyphen in 'nonmember.'" And one of my favorites: "I think we should change the headline to read, 'Glendale woman is strangled' instead of 'Glendale woman is strangled to death.'"

I have a relatively high tolerance for bullshit. After all, I spent four years in the military ... practicing to go to war during peacetime. So, working at the News-Press and Burbank Leader, which are inserts for Times subscribers who live in Glendale or Burbank (the papers are free on the street), wasn't something I would call negative. A brother had gotten thrown off the bus in Santa Barbara and he needed a job. He just wanted to work ... in the business.

But when I was told that I would not be considered for the national desk job because I worked at the Glendale News-Press, I was done. DONE. And it was just a matter of time ... Thank God I work for Maynard as a "consultant" or "independent contractor." And thank GOD I've started writing again. Maybe I can FINALLY get my book done. And thank GOD I've got my bicycle and my fishing gear.  A brother has to stay sane. Can you say "set it off"?

So I started at the Daily News on Monday, Aug. 4. My last day of work in Glendale was July 30. The staff was down, the editor was on maternity leave and I didn't want to leave the team in a lurch, so I offered to finish out the month.

So I'm in debt, older than 50 and starting over again. But I feel good, anyway. I’ve been blessed. I’ve got my health. I’ve got a job … in the business. 

And I’m in California. Sunny California.

There it is.