Driving into downtown

Exu - pomba gira.jpg

Artist J. Michael Walker wrote this for LA Observed after an experience in Downtown last weekend. The artwork is his too.

Driving into Downtown, I float down Los Angeles Street, and now - early Sunday evening, the shops shuttered, an occasional street person the only pedestrian - I have the whole block north of Fifth to myself. Car parked and locked, I stroll up Fifth a couple of blocks and, detouring into the Last Bookstore and snagging a pair of arcane art books (Wenceslaus Hollar: "Delineator of His Time," and "Gothic Panel Painting in Hungary)", I pay with plastic and pop into my destination next door - CB1 Gallery - for the opening of André Goeritz's monumental woodworks and Kiki Seror's ying-yang porn-art photos and videos.

As happens at art openings, you see one friend: you see them all. Conversation with one acquaintance leads to hugs and news with another. Between the bonding, the attention to the art, and the wine, two and a half hours pass and it's time to go home.

As I set back out down Fifth, smokers ring the gallery door; and a small dark woman dressed in red, whom I'd earlier noticed perusing Kiki's adult-website-based photographs with a knowing, sly smile, harangues some long-gone male with a preacher's wrath.
Rounding the corner at Los Angeles, I spy my car, all alone on the trash-strewn street. Setting my art books on the car roof, I reach into my pocket- and fail to find my car key. The more pockets I check (and re-check), the less I find my car key. It's not in the ignition, and of course it's not lying on the asphalt. I could call AAA to dispatch a truck and jimmy my door, but then I would just have an open car and no key; so I retrace my steps to CB1, silently calling out, "Okay, Exú," - Exú, Lord of the Crossroads, the orisha of opening pathways - "Figure this one out for me."

The gallery's now closed: the artists, the faithful, and the owners hover out front, deciding on drinks, dinner or home. I approach Clyde, the director, and ask if someone happened to find a car key: "No one turned anything in," he responds.

I check in at The Last Bookstore next door: "Not that I know of," the first clerk, who had rung up my purchase, answers, "What kind of car was it?"

"Nissan Versa."

"Gail," he calls out to the tall woman in a cool blouse, who had bagged and handed me my purchase, "Anybody turn in a key for a Nissan Versa?"

"Yessss!" comes her cheery reply and Gail hands me my lucky car key. I kiss her hand and ask, "So, where was it, do you know?"

"Right here," and she peers over the counter, to the floor where I had stood.

As I leave the bookstore she adds, "One of our regulars turned it in; a character called Little Bit."

I'm elated: the scenario for getting home by bus on a Sunday night to retrieve the spare key, returning to Los Angeles Street, and purchasing a replacement key for $130, had not looked pleasant.

Stepping outside, the homeless woman dressed in red, now humming contentedly to herself, catches my eye: "Have a blessed evening," I say, full of gratitude and generosity of spirit for this turn of events.

"Excuse me, sir?" she calls after me, and I expect a request for spare change, deciding in a split second, as I turn to meet her gaze, that I will happily offer whatever she asks.

"Do you like Old School Jazz?" comes the unexpected question, "Because I'm going to perform here on June 15th."

Dazed, I reply, "Sure, I'd love to come. Of course," and I notice her twinkling eyes, her widening smile against teak skin. "What's your name?"

"Little Bit."

Little Bit. Of course.

I raise my car key between us. She acknowledges it without the slightest indication of surprise. Then her smile widens, her eyebrow arches, and she leans in low.

"They say," She whispers, "I play guitar just like Eric Clapton."

"Goin' Down to the Crossroads," I think as I walk to my car: Exú.

I know it's a stretch, but tonight, as the key unlocks my door, I'm inclined to believe her....


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