Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday

I decided to join the Friday night team this week, especially since we hadn't stayed out as late on Thanksgiving, getting home around midnight instead of 3am. The streets were filled with many more cars, people, and noise than they had been the previous night. I escaped the cold air as I met the team in the warmth of Del Taco. They sat catching up with each other as well as our friend 'Ravi' as he ate the meal they provided to him. The night had a slow start as Michelle was interviewing Nick for a journalism class assignment, and we waited for everyone to arrive and set out. A few people took off to begin their night of meeting people at all of the usual places, and Francisco and I decided to go to 7-11 for coffee and energy drinks in the meantime.

As we arrived, there was a bit of commotion, as a guy bolted inside as the words, "there he is!" followed behind him from another guy. Figuring it was the usual ruckus, we continued on inside to get our drinks. As I stood by the coffee machine, Will ducked behind it and the snack rack on the other side, hoping to escape whoever was chasing him. It appeared that he was talking to people at the door, or just outside of it, and kept saying, "call the cops...can you call the cops? This guy's chasing me...I don't want to go out there." From the tone of his voice, it didn't sound anxious or overly dangerous, but that he was frustrated, a little angry, and slightly worried. Glancing at him, I recognized the 20-some year old black man, his tear drop-tattooed face and sleeves of tattoos. I had talked to him several times before, but in his state of worry, he didn't acknowledge me and it wasn't really the time to bring up recognition. But after saying he wanted someone to call the cops multiple times, I stepped aside from the coffee and asked if he wanted me to call the cops. He responded that we could, but what he really needed was a ride, that he needed to get away from the threat outside. After a few minutes of talking to him and debating in my mind what to do - since we didn't know the full story and weren't sure if there would be any threat to us if we involved ourselves in the situation - we ended up calling Jean-Eric to come pick him up with us. Because I knew him, and based on the sound of situation, it seemed that he was in more danger than anyone else involved, and if we could help him without being confronted by whoever was chasing him, we would be fine.

As we stood outside in the protection of the local security officers, Will told us bits and pieces of what had happened - jumped, bike stolen, couldn't run because of a hurt leg, framed and chased after...his anxiousness to just get out of the area because he didn't do anything and didn't want any trouble. We made sure that he didn't have any drugs or weapons on him before planning to give him a ride, and then the guys showed up in the 7-11 parking lot, going off again. One of them held his friend back as he yelled and tried to go after Will. The cops tried to get us all to leave until we explained that we were giving him a ride. I think it helped that a few of them were officers we had talked to last night and given Thanksgiving meals to.

Will needed to get to a train station to get home to Long Beach, but wouldn't be able to walk to one fast enough. As the cops got the guys to leave and head the other direction, we hid behind the wall of 7-11 as we waited for Jean-Eric to show up. He went on in his anger to tell more of the story, anxiously looking up and down the streets, saying he didn't know where they might show up and that he just wanted to leave without any trouble. That's when he also acknowledged that we'd met and knew each other and asked if I remembered him. He also asked about where we were from and if we were affiliated with a church, knowing what we were out there doing. When Jean-Eric showed up, we piled into the car and headed to the train station, Will continuing in his story of what happened, explaining why he was there, how he'd been homeless for a few months in Hollywood when we met him, now living in Long Beach but up here to visit friends. And from what he could tell the guys thought he was dealing drugs on their turf, even though he doesn't deal. He thanked us for the ride when we got to the train station and sent us off with a "God Bless you", and we headed back to Del Taco.

As we headed in, we ran into our friend "Cassandra" and a guy that he was with. He sat down with us, and we quickly entered into conversation about the latest gossip, as he always likes to share in his incredibly flamboyant and charismatic way. Turns out the previous night a man had been killed on one of the local bus lines, and a recent murder of a transsexual had also occurred. Apparently there's a truck that's begun being recognized with people who are out to get transgenders, or at least that's what we got from Cassandra's story, as he had had a recent encounter with the guys. The conversation quickly transitioned into religious topics as the guy he was with asked us if we were Christians. I don't think I've actually seen any boyfriends or dates of the transgenders that we talk to. It was slightly odd, and yet not all that strange at the same time, to sit with a gay couple, one looking and acting the part of the female. I guess at this point very little surprises me. But I always wonder about the people who date transgender prostitutes, and this guy was completely normal, and very engaging in our conversation. A Mexican male, dressed "like a gang banger" as he explained it, but let us know he'd never done the gang thing and didn't really understand it. He believed that Christianity was the only true religion, and knew that his sexual preference conflicted with the bible, and didn't feel right about following a religion or going to church while knowing he was acting against it. That topic led to a long, very interesting and productive conversation about the bible, God, homosexuality and sin in general, and forgiveness. Both Cassandra and Silent, as he goes by, both believe Christianity and know quite a bit about the bible, which made for an intelligent dialect. I would say maybe one of the best conversations I've had there, because 4 of us were talking to them, able to debate and discuss, but never in a confrontational, condemning, or angry way. It was completely calm with even exchange on both ends.

Silent expressed that he really enjoyed the conversation, finding these types rare, because people don't want to take the time to listen or talk about these things. And when Jean-Eric shared one of his struggles he'd dealt with since he was young, Cassandra expressed how appreciative he was that he was willing to share something like that and be real about it and asked the rest of us about our struggles, too. Clearly, it's important for us to be able to relate to people when we talk, not from a pedastal. And likewise, Cassandra told us some darker details from his childhood and some fears he'd recently had realized.

As the conversation rounded back to lighter topics, it struck me yet again how odd the situations we end up in probably appear to people. 4 young women and men - Mexican, Lebanese, Korean and American - sitting in a Del Taco in Hollywood, engaging in a deep conversation where the words "God" and "Bible" can clearly be overheard coming from a 35 year-old Mexican man and his transgender boyfriend. Laughter is interspersed through the conversation that anyone inside can hear, and then we continue talking with Silent as Cassandra stands behind me braiding my hair. From the outside it must be an odd scene...but it strikes me that even the people we don't talk to are seeing something different going on and probably notice what's happening. Hopefully there's a silent witness just from our presence and interaction with those that people on the street know well. In fact, some of the friends we've made out there have said that they saw us all the time, watched what we did and who we talked to before they ever talked to us. They knew who we were and what we were doing, even when they'd never talked to any of us, maybe had even avoided it. It's encouraging to me to think that maybe even when we're not talking to everyone there, that we're building trust with them just by being there every week and accepting 'their people', and that eventually that trust might lead to more relationships.

1 comment:

Michelle S. Kim said...

You seriously have a gift, Holly. I aspire to me as attentive, present and able to convey experiences as you do =)