After John

I spent part of Sunday afternoon down in Watts (more on that soon, I hope). Coming home via the Blue Line to the Red Line, I left the subway at Wilshire and Vermont and started walking north. It was a beautiful day, not quite the wind-scrubbed blue of Saturday, but a wide open sky. I tried catching up on phone calls on the walk north, and I was still talking with a friend when I saw a cluster of people gathered around a storefront on 3rd. Not really pausing my conversation, I stepped out off the curb and into the street for a second to get to the other side. I didn't really stop long enough to look at anything; I didn't really want to, to be honest. I hung up the phone a couple of minutes later when I stepped into Mariela's - waited for my food for a half hour, walked home, futzed around the house for a couple more hours, never giving that cluster of people I saw on the curb a second thought.

Fast forward to today. I was picking through the interwebs today. An old high school classmate had posted a news story about a homeless man being burned on his news feed. I glanced at the title, but didn't much feel like reading about it. Terrible things happen in the world, I guess I thought, and what's it going to do for me to read one more story about it? A little later on, I was scrolling through LA Metblogs and found Will Campbell's story: "His Name was John McGraham". The LA Times piece is (via Will) is here.

Briefly, John had been living near the intersection of Berendo and 3rd for more than a decade. The LA Times described his as Buddha-like, a fixture on the street and in peoples' lives. A little after 9 pm on Thursday night, someone pulled into the parking lot, doused him in gasoline, and lit a match. Then they drove off. As it stands right now, there are no leads.

Will's piece is one of the most humane and compassionate things I've read in a long long time, and I can't really follow that, nor should I. But the story really hit home when I realized that I live just around the corner. Kirsten and I are settling in here: We walk to the Jons on 3rd, take the subway at Vermont and Beverly, talked to the guy at the wine store today about the bowling alley at 4th and Vermont. The neighborhood is really beginning to feel like a home. Hearing about John doesn't make the neighborhood seem any less of a home, nor does it make me worry (in some selfish way) for our safety. But my attitude on Sunday, of walking by the makeshift memorial, not giving a glance to what was written... thinking back now to Thursday night, I think I can remember hearing an ambulance tear down Kenmore, heading south to 3rd. It would have been just after I returned from my ride home. I was in a fuss over nearly being hit; the siren went by without a second thought.

One of the things that Kirsten has talked about is how difficult it can be to learn to live in a city. A couple of weeks back, we exited the 10 at Western about 11:30 pm. A man was waiting at the red light washing people's windshields while they waited, hoping for a dollar. I didn't ask for him to wash my window, but he did. I didn't have a dollar to give him, so I sped off. I've written in the past about being vulnerable, about ways in which biking can change how we live in the city.

This is a great neighborhood. It has a kind of humanity, a vibrancy to it, that's incredibly energizing. And I like to laugh and crow about living here - living out in Koreatown, is how I put it to people on the Westside - as though it's an adventure. I guess I'm still trying to negotiate what it means to live here, what I owe to my neighbors and my neighborhood as people and not as some kind of ethnic backdrop.


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