A random encounter…

28 04 2010

It only lasted a couple blocks, but it left me thinking.

His name was John, and he was stranded. My roommate and I were approached by this young man when he literally ran up to us outside of campus as we made out way to the Coffee Bean. Upon reaching us, he said, “Hey, can I have twenty bucks?” He then laughed and shook his head. He then asked if we knew of any way he could make some money fast. Needless to say, I was immediately uncomfortable. He looked young enough, no older than the two of us, and he carried nothing with him. When we explained we did not know of a way to acquire cash quickly, he proceeded to walk with us on our journey. The two of us stiffened, but continued on our way.

John introduced himself and asked us our own names, then continued to explain his current situation.

“I’m from San Diego,” he said, gesturing to the city before him. “This isn’t me.”

John told us he was looking for a way to get back to San Diego, for he had been left at the Bristol Farms for the day with strict instructions that the bus would arrive to pick him up at 8.30 pm. At this point we were curious, so we inquired as to how this came to be. Amidst much profanity and obvious bitterness, John explained that he had been employed to sell magazines in the area, door to door in cities and neighborhoods he had never heard of before. He then looked at us and asked if he was safe here, or if he would “get shot.” We assured him the area was very safe, especially during the day, and then asked him what his next move would be in this predicament. He clearly carried no clothes or bags of any kind, though he did mention a hotel room, though he couldn’t tell us where it was.

John told us he hadn’t sold enough magazines to satisfy “them,” so he was sent to the back of the bus, a sort of punishment it seemed. He told us about his spiel, and how no one wanted to leave the door open long enough to listen to him. In one particularly shady neighborhood, one man had even pulled a gun on him. “Fuck that,” he spewed. “I’m ex-Navy, I don’t need that.” At this time he decided it was time to quit and go home. John was told if he quit he would not be provided with a ride back home.

At this point, we had reached a crossroads and I mumbled that we had some work to do at the Coffee Bean, so we would have to part ways. Earlier I had mentioned something about the airport, and he asked how he could find LAX. When we pointed the way, he thanked us and continued on down Lincoln. That was all we saw of John, ex-military 20 year old from San Diego.

As we made our way across the street, I turned to watch John go. “Whew,” I muttered. “I thought he was going to rape us.” My roommate said she felt really bad for him, he was just a lost kid trying to get home. Later, we talked about the sort of agencies that employ younger kids (usually in their mid-late teens) to sell magazines, just as John had done. They offer them large prizes, $5,000 and a trip to anywhere they want, but only if they manage to sell the most magazines. Lisa explained how they pay these kids little to nothing for the work they do, dropping them off unsupervised in random neighborhoods. John didn’t even know where he was in Los Angeles until we pointed him toward the airport.

After we talked, I felt bad for judging John. Lisa was right, he was just a bored, lonely kid trying to get home and looking for people to talk to. I don’t know where he ended up, if he even got back on the bus at Bristol Farms, but I hope he made it home safely.

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