At the previous stop, holding that shiny foil bag of chips in your hand and crunching away, the whole thing seemed like a movie. Only now the chips are long gone, you're hungry again, and the movie is over.
A tall white steel-spike fence surrounds the bus station and its parking lot. A single booth guards the only car entrance. Pretty serious security for a bus station. Maybe they really do bring prisoners through here.
The people around you have puffy and haggard faces. A few rub red traces of pillow lines from their foreheads and exhale uneven bursts of fog into the chilly night air. What time is it? You're confused and groggy.
The parking lot lights overhead throw your yellow reflection onto the bus station windows. Your hair is a ruffled mess, and your clothes are deeply creased from hours of sitting and sleeping in them. You look like a tired kid carrying a bag.
You look past your reflection, through the window into the waiting room. A large white clock on the wall reads 2:42. The middle of the night. What a time to pull into a city you don't know. You should have thought about the arrival time when you were buying your ticket.
Turning around, you look beyond the straight white spikes of the metal fence for the first time. The streets are filthy. No lights shine from the windows of the creepy, deserted two and three story buildings. Everything looks black and sooty, like the deserted city in a post-nuclear war comic book or movie. The bus station is an oasis of light and activity in a dark wasteland. They don't show this block on the post-cards for Hollywood.
Now what? This is your big dramatic scene. You're in Hollywood with a bag over your shoulder and not a dime in your pocket. Only you didn't count on it being this late at night, or on your being exhausted, or it being this cold, or your not knowing which way to walk once you leave the bus station.
What do you know about Hollywood? Well ? that movie theater ... the famous tourist attraction where old movie stars put their footprints in the cement. They play Chinese movies there now, you heard. Why not go there? It's as good a place as any. And they must have people and guards there even at this time of night. Hollywood never sleeps! Does it?
A half-dozen skyscrapers shoot up from the flat desert plain far off to your left. You guess it's the downtown business part of Los Angeles. Might as well ask the guard to point you in the right direction and start walking.
You stand at the doorway of a small white guard booth as eight cars pass. The guard, with his big belly resting on his thighs halfway out to his knees, doesn't really do anything to the cars as they pass. He doesn't give them a parking permit. He doesn't even push a button to open a gate. The gate stays open. He hardly even looks at them. He sits there in his folding chair listening to short unintelligible bursts of radio static on his walkie-talkie. He's a pregnant man with a graying mustache and a blue uniform sitting in a big white outhouse. He sees you, and you keep thinking that he's going to acknowledge your existence, especially when the cars are gone and he's got absolutely nothing to do; but he won't pay attention to you. It's infuriating. This is not the funny, nutty Hollywood you imagined. These people suck.
"Excuse me," you say, politely but loudly.
He looks over at you, and rudely rolls his eyes, "Yeees."
He must see dozens of kids every day with bags over their shoulders, running away to Hollywood to be famous or something like that. He can't tell that you're different. He can't tell that you're running from something, not to something. But you don't need him to understand you. He couldn't anyway. His brain stopped learning at 14 as soon as he figured out how to pop open a beer can. You just need him to tell you which way the Chinese Theater is. Unfortunately, he can see the annoyance in your eyes, and he's already smiling, because no matter what happens, he knows he's going to win.
"Which way is the Chinese Theater?" you ask. Forget how far it is. Forget what's the fastest way to get there. Just point me in the right direction, you moron.
And that's all he does. He grins and points left, down the street in the direction of the tall buildings.
Screw him. You heft your bag up over your shoulder and walk. In the distance, you can hear the hiss of a walkie-talkie and the guard laughing with his buddies on the other end.
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