Writing on the Streets of Los Angeles

Writing on the Streets of Los Angeles

11:42 PM

It’s dark outside as I look for street parking. The student housing section of USC is typically packed at this hour and tonight is no exception. I see a sliver of curb and accelerate to get there fast even though there are no other cars on the block. Got it. As I back into the spot I look over my shoulder and see a black car with tinted windows rolling up the street towards me. The headlights are off.

I stop angled halfway into the spot. It’s a Dodge Charger that approaches. The car should drive by, but it stops mere feet from the corner of my rear bumper, like a slicker shadow of my old, dented Saab. 

The driver of the Charger probably assumes I’m leaving and is waiting for my parking spot, but something doesn’t feel right, and I don’t feel great about unlocking my doors and stepping into the night a quarter mile from my apartment.

I drive off and check in the rearview mirror, expecting to see the car taking my spot; instead the black shadow is following me.

More on this in a moment… Fast-forward 8 years to when I started writing Streets of Gold.

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Authors often focus on subjects outside the scope of their daily routine. Andy Weir, for example, didn’t travel to Mars to write The Martian, Khaled Hosseini hadn’t been to Afghanistan since he was too young to remember while writing The Kite Runner, and J.K. Rowling isn’t a wizard (I’m 51% certain). While working on my novel, I had the benefit of living “on set” in Los Angeles.

A good portion of Streets of Gold was typed from inside the same beat-up Saab I drove 8 years earlier. I would set out to different neighborhoods around the city – Inglewood, Compton, Pico-Union, Malibu, Brentwood, Downtown and more – and find a parking spot on any random street.

In order to fully open my laptop, I would recline the seat and raise the steering wheel. Given the angle, I had to crane my neck downward, but the view when I looked up made the discomfort worth it. I got to experience the pulse of Los Angeles.

Each spot was so different. What constituted as a park varied greatly, but finding a couple holding hands or children playing happily remained constant. All areas offered pockets of tranquility, but some came with the soothing sound of the ocean and others the constant buzz of engines. Food everywhere was great, but often inversely related to the price. Each spot offered it's own beauty. 

No matter what time of day, people had places to be. I tried to walk in their shoes. Although it would be impossible to experience a fraction of the resident’s journeys, I chronicled a couple in earlier posts including a trip into a cut and sew shop and another to a payday loan store (with more to come soon).

I’ve also lived through real experiences that an average Midwesterner can’t imagine. Once sitting on my balcony in Silver Lake a police helicopter circled so low, the thump of the spinning blades reverberated through my body. A loudspeaker ordered me inside, where I joined roommates to watch twenty officers with automatic rifles standoff against a team of burglars caught robbing our neighbor’s home. I made eye contact with an armed man hiding behind a car right outside our window.

Streets of Gold is fictional, but people often ask if I resemble any of the characters. I always say “no,” but realized that’s the wrong answer. I couldn’t have written the book, without living as one of the characters for the past 8 years … Not Scooby the 14-year-old gang pledge, nor Tom Milford the billionaire scion, but rather the city itself, which is just as much a living, breathing character as any others. I’ve had the benefit of living/ working/ commuting in Silver Lake, West Hollywood, Brentwood, Santa Monica, South Central, Hermosa Beach, Pico Union and the area described at the beginning of this post: The blocks outside USC. 

That area sparked the idea for the novel 8 years ago. Back to that night ...

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11:45 PM

I’ve made a left, then a right, then a left and the black Dodge Charger is still following me like a shadow. I make one more illogical turn to confirm I’m being stalked like prey.

There are probably people in the passenger seats waiting for a rich USC student to park so they can take the excess cash. Little do they know I’m from the Midwest and financing my education with student loans that would take years to pay back. It’s not the five dollars in my wallet that concerns me; it’s how they would take it.

I hit the gas. Each stop sign they’re still right on my tail.

I press the power button on my phone, hoping there is a little juice left even though it died an hour ago. The screen stays black.

I head towards Vermont Avenue, where there are other cars. The Charger flips on its headlights to avoid getting pulled over, but continues to track me.

A red light hangs half a block ahead. I have to stop, confirm my doors are locked. I can’t see the faces through the dark windshield, but there is more than just the driver. Thankfully, the car’s doors remain closed. Green light.

I jerk the wheel to the left and into oncoming traffic. Tires squeal. My Saab’s turning radius is put to the test, scraping the opposite curb. With much relieve, the U-turn loses the predator at my tail.

Who knows, the people in the Charger may have been kids out causing trouble or they might have been trying to tell me a taillight was out, but regardless when I got back to my apartment and there were no spots, I parked illegally overlapping a red curb and accepted the ticket on my windshield the next morning. 

Learn more about Streets of Gold here.