So I had an entire day to spend in L.A. After all, I was already going there to do a lecture at the Los Angeles Public Library for Teen Read Week; but the event wasn’t until 2pm. So what could I do to kill some time until then? What could I do to soak up some “local color?” Then someone suggested I check out Olvera St. and the Grand Central Market in downtown L.A. I said, “Cool!” I’ve never been there, and it’s always good to try something new every now and then. So the plan was set. I would go to the Grand Central Market and Olvera St., and then leave at around 1 o’ clock with plenty of time to make it to the library event. Simple, right? Wrong! I never thought when I woke up that morning that I would find myself in the Bermuda Triangle—and not make it back out.
That day started off fine. We—my mom and I—decided to head off as early as possible so we could beat the traffic. We got on the freeway at about 9:30am and arrived in L.A. at 10am. The first thing that came to mind was how outrageous the parking rates were. $5.00 for parking!? $6.50!? Were they nuts? And it seemed that the price just kept getting higher and higher the deeper we went. We kept asking people on the street, “Where is there free parking? Where can you park for the market?” And they just mumbled a few incoherent remarks and threw a few gestures in aimless directions. Yeah, that helped. We kept on driving until—at the corner of my eye—I spotted an entry way to a parking structure behind the market. Halleluiah!
After we got a parking, we got off and hopped in the elevator, where we saw a sign that stated the first hour of parking was free with a stamped ticket, which would’ve been great if I hadn’t left the ticket on the front dash of my car (I thought that ticket was like a parking permit or something.) So back we went to get that ticket. The weird thing was that the car wasn’t where we left it.
“Didn’t we park near the entrance?” my mom asked.
“I thought so,” I said. “We parked as soon as we got the ticket. Oh, great, we’ve been here 10 minutes, and we already lost the car.”
It took us a while to realize that we were on the wrong floor; the car was on level 2, and we were on level 3.
So, with ticket in hand, we arrived at the market, where we were instantly greeted by the alluring scent of carnitas. What else could we think of but eat? So we chowed down on some papusas de queso y pollo. Oh, my god, delicious! After that, we walked around, sampling some other foods and checking out the scenery. But somehow we ended back where we started—at the papusa station, where we ordered a bean and cheese papusa with a beef empanada. The empanada wasn’t that great, but the bean papusa was even better than the chicken one we had earlier. It almost made the 35-minute trip worth while.
It was about 11:20am, and we thought we should leave so as not to get charged the additional parking fee for staying beyond the free hour. Of course, we ended up paying anyways. Oh, well, $1.50 was better than $7.00, right?
One thing that I noticed about L.A.—and I didn’t notice this until it was too late—was that it had all these one-way streets that go in all these directions. And I realized this after I had made a right turn into a street, where traffic was going the opposite direction. Aahh, mercy! Man, it was a good thing there were no cars coming. But, yeah, the L.A. streets were weird. Ya never know which way the traffic is going and you can’t turn anywhere. We were stuck on a one-way pile of congested traffic from 4th all the way to 9th St. with nowhere to turn and fat, giant buses blocking our view. And the entire time we kept asking people on the street how to get to Olvera St., and no one knew. How could they not know? They live here, for god’s sake. It wasn’t until we found a cop, who told us that Olvera St. was going toward 3rd St. instead—the exact opposite of where we were going. And, of course, turning back around proved to be impossible with all the streets being blocked off and cars not letting you get through. I swear, if you added a boogeyman with razor-sharp claws in his glove, you could’ve called this horror A Nightmare to Olvera St.
Eventually, we got away from all that hell (Phew!) and were clear on our way. Again, parking was a bitch. We ended up parking in a $9.00 lot. Boy, L.A. really probes you for every nickel and dime, huh?
So there we were at Olvera St.—a slice of Tijuana at our feet. The street had booths all the way down to the end, and they were all selling the same Mexican crap—ponchos, tamarindo, Chiclets, maracas, and, of course, the ever popular sombrero. What made this different than a swap meet was how all the people were scrunched together in the aisles, and you had to practically climb on top of one another just to get through. In fact, that’s kind of how it was at the Grand Central Market too. As soon as people got their food, they’d all huddle tightly together like rats, clawing and munching at their meal as if it was going to run away from them. I guess this was the natural hustle-and-bustle of downtown L.A. You buy, you pay, they throw the bootie, and then they throw the line back out there to try to hook another sucker.
By 1 o’ clock, we were heading back to the car. According to the Map Quest directions, we had to take the 110 freeway over by 3rd St. near the Grand Central Market. Well, I didn’t really want to get stuck in that horrific traffic jam again, and I knew we were near the 101 ‘cause I had just seen it. Wasn’t there a way to get the 110 via the 101? I wondered. A guy parked next to us confirmed that it was. Like idiots, we listened to the guy. Little did we know that getting on the 101 would prove to be start of one of the most disastrous domino effects ever.
Somehow the 101 turned into the 5 freeway, which we stayed on hoping to run into the 110; but we didn’t. We got off the freeway and arrived in a city called Montebello. It was 1:30pm, so we thought the library I was scheduled to do a lecture at would give us the directions to get there. Unfortunately, we wound up talking to a lady who didn’t know how to use Google and had virtually no idea how to get to that library, even though she worked there. It didn’t help that the lady was a moron, nor did it help that we were getting a heat stroke under the blazing sun (it was so freaking hot out there.) So we called our cell phone rep, hoping he would be able to utilize the GPS service to find out where the hell we were ‘cause, surely enough, we had absolutely no idea. But we basically spent all of 20 minutes spelling out “Montebello” for him. So then my mom found a trucker nearby and asked him for directions on how to get to the 110 freeway. After all, he was a trucker, and all they do is a drive around all day—they should know where they’re going, not to mention where they are. He told us to go down the street, where we’ll get the 710 freeway, then transfer on to the 10, and then finally the 110. That would’ve been all nice to try out……if it hadn’t been for the stalled train in the middle of the road. It was just sitting there, not moving, not an inch or a budge. I swear it was worse than a sleeping cow. And the whole time I kept thinking fate does not want me to get to this event, the world does not want me to get out of here!
After the train, we got ourselves into a tangled web of freeways. We saw the 710, we saw the 60, I think we even saw the 605; but we did NOT see the 110. Ooh, pues! So we got off again—this time in Alhambra. We sought more directions from people, which didn’t help. Then we found a computer. Hooray! We should’ve been able to find it now, except….not even the computer could find where we were. Map Quest did not recognize the address. By this time, I was pulling at my hairs.
Taking in a few breaths, I fumbled with a few keys and was able to pull up some directions. It said to go south on Freemont, make a right on Helmond, and take the 10 west freeway. Well, obviously, if one way was east, then the other way would have to be west; and that’s what we did. If I said this once, I will say it again: L.A. has got the weirdest (and stupidest) streets as they curve in all sorts of directions that take you nowhere with no way of getting back to where you started from. We traveled to Alhambra, Vernon, and Monterey Park. This Bermuda Triangle was spinning us in a whirlwind of circles. It was by dumb luck that we ended up at Cal State L.A., where I was a panelist at last year’s Latino Book Festival, and I recalled what freeway I took to get home—the 710 to the 5. At this point, we just wanted to get out of this upside-down world and back to where it was normal—home.
So there you have it. I didn’t make it to Teen Read Week, but I made it out L.A…...just barely. Who knows, maybe fate was keeping me away from that event for a reason. Maybe the roof caved in, or maybe there was a terrorist attack. Oh, well. Yes, I felt bad for having missed the event (even though I could feel we were dancing around the location,) but, in all honesty, this ain’t the first time I’ve missed something just because I got way lost on Planet Weird. But, hey, sometimes you have to get lost to truly find yourself; and that day, I got really found.