A Lunch Hour in Search of Sanctuary
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By Marc Porter Zasada
WHEN YOU FIRST BEGAN WORKING in a great city, you told yourself you would have exotic adventures every day. Even on your lunch hour. Like a modern Vasco da Gama, you would take your noontime schooner out to visit the far harbors of Venice or City Walk; or like a better-dressed Jack Kerouac, you-d go Downtown and wander curious among the elegant footmen, sidewalk scammers, crowded bazaars, and beautiful foreign shopgirls.
But like most, you no doubt found daily adventure overwhelming. Too much wealth and too much poverty on the Promenade. Too many cheap toy marts on Broadway. Too much traffic on Wilshire.
So inevitably, a certain pattern set in, and you developed a lunchtime routine. Lately, you have just forty-five minutes to score an avocado-veggie wrap and daydream in a landscaped plaza while reading the cartoons in the New Yorker. You found your sanctuary in the hustle of the bustle: Your bench. Your sandwich shop.
Jack Kerouac lived with newness every day of his life, you told yourself, but it killed him young.
Still, in time, the routine itself became an adventure. You learned that this bench is a different world than that bench. On this bench the filthy man with the three shopping bags comes every day to chatter to himself. On that bench sits the three beautiful black women (are they lawyers?) with their yogurts, shoulder pads and uncontrolled laughter.
The Urban Man sometimes finds his sanctuary in that most profound of all landscaped plazas in L.A.: Maguire Gardens, hidden discreetly among the skyscrapers downtown, just behind the echoing public library, and safely patrolled by pastel-suited women from nearby offices.
Each time, I enter reverently. Like a tiny stage set, here are actual trees and grass, curved walks, and the sound of living birds. For a few minutes, I stroll. I recall Central Park. I recall the Jardin de Luxembourg. But just next door, I can feel the reassuring brick presence of the California Club. There the power elite who built this set are lunching in well-fitting clothes. I know they-re taking care of all Angelenos, great and small, timid and brave.
Again I take up my usual place, just to the left of the little grotto-fountain carved with the words of Frederick Douglass: -Power Concedes nothing without a demand.- But it is my lunch hour, and I make no demands. I open my veggie wrap and smooth out the pages of the New Yorker. Briefly, I regret that we have never dared to create a New Yorker of our own. Briefly, I regret that today I have not dared Chinatown or Little Tokyo.
But only briefly.
Today, sanctuary. Tomorrow, perhaps, adventure.
Adapted from piece in the L.A. Downtown News. Copyright - 2004 by Marc Porter Zasada, all rights reserved.
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