Flat and out in LA

The hole in the Winnebago’s tyre is the size of a 50p coin and air is hissing out at an alarming rate. I’m alone in LA, lost in the sprawling ghetto somewhere between the rental office (shut now, of course) and the airport. My companions for the upcoming road trip will be landing any minute now and I should already be sailing this 25’ Titanic into the passenger pick up area at LAX. Instead, I'm about to go down with the ship in uncharted water. I’ve only had the vehicle for 10 minutes.

The street I’m on is as wide as the M25 and all but deserted, save for a single homeless man lost in angry conversation with himself. The shops in the derelict little concrete buildings are boarded up and covered in crude graffiti tags. The air smells like garbage. There are huge piles of garbage everywhere, festering in the heat.
I didn’t want to come here. I hate LA. Why didn’t I get the GPS? I must be somewhere between Hawthorne and Compton – deepest darkest Hood places I only know about from gangster rap songs. This is not a good place for a lone woman to be in an hour before dark.
Staring at the hole doesn’t make the hissing stop, so I go back inside the vehicle and lock the doors. I have to get this fixed and fast. I set off to find somewhere – a shop, a petrol station, anything…

“Puedes ayudarme por favor?” I flash my best tourist-girl smile and hand this to the car wash guy on a piece of paper. Our muddled exchange so far seemed to imply that he is hard of hearing and possibly Hispanic. He is stocky with dark olive skin covered in huge Latino drug baron tattoos – crosses, ladies that look like Santa Maria. I’m pretty sure he’s Mexican. He scrawls down his response: “I don’t speak Spanish”. Is he offended? Have I offended him? It’s impossible to tell from a single sentence on a bit of paper.
I write “Can you help me please?” Now we’re both laughing. Crisis averted. Relieved, I point at the tyre. The conversation that follows is part gestured, part spoken and part scribbled on an assortment of printouts from my bag – itineraries, rental documents, maps. Apparently there is a tyre place nearby.
“I will take you there,” he writes.

I swallow my doubts about heading off into the sunset with a complete stranger as Erick (his name now written next to mine on the back of my e-ticket) climbs into the passenger seat. He’s obviously taken by the vehicle. “First time”, he says pointing at the plush beige and grey interior – a pensioner’s wet dream. I hold up two fingers and then point at myself. At the next red light, I feel obliged to lean over to where the papers are and write: “I didn’t break the last one”.

Minutes later, feeling like a big, white sore thumb, I squeeze the giant hull of the Winnebago into the world’s tiniest breaker’s yard – a miniscule lot piled impossibly high with old tyres and things. There are five men in overalls and one in a three piece corduroy suit, sporting a flat cap and a cane. I half expect him to sound like Chris Eubank, as the resemblance is uncanny.
Erick and I explain the situation and the crew sets to work. I’m left standing between Erick and the Eubank-lookalike. “I love your accent”, croons the gentleman dandy in a smooth, very American baritone.
“I love your suit.” I tell him. I feel like royalty surrounded by celebrities. I can’t help but look around for hidden cameras while the locals pimp my ride.
Everyone loves the Winnebago and my accent. Everyone is friendlier than anyone has ever been to me in LA. While the tyre is being fixed, Erick and I continue our half scribbled, half spoken chat. We talk about London (“the weather here is better, but there is a lot to see”); we talk about the welding course he’s saving up for (“good money, better than washing cars”); we compare tattoos and talk about the ones we’re yet to get; I thank him repeatedly.
By the time I drop him off at the petrol station and continue to the airport following the map he drew me, I realise something unbelievable has happened – I’m beginning to really like the people of LA.

S Ellisar

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