Forget Elm Street, the place I didn’t want to be on a cold, late-December holiday morning was Hollywood Boulevard. With nicknames like ‘Tinseltown’ and ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’, Hollywood is presumed to be an affluent hang out for celebrities and the wealthy, with an image of tourist-packed palm-lined streets, glamorous nightclubs, bars and casinos.
I travelled to Hollywood with that mental image. Not until being driven towards my hotel did I notice the old derelict buildings, empty streets and homeless people camped under freeways.
On my first day I decided to take the LA metro, assuming it would be like London’s tube network – crammed with people from all walks of life. Waiting on the platform for the train, I noticed two things: how unsettlingly quiet it was, and how many people looked impoverished.
I decided to ask the nearest person when the next train would arrive, as no information was available. “Excuse me,” I said, “do you know when the next train is?” “Keep walking,” he replied abruptly while pointing down the platform.
I should have walked away, but the question “what?” came automatically from my mouth. “You just keep walking,” he said again, gesticulating furiously in a manner suggesting I would do well to move down the platform. I did just that, boarding the train away from this seemingly weird and rude individual.
He clearly knew I was a tourist unaware of my surroundings. Before I knew it, he was sitting behind me on the train. I thought moving might be a bad idea, as he may have realised my fear. Sensing he might be following me, I decided to get off at the next stop.
Two women left the train and I followed them into a lift to exit the station. The man followed us in, giving me a penetrating stare.
This scared me. I quickly exited the lift onto a busy street with shops in sight. I decided to walk to them where I would be safe. He ran after me shouting: “Hey! You!” I walked faster. “Hey! Give me your money!” was all I could hear behind me. I still didn’t turn around.
He caught up with me, squaring up: “Give me your money now,” he said. “I haven’t got any money, please just leave me alone,” I said, figuring I should not aggravate him in case he was carrying a knife or gun. My voice became less effective at concealing my fear, and his eyes widened. The shops on the other side of the road seemed unreachable. To get to them, I would need the lights to change and the traffic to stop, or risk running across an extremely busy road.
“You shouldn’t be out on your own,” he said creepily, edging towards me. I was so frightened he’d try and grab me, or worse, stab me. I knew I had to chance dodging the traffic. Without looking, I sprinted into the path of oncoming vehicles and entered a coffee shop on the other side of the road.
In tears, I told the shop assistant to phone the police. Meanwhile, the man was pacing outside, waiting for me. A man who had been sitting outside came in: “There is a man outside harassing two women for money”, he said.” I felt relieved – I was not alone in my experience.
My follower, who strangely made no attempt to escape on the police’s arrival, was handcuffed. Inside the shop, the police spoke to me. One officer said: “Mentally he seems not all there. I don’t think he has any concept of what he’s done. Did he touch you?” “No,” I said.
“I know you’re distressed,” the police officer said, “but we have to let him go because he hasn’t touched or hurt you. We’ll move him on a few blocks. Is there anything you want to ask me?”
Yes, I wanted to ask why the police would release a seemingly dangerous man who was clearly a threat to the public. He was however moved on, and I took a taxi to my hotel room where in fear I remained for the duration of my Hollywood trip.
Most people with a strong desire to visit Los Angeles and the Hollywood area believe it is a place of glitz and glamour, wealth and opulence. After my experience, I think otherwise, and certainly have little faith in the area’s policing. I advise others to avoid Tinseltown. In my opinion, it’s far from glittering.
E L Overy