He was standing on the corner when she saw him as she was heading back to work. Not a tall man, he had an air of authority about him that suggested that he was comfortable in life, perhaps living out in the suburbs in a gated community where all the houses matched with variation coming only with the floor plans. He was wearing jeans and a sweater with a hole in the sleeve right at the elbow, as if he was used to sitting at a table or desk leaning on that spot, wearing it down over time. His hair, dark and wavy, was too long in an artist sort of way, slightly disheveled and yet somehow groomed to look just right. It was his lack of shoes that caught her attention. What was this guy doing walking down Sunset Boulevard without shoes?
She slowed her pace so that she could assess him further. Maybe he was homeless and she just hadn’t picked up the tell-tale signs. She looked near him: no bags or shopping cart or even a backpack. She decided to cross the street to get a better look at him. Maybe he just presented well like some of the homeless people did – the ones who rode the buses all night so they could sleep and then go to storage lockers they rented where they had clean clothes and could change daily. She’d known a man through a choir she’d sung in who did just that, and cleaned up everyday in the bathroom of the storage facility. She was shocked when he asked for a ride one evening after choir practice and then wanted to be dropped off at a Starbucks near a bus stop. “I could take you home,” she’d said and he’d looked at her and said, “You clearly haven’t heard my story.” An intelligent man with a beautiful voice who never said how he had ended up on the street, but had instead chronicled his daily schedule which included the bus, the storage building, then off to a Denny’s for breakfast, before heading for the public library where he spent his days working on his computer, reading classics and categorizing sacred music.
As she drew close to this young man – he couldn’t have been more than twenty-five – she saw that not only were his feet clean, but his toenails were cut straight across, as if he attended to them regularly. He was also humming quietly, as if he were strolling through a lovely park rather than down a congested city street. A tourist, she concluded, here from some Midwest state where he’d heard his whole life about the Sunset Strip and had decided to come to see it for himself. Yes, that must be what he was, a man from the country who didn’t realize that city sidewalks were not clean enough for bare feet. She was almost to her office building when she heard something that made her turn around.
He had begun to sing – loudly, but in a deeply resonant baritone voice – a song about love and loss and the beauty of life for offering such intense emotions. She smiled. A singer-songwriter, that’s what he was, just the sort of person who moved to Los Angeles to live his dream, even if it meant living in one room and flipping burgers to make ends meet, and perhaps ending up riding buses at night to have a safe place to sleep.
She smiled. That’s why she loved this place. She and all the others who’d come, just like him, with hope in their hearts. How things actually turned out didn’t seem nearly as important as just getting here.