It’s funny what adventures come upon you when you wander through Skid Row. Zaydee and I set out on a Thursday evening with the simple goal of filming by the Skid Row sign (something I’ve been trying to do and still have yet to accomplish). It’s a mural on the back side of one of the missions in skid row - it looks like a street sign stating the city limits with population and elevation. Except population says “too many” and the elevation says “2008” - meaning the problem of skid row elevated in the financial crisis of 2008. It’s right in the middle of skid row and since I always park my car on the outskirts its a couple blocks walk to the sign. It’s not easy to get there because there are so many stories to find along the way.
On this day we walked about a block and immediately landed on a scene of an a man passed out in the street protected from traffic by a single ambulance. Two paramedics approached the man who’s body lay next to a small pile of vomit that drained down the street towards the gutter. His shirt was filthy, pants drop down below his waist, and he was completely out. The paramedics dragged him to the side walk. Zaydee and I cautiously approached and started taking pictures and filming. With the VR camera I have to get as close as I can, so across the street doesn’t cut it. I carefully walked to the corner the paramedics were on and set the camera down, leaving them enough room to do their work. They shot us a couple questioning glances, but my instincts tell me they’ve dealt with cameras before and don’t particularly care about their presence. The EMTs shouted at the man, “José! José!”. They found a small white vile laying next to the him. They showed it to each other then started shouting his name louder and rolling him over on his back. “José! José!”Their urgency increased and one of the paramedics administered what I assume was naloxone (commonly used to combat opiod ODs). With a belabored yell/grunt José came to. One of the paramedic lifted him up so he was in the sitting position then spoke loudly to him in order to cut through the fog that must have occupied his head, “José you overdosed on heroine.” He repeated himself a little louder and more directly, "José! You overdosed on heroine, man. We gave you something to wake you up.” José protested and showed the men his arms to prove that there was no track marks form needles. The paramedics weren’t buying it. “Yeah you did man. You must have smoked it.” José continued to argue, but the paramedics didn’t seem to agree with what he was saying. “Get some rest José, and no more heroine! You hear me? No more. If we have to come back for you we will have to take you to the hospital. Get some rest.” “And water” the other chimes in. José, a little grouchy, sauntered off to a spot along the wall, next to all the other make shift tents and homes. The paramedics packed up and drove away.
Zaydee and I continued down the street, but again didn’t make it far before stopping again to talk to another man, then another. Eventually Zaydee found a man who called himself Repeat, but I never heard him speak twice as his name would suggest. Instead he was very direct with us. “I do drug deals, but i’m fair. I don’t beat them, cheat them, or rob them. I don’t walk them into a trap. This place isn’t safe", he told me, "you have to keep her near you, don’t ever let her behind you.” he said referring to Zaydee "Especially at night.” While we were talking to Repeat a man interrupted us, “ya’ll paying?” Asking me if I was paying for interviews on camera. I briefly told him “no man,” trying to ignore him and make him go away. But Repeat didn’t try to ignore him, he did the opposite and directly confronted the man. He steeped right up and gave this guy all kinds of grief, “What’er you doing coming over here talking to us like that. Go back over there. Get out here with all that”. Dude didn’t budge at all he just kept looking at me trying to ignore Repeat and intimidate me. Repeat stepped right in between me and this guy and told him off until the man walked back across the street. And Repeat didn’t stop talking shit until the guy sat back down on the bus stop across the street.
At this point we hadn’t been doing an interview on camera partly because I was out of batteries for my audio recorder. So I ask repeat, “is there a store near by where I can get batteries?” He thinks for a second and says, “hell, just get some from one of them”, he gestures to a line of people who have laid out blankets on the sidewalk with an assortment of products on them. The Skid Row market. Zadyee and I share a look, “Alright”. He takes us over and starts asking around for AA batteries. We stopped about at three or four people who had blankets or towels laid out on the sidewalk with everything from Bic lighters to cheap head phones you can get from gas stations. None of them had any AA batteries. Repeat wasn’t ready to give up though. So I gave him $5 to see if he could get some batteries from somewhere else. He ended up slipping it to a man that went in the back door of one of the missions on Skid Row. It’s a little strange because I’ve been to this mission and talked to those that run it. They don’t have a convince store inside. I just assumed that someone was raiding the supply closet then keeping my 5 dollars. But I needed batteries because I was missing some good dialogue between Repeat, Zaydee and I. Eventually the man came back down and handed me a huge pack of AAA batteries. Wrong kind. He notices his mistake and then headed back in. Another 10 minutes pass before he came back out, this time empty handed. "Sorry, no AA.” He gave the 5 back to Repeat and we take off to the corner store (that I asked for in the first place).
Repeat goes into the market and Zaydee gets sucked into a conversation with a woman sitting on a bike next to the front door, “have you heard what’s happening with FEMA and the government vans down here?” Zaydee engages in some light conspiracy theory conversation and I slip away looking for a good place to set up an interview with Repeat. He came back out with a bag of snacks, a water, a soda, the AA batteries, and 2 bucks. I didn’t ask for the snacks or the drinks, but I guess he deserves them. I plop the batteries in and we start recording. It’s a beautiful sunset and Repeat launches into his personal stories, the heads he’s punched, the fist that have connected with his head, his time in the military, jumping out of planes, sailing on navy ships, his time in jail (31 years), his life on the streets (2 years), and finally his 12 movie scripts. Everything he said was completely original, not one was a repeat.