The night had whined with sirens, distant voices, shouting, sighs, and groans like animals in the night. Gone were the studios and broadcasters who had moved uptown. What remained, were abandoned stores and offices, and the streets themselves; claimed by squatters, drug addicts, panhandlers, and prostitutes”the putrid smell of the streets; stark desperation. Daylight brought the harsh reality of Hollywood and Vine. No one ‘wanted' to be here. People were trapped here, living on the edge, beaten by time and robbed of hope. To avoid another night in the grim La Brea, Michael needed to make quick work of finding better accommodations. The sad reality dawned that this is what forty-dollars a night buys in Hollywood, California, one small step above life on the street. There were other motels, but none he could afford. He resigned himself to stay a few more days; maybe a week at the LaBrea. He rushed to the desk by 10am to avoid being on the street himself and paid in-full the next five days. Michael turned his attention to the pressing need of finding a job. Not just any job, but his dream job at André's Salon on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. He had rehearsed ‘the plan' a thousand times over the thousand miles. He would walk into André's, it would be a quiet day. André would be, uncharacteristically available, and immediately captivated by Michael's good looks and charm. André would hire Michael on the spot, and he would be cutting celebrity hair and applying their makeup by afternoon. Within weeks he would be earning thousands of dollars a day. That was the plan. At first he thought he would drive to the salon, but then decided that it was a short bus ride with only one exchange to continue to Rodeo Drive. He would be there in less than an hour. He wouldn't have to worry about parking or risk being seen in his old blue Impala and giving the wrong first impression. First impressions, especially in Hollywood, meant everything, Michale understood that better than most. He had always gotten what he wanted. He knew how to work his charm, how to open doors; how to influence people. Opening doors was not the problem, keeping them from closing was. Dressed all in black, with bus schedule in hand and enough bad coffee from the diner across the street that could, if needed, clean paint, he headed for the bus stop on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. As he walked, he stepped past the Hollywood stars of old, Jackie Gleason, Laurence Olivier, Humphrey Bogart, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and more. It was sad to see their stars laid bare in the filth of the street, tarnished and barely readable. He walked past the historic Taft building which once housed offices for Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, now a decaying hulk synonymous with blight, crime, and neglect. It startled Michael to see the sad reality around him. It was as if they city had long given up on Hollywood and Vine and relinquished it to its own apocalyptic vision of a bygone era. Michael was determined to live his Hollywood dream. Sure, it was run-down and seedy, but it had the added benefit of being cheap. It would buy him time. He reached the bus stop and watched nervously for the 217 Bus. Other buses stopped and exchanged passengers. He didn't know the city well, if at all, but he knew from the transit map he had picked up at the motel office, that taking the 217 line to the 4 line would take him to Rodeo Drive, at least within a few blocks walking distance. He didn't sit on the bench with the others, to avoid soiling his clothes, and instead stood on the corner. Cars passed by, some slowly, some calling out, ‘How much?' he didn't understand the reference to being a street hustler himself. Nervously, he moved back to wait against the building, its shadow shielding him from the harsh realities around him. No one else was waiting, at first, but as time passed more of the locals began to gather; a bag lady with tin foil around her wrists like bracelets, an addict probably on his way to the methadone clinic, a young woman in an extremely short red skirt”probably a prostitute. All had one thing in common, they all wreaked of sweat and alcohol. No one spoke. Finally, the 217 arrived. In the exchange of bodies, he climbed on board, dropping the eighty-five cent fare in change into the receptacle near the driver. The machine ticked off the correct amount as the change clanked and fell to the secure safe below the floorboard. The driver tore off a transfer slip from the pad and held it out automatically for anyone to take. Michael needed it, to transfer to the 4 line. There were plenty of seats, but Michael chose to stand near the center door. He didn't want to chance being seated next to someone and trapped. The less he touched, the better. It seemed that the bus stopped every five-seconds, as it inched its way down Hollywood Boulevard; eventually crossing Fairfax as it made its way slowly to Santa Monica Boulevard. Michael anxiously peered through the windows. Forty minutes later, the bright blue cross-street sign came into view. The driver called out, “Santa Monica!” When the 4 line to Camden Drive arrived Michael knew that it would leave him with barely a five minute walk to Rodeo Drive, in Beverly Hills. As he boarded the bus, he handed the driver his transfer slip which he examined passively and balled into a wad and discarded. The people on the 4 line were mostly young professionals, neatly dressed. It was immediately clear that he had left the squaller of the inner city behind. It was like he had stepped out of one bus, in one parallel universe into another; this clearly being the better universe. The air was crisp, the sky was blue, and everything around him sparkled in the southern California sun. This time the bus was crowded, and he had no choice but to stand as he watched for the next stop. It seemed an instant and the driver called out, “Cam-DEN!” The bus stopped and kneeled to the curb. The air brakes popped. He stepped down to the street for his short walk to Rodeo Drive. Finally, he had arrived in Beverly Hills. The streets were clean, lined with shops and cafés and with each step his heart pounded with excitement. The glint of money was everywhere, from the cars in the streets; Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Mercedes and stretch limo's. The only exception was the tourists in the bright red tour buses, Poor bastards, he thought. His mind wondered which celebrities mere feet from him, a stranger in the street and that he would one day know them all. His heart raced.
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