As part of my weight loss plan I've been walking from Union Station to the office and back each day, a distance of approximately 2 miles each way. I can walk at a decent pace so this takes me about half an hour each way. Given the route I take I'm also passing through a slightly seedier part of downtown L.A. so my morning commute frequently takes me past quite a few homeless folks, most of them are asleep but sometimes one or two are awake and getting ready to face another day in paradise.
I'm used to being asked for spare change and aren't bothered by the homeless folks, although the LOUD jumpy ones are definitely worth keeping an eye on as they're the ones who sometimes like to hit passersby.
This morning I'm pretty sure I passed a couple of drug dealers, and while I might look like a cop and sometimes be mistaken for one I think these guys were streetwise enough to realize I wasn't the real deal. Which is why one of them didn't hesitate to take something that may or may not have been drugs and/or cash out of a broken newspaper vending machine as I approached. Likewise I was savvy enough to not even look at them as I passed by but continued marching along at my pavement-eating pace. Fast, but not running. Not scared, but not acting like a bravado either.
Further down the road I saw two guys standing in a doorway, engaged in conversation. As I drew closer one of them began walking off while the body language of the second indicated he intended to talk to me. Physically he looked like your typical street dweller, but he appeared more mentally alert than the average brain-addled homeless guy. This is the kind of thing you need to be aware of if you plan to walk the streets of Los Angeles, especially at 5:30 in the morning.
I was prepared to defend myself in case he turned out to be the loud, jumpy type, or wanted more than just spare change. I was also ready to turn the guy down if he did ask me for change. What I wasn't expecting was for him to produce a block of chocolate and offer it as trade for a cigarette.
Realizing that although he had not asked for change that he was still actually begging, sort of, my mouth spat out "Sorry, man" before my brain could provide it with a more appropriate response.
And on I walked as my brain tried to process the absurdity of being offered a block of chocolate by a homeless guy in exchange for a cigarette at 5:30 in the morning on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
Then from behind me I heard him say, "Sorry? Why are you sorry?"
Are you serious? Do I need to spell it out for you?
Apparently my mouth thought it did, and I called back to him, "I don't have any cigarettes...*pause*...sorry."
That really doesn't make that much more sense, said my brain. Why are you sorry that you don't have any cigarettes? That's not a bad thing. Even if you did, you don't want that guy's chocolate anyway.
Wisely, this time, my mouth stayed silent.