For about fifteen years after moving to the desert to pursue photography I made weekly trips into Los Angeles to study the martial arts (Gosoku Ryu). I had been introduced to karate and judo in high school, and while I was a four-star flop at all team sports growing up, I was immediately drawn towards Japanese style martial arts for a bag full of reasons.
Being a free lance photographer made it easy to know when I could sneak away for the 7:30 and 8:30 evening classes, and the 8:00 morning class the next day. The freeways were uncrowded and I could easily zip into L.A. in under two hours. Having family and friends to stay with made the trips light on the purse.
The most magical aspect of these trips was the unfettered (and undisturbed) access I had to all people on the street. Los Angeles provided as much fodder for my camera as NYC did, except I rarely got sidelined by inclement weather. This was also a relatively secure period in our culture, when children could freely roam playgrounds and parks without parents hovering incessantly – the insane and evil predators who literally ripped the innocence from these kids had yet to stand up and be counted.
Never in all the years that I wandered the streets waiting for the moment did I have an encounter with a parent who took issue with my pursuits. Sure, there were plenty of bad hombres slithering down the streets (I could write a book filled with stories about the wackos who attempted to assault me); the night people looking for a fast buck -- but that wasn’t then. There was an ethos among the denizens, and children were strictly persona non grata. If you choose to skim the surface of life in gen-pop (general population in prison), one of the few rules enforced vigorously is the notion that child molesters are the lowest of the low, and only survive long enough to be killed by some erstwhile con -- ready, willing, and able to enforce the law of the jungle.
We rarely have the ability to reflect on ourselves as children. This is probably all for the better since innocence once lost can never be reclaimed.
I was with my friend John that day, an easy-going Australian bloke with a temperament as relaxed as a stone skipping across the surface of a pond. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was in no rush to traipse back to the desert. We went to his favorite ice cream parlor in Sherman Oaks, and as we were enjoying our sweet treats, we heard a familiar metal-to-metal scrunch across the street. Our eyes perked up as we observed a young man untangle his rear bumper from the front of the car he had so rudely penetrated.
We watched silently as this good Samaritan pulled out a notebook and wrote a message which he tucked under the windshield of the damaged auto. My curiosity was peeked. I told John “Hold my beer ice cream” as I sauntered across the street to have a look-see at the note. I caught a glimpse of the license plate of the offender and pasted it onto the back of my brain.
“Everyone around here thinks I am being a good citizen and leaving you my contact information”, the scribble read. I pulled out my pen and added an addendum: “Hi, my name is Gary G. and I witnessed this travesty and have the license plate number of the perp. Call me when you have time.” He called later that evening and I provided him with all the info he would need for his insurance company.
As I skipped back across the street I noticed that my ice cream had melted all over John’s hand, but I thought little of this as I related the events of the moment. As we were talking, I noticed a young lady out of the corner of my eye entranced in a very private moment, perhaps one of deep thought and contemplation. I quickly raised my camera in an attempt to immortalize this child’s brief respite into whatever query had so suddenly halted her fulltime job of being a child.
It was an arduous three or four seconds until her hands descended from her face back into her sleeves and whatever had caused this instance of reflection dissolved into the ether of childhood. I bought another cone and me and John returned to our light hearted discussion, fully realizing that all was once again right with the world.