Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving On The Row 1

In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a bill mandating the last Thursday in November as a federal holiday observing Thanksgiving Day, a harvest festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada.
We here at the Las Americas, being the iconoclasts that we are, celebrated on the fourth Wednesday instead, and may have broken several federal laws in doing so. The Fred Jordan and Midnight Missions situated here on Skid Row, are good and true citizens and celebrated yesterday, the 26 of November.
I started my day by trading Emails with my lovely sister, Cheryl, as we wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving. We were both spending the holiday devoid of family, her daughter having to work, and me here in Los Angeles where my family abandoned me decades ago.
They were quite right to do so in my opinion.
Anyway, I had told her that it was my plan to go out and about to monitor the various street activities that were bound to to be taking place. I knew that the Los Angeles Mission had had its Thanksgiving celebration yesterday as well (pictured above is our mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, standing next to 92 year old Kirk Douglas, who is standing next to his lovely wife, Anne), and wasn't sure if there were any planned events scheduled for the actual holiday, but knew that many private citizens and churches were sure to be out and about dispensing food and clothing and I wanted to document that.
Before I left I watched a CNN report about a young honor student who lived with his father and sister at the Union Rescue Mission, and who's story had inspired some major league football star to come down and be photographed with him. What got me about the piece was that whenever they displayed a scene on the street, it was of someone arguing, or creating a fuss, or using foul language that had to be bleeped, or of someone throwing something at someone, giving the television audience the stereotypical idea that the streets of Skid Row were in constant turmoil, and it was basically just a jungle out there.
In actuality nothing could be further from the truth. I've lived in Skid Row going on a decade and have not once had a problem with any of the denizens of the streets. Although the area is riddled with crime and rampant drug use, the police presence is heavy, and downtown is as safe as any other place I've every lived. If it were not I simply would not live here. CNN does a disservice to it's viewers and the truth when it edits it's stories in that selected fashion, but perhaps it increases donations to the Missions. I have no idea.
After I watered the garden (with water cans. Someone had relieved us of our hose) my new next door neighbor and old friend Mike came with me, as well as Robert. Mike said the Fred Jordan Mission was feeding today beginning at ten, and there were already 2,000 people there waiting to eat. We left our building at about ten twenty, and walked west on Sixth. Robert insisted on riding his bicycle. He is quite graceful on that bike actually, but he still reminds me of a giant bull walrus performing in a circus while atop it. I can see why he gets a lot of flat tires.
I'm so mean.
Robert rolled, and Mike and I walked toward the Midnight Mission on the corner of Sixth and San Pedro, as we saw there was some kind of commotion going on down there.
The streets were filled with people, which is unusual for any other holiday than Thanksgiving. Even on Christmas Day itself the streets are most often deserted, that holiday being publicly celebrated before hand and most private organizations and individuals stay home to enjoy the day with their families. But yesterday the streets were filled with thousands.
We passed Nikita (who if you remember, played dominoes against Jose and lost, see The Great Domino Blast Of 2009) riding his bike.
"The Dollar Man give me twenty bucks," he proudly exclaimed. He was talking about the Reverend Maurice Chase (also pictured above, with one handicapped recipient attempting to determine if the bill was counterfeit), who routinely hands out dollar bills on the weekends to the homeless, and today had brought $15,000.00, some of it in twenties and hundreds. The money is donated by groups and individuals, including the widows of Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope.
He was gone by the time we got there though, so our hopes of new found riches were for naught. Their was a gentleman, along with his children handing out ham sandwiches, chips, and bottled water from his car at Sixth and Towne, and all three of us got some. All I had had for breakfast earlier was some left over Top Ramen from the night before, so I availed myself and consumed the sandwich greedily.
We continued west, and rock music could be heard getting louder as we got closer to San Pedro.
"Sounds like early Zeppelin," I told Mike.
"It sure does."
Indeed several musicians were busy playing an energized R&B on a makeshift stage at Sixth and San Julian, harmonica, guitar, drums, and bass, that sounded almost exactly like something off of Led Zeppelin's first album, such as the instrumental parts of the song, "You Shook Me."
This was right in front of The Midnight Mission, and the streets had all been blocked off for the event, and hundreds of men, women, and children were milling about listening, or walking around. But it didn't look as if they were serving any food at that location, at least not at that time. So we moved on.
Someone handed Mike a U.S. Government Vegetarian Dinner Ration.
"You should give that to Paul," I suggested.
Walking north on San Julian toward Fifth we finally lost Robert in his mad pursuit of more free edible goodies. Now it was time to investigate Fred Jordan.
The actual man, Fred Jordan, had died in 1988, but his wife, Willie, carried on in his name, providing this annual feast for the homeless, on this and other holidays, as well as maintaining Christian based relief services since 1944.
Mike and I approached the Mission on the north side of Fifth near San Pedro, and were told by a volunteer that the line for single people was across the street. The north side was for families. We crossed the street and joined the long line right at the Hollymart. Up ahead the line dwindled in the distance. People talking raucously through a PA system could be heard.
We began to wait.

To be continued.

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