Venice Boulevard and La Brea

One morning we were sitting at the intersection of Venice Boulevard and La Brea during rush hour traffic. It’s an intersection that divides this particular part of town into low income and slightly more income neighborhoods. Venice is also six lanes wide, and if I’m not mistaken, the counter on the pedestrian crossing is at most 25 seconds long. This might seem a clip if you’re young, but if you’re a senior, or a mother with a baby and pram or simply someone with a slight physical impairment, well I’m sure those seconds don’t go by slowly enough.

As it happens, a tiny elderly white woman, in muted gray and quite hunched over, started making her way a few seconds into the count down. She had managed just about 12 feet into the first three lanes and then the counter hit 10 seconds.

We knew she wasn’t going to make it to the median. There was nowhere for her to go. She couldn’t keep walking and she couldn’t go back. Worse than that, I don’t think she realized how meager her progress was and how little time she had. Or maybe she didn’t care and figured traffic would have to wait.

But Angelenos aren’t fond of waiting and they’re not especially kind at rush hour. Honking began to sound as frustrated east bound drivers engaged into the intersection and the third lane of cars came to a stop. The old lady froze as cars sped behind her and she caught sight of the red pedestrian light. She turned to her left and could see the first car sitting very close to her, the driver waiving furiously.

She was glued to the asphalt. Opposite them, our lane was waiting for a left turn signal, and this was enough time to grant the car in front of me an opportunity.

A young Mexican guy in well-worn work clothes, and tired-looking, earth-covered ankle boots jumped out and ran over to her. He bent down toward her face and spoke to her softly, a quick eye movement toward the traffic, now rushing past our right side as well. He took her elbow ever so slightly and smiled, and then walked her across the third lane and onto the median. He continued speaking to her all the while holding her safely, just close enough that she didn’t waiver, her tiny feet treading precariously on their narrow cement perch.

They had just made into our lane when the left turn signal came on and his colleague paused a moment more to let them pass and then moved slowly out into the intersection and pulled over to wait in a storefront parking lot. As our turn came we drove passed them and continued to watch their gentle progress and then the receding image of their huddled silhouettes in the rear view mirror as he escorted her through one unnerving lane at a time onto the opposite sidewalk.

Nicolette Jackson Pownall