WHEN A WINK ISN’T ENOUGH

As I bustled onto an empty shuttle bus bound for Downtown LA, I reflected that the way I’d been granted access into the US this time around was a far-cry from the way in which I’d been ‘processed’ on my previous trip upon touching down at JFK airport in New York.Back in 2006, on the cusp of a mad eight-month dash around the states via ‘Greyhound’ bus, the Customs official at JFK had wanted to know almost everything about me. He flung 101 questions in my direction and then some, desperate to ascertain precisely how much ready cash I had stuffed in my pockets, how much ‘theoretical cash’ I had loaded on my debit card, and where exactly I planned to be in the US on any random date he felt inclined to mention.
The security checks made on visitors to the US are now even more stringent. It’s just a good job I realised that travel authorisation is now required at least seventy-two hours in advance of people touching down on US soil. Such authorisation is meant to make the often arduous task of ‘clearing Customs’ somewhat easier.In order to authorise oneself on-line, it’s necessary to fill out the ESTA form which can be accessed via the US Embassy website. Fortunately, the form is extremely simple to fill in, yet it’s best to have your flight details and passport number to hand before attempting to fill out the form, for such details are required by default.
Armed with my brand new Biometric Passport that had been issued less than three weeks before I hit the skies, I still had to have my fingerprints and thumbprints scanned, before my roving right eye received the once-over.Chugging towards the Downtown area of LA, I recalled how the city had burrowed its way beneath my skin the last time I’d visited… even if my first experience of downtown Los Angeles had presented itself in the gnarly form of Skid Row, a poverty-stricken area jammed between the main Greyhound bus station and Broadway.
Oblivious to the economically-pulverised state of my surroundings, I’d trundled on beneath the nagging weight of a backpack so huge that it couldn’t fail to announce the fact that I was an out-of-towner who was out of my depth, intent on hitting Broadway before I melted into an inconsolable heap in the midday heat.While Downtown LA is undeniably a world away from Hollywood, some eight miles distant, the streets darting off at tangents from its main Broadway thoroughfare are atmospherically steeped in history. Wildly decadent in nature, the entire district thrums to its invigorating street-life which throngs outside abandoned movie-houses and mercilessly cheap eateries.
The recognition of locations used in movies comes as standard as the streets are prowled, yet one of the most breathtaking locations of all is inside The Bradbury Building, an elegant old edifice used as offices, yet which featured prominently in flicks such as Bladerunner and Wolf.As on my previous visit, I could have spent all day long wandering and wondering, but a pressing engagement loomed on the horizon. Thus, I made haste, conspiring to meet it halfway.

(Steve Rudd)

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