- - Tuesday, June 2, 2020

This piece was written about my experience in Los Angeles a week-and-a-half ago, before the protests and rioting began. No one could have expected the world to turn upside-down that quickly, but when I walked Hollywood Boulevard, it was already in terrible, hopeless shape. 

Hollywood Boulevard was at one point the place where people would go to dream — dream of success, dream of fortune and dream of fame — now, it’s more like a nightmare. A few weeks ago, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I was taken on a one-and-a-half-mile walk from Congressman Adam Schiff’s office to the theater where “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” is filmed and what I found shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did.

We’ve heard stories about how bad Los Angeles has gotten — from homeless encampments to an influx of drugs, but to experience it is an entirely different thing. In addition to these issues, we now loop in some of our country’s most stringent stay-at-home and essential business orders, creating what can only be described as the most beautiful post-apocalyptic looking scenery in the world.

My walk began outside Mr. Schiff’s Hollywood office. Congressman Schiff is of course famous for running the impeachment proceedings against President Trump in the House of Representatives. There, he has become the attack dog of the Democrats, working tirelessly to investigate a president. Directly across the street from his office, not more than 50 yards away, was a homeless man passed out on the ground in front of a bench — the first that we would see of the day, but not nearly the last.

I spoke to police officers in the area about it and they said in sum, “there’s nothing we can really do about it.” The city has become so overrun with homeless people like this man, that they will only get attention if they seem to be in dire need or are literally dead.  

As I walked down the boulevard, I couldn’t help but notice the smell. Growing up in Southwest Baltimore, I was familiar with the stench of the combination of trash, unbathed people and human waste — but here it was different. In Baltimore, the smell would only arise when you walked by seedy alleyways and trashcans — in Hollywood, the smell doesn’t go away.

A local charity that gives out provisions to the homeless had a line 30 or 40 deep that stretched around the corner. Each person waiting for what they could get to survive this and every day. The good Samaritans working there had smiles on their faces, perhaps not even realizing that they were the only ones keeping these forgotten members of their community alive. 

The farther we walked down the boulevard, the more depressing it became. Because of essential business orders, most stores had been shuttered. Open stores included two coffee shops, smoke shops and a few restaurants for carry-out only. In the midst of the empty streets, classic piano music could be heard echoing in the distance. 

Miceli’s, Hollywood’s oldest Italian restaurant, with chairs stacked on tables had their longtime pianist playing tunes for the staff while they made carry-out orders. The owner continued to pay her and his staff as best he could, while knowing that the future of not only his business, but his community hangs in the balance.   

A few blocks away I ran into a food truck owner who had just achieved her goal of becoming financially independent in her self-employment in February. Months later, without the ability to collect unemployment or get a business loan, she again works for others and has lost faith that her truck will ever return to the success it once had. 

The Walk of Fame, which at this point in the year would typically be full of tourists clamoring to take pictures with the names they love, was eerily empty except for homeless people on nearly every corner. Those who were out and weren’t homeless were wearing masks and rushing, as if they were panicked to get out of the sunlight and outdoors as quickly as possible.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was gated off from the public, perhaps for fear that people would put their hands in the celebrities’ hand prints on the ground and somehow become another victim of the pandemic. Next to the theater was another group of homeless men; one without shoes looked like he had leprosy on his feet. Again, I spoke to police officers in the area about his health and if anything could be done — and I was again told that their hands were essentially tied.

My walk ended across the street at the theater where “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” is filmed. There, another homeless man sat on the steps, smoking what appeared to be crack in a glass pipe.

In all, I counted 192 homeless people in 1.7 miles — I was told, sadly, that that’s only a small fraction in the area.

In mid-May, the Los Angeles County health officer has said that stay-at-home orders will continue for three more months — which would surely spell the end of the few businesses that remain on Hollywood Boulevard. And as the county continues to actively penalize the healthy, they sit idly by as thousands in dire need are left to die in their streets. 

• Tim Young is a political comedian and author of “I Hate Democrats/I Hate Republicans” (Post Hill Press).

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