I have been wanting to go to south LA ever since I got here. Before that even. Back when I was in college and I was listening to Snoop Dogg and NWA. I wanted to see what it was like straight out of Compton. I watched Colors, the film with Sean Penn a billion times and wanted to just be one of those badass gang guys. You know, for a weekend.
So of course I’ve never been. Because I’ve also watched Crash and Training Day too many times and I know what happens to white people who venture out of Brentwood; Hollywood has told me, so I know it must be true.
Paul and I find ourselves over in that part of the world. Paul actually used to live out this way in and knows the Inglewood area really well. We’re picking the dogs up from a trainer based in the neighborhood and I gaze out the window at the LA that I only see from freeways and nightmares.
I got lost when I first got here as everyone does. The freeways and how they work and interconnect are like a huge inside joke and before the days of GPS, it was as easy to find yourself heading up to Malibu as it was to be cruising through gangland. I was lost for a very sweaty half hour where I couldn’t find my way back on the freeway after I got off to turn around. I scared myself so bad that I never came back again. After nearly getting carjacked a few times in Johannesburg, my mind tends to run away with itself.
Anyway, so we’re there in daylight, dogs in the back, riding through the hood.
And of course, Hollywood is wrong again. As you know it’s going to be, but somehow fear gets the better of you. Instead of shootouts on every corner, drive-bys, hold-ups, muggings and deals it’s families, commuters, dog walking, students and strip malls. I’m a douche…
So as we cruise around and I’m happy/disappointed that the area is exactly as it should be, Paul drops the bomb, “Remember that Fried Chicken Place that I was telling you about? It’s just around the corner. Do you want to get a bucket?”
Remember? Remember?! Paul loves a fried leg of our fine feathered friends as much as I do, and he has said numerous times that Louisiana Fried Chicken of Inglewood is the real deal. Louisiana Fried will finger lick the Colonel any day of the week, take his chicken out the back of the KFC and beat the shit out of them. Paul didn’t say that, I just thought it sounded better than, “their chicken is tasty.”
And a bucket? Pfft. Please. Make it ten.
Next thing we are in the LFC parking lot and I’m out of the car and headed for the front door. I stare at the exhaust outlet on the roof of the store. A shimmery haze of hot air blows from the top of the pipes, obscuring all behind it like a gossamer veil of the lightest, sheer orange. Except that it’s all because of the grease that caressed thighs before being shot into the Inglewood atmosphere. My knees go weak.
Then the door opens as a black lady leaves with a family bucket. The smell reaches out from the front door, smacks me across the face, grabs me by the throat and drags me inside where surely, fried paradise awaits. My arteries get an erection.
The first thing that strikes me is that there is nowhere to sit. This is purely a grab and go phenomena. How people can wait till they get home is beyond me. No one should eat while they drive, but if they have a bucket of LFC calling from the passenger seat, I’d have to look the other way. At least it’s not a cell phone.
The second thing I notice is that there is a sheet of bulletproof glass two inches thick between the people waiting in line and the staff. Money goes into a drawer that is pulled from the other side and the food is pushed through a two-way security hatch. This is some high-tech stuff. Obviously they do a good business. And if the food is as good as Paul says then I could almost see a guy coming in here with a shotgun holding out a bag and saying fill it up with wings and breasts, spicy and regular recipe, hands where I can see them.
The third thing I notice, and the first thing that everyone else in LFC notices, is that I am the lone white boy for a thousand miles around. It wasn’t the OK Corral at high noon where the music and the gambling stops as I pushed the swing doors open, but as the electric doors parted I did detect a slight murmur in the normal run of things.
“G’day,” I bellowed. Attack is the best defense.
After it was cleared up that I was Australian and had no idea how the place worked, there was no end of help waiting to be offered. A lady with braids the same vermillion as her scrubs showed me the menu. A tall man with grey in his curly beard wanted to know what Sydney was like. The guy behind the plexiglass thought I was English. Close enough.
So finally I went for the Mack Daddy; a sixteen piece bucket of mixed and two boxes of fries.
I can say one thing about LFC, the people who eat it are the nicest folks I know in that part of LA. I do overwork the Australian thing a little too hard sometimes, like a squid shooting out ink when it senses danger, but I managed to amass an enormous amount of good will in the time it took for 16 pieces of what turned out the be the most amazing fried chicken I’ve ever tasted, to be packed into a bucket and bagged.
Then I fucking blew it.
It was only $16 something, so I reached into my wallet and handed the guy behind the plexi a $20. When he pulled it out his drawer, he looked at the bill, looked at me with a dirty eyeball, lost his smile and then said he’d get some change from the back. Weird look, I thought… weirder that they don’t keep $3 in change at the front.
Then he returns with a wad of cash and starts counting back my change. Out of a hundred.
In a Samaritan moment the day before, I swapped a lady five $20s for a $100 note. And forgot. And all the money looks the same. But it was too late now. I had paid the guy for sixteen bucks of chicken with a Benjamin Franklin.
Every bit of good will got sucked out those exhaust fans and thrown into the air and landed in the gutter. Embarrassed and wanting a quick escape, I held the wad in my hand as I grabbed my order and ran, realizing too late that I was showing everyone in the line behind me the fanned out twenties of my Shame Change as I exited through the electric door once again.
As all the people in the line thought, “Wow, those ignorant white people are just like they are in the movies,” I jumped into the car; “Drive Paul, drive, drive!!!”
My one consolation, besides the amazing fried chicken that made wild passionate love to my tastebuds, was that at least the guy behind the plexi would be telling people it was some dumb English motherfucker that needed eighty three bucks in change.