A large man wearing a black t-shirt that reads in block white lettering: “I’m here to fuck shit up and leave” lounges on a cement bench. It wraps around the base of a palm tree guarding a mound of grass the size of a suburban front lawn. This is hot for October. The city sweats out roller skates, skate boarders, boogie boarders, bicycle dancers, bare bellies, shirtless old white dudes. The one standing in front of our restaurant, monopolizing the maitre d’, wears a hat and a belt around his shorts to corral his gelatinous midsection. The parade of humanity goes by – with the occasional dog – and double takes do not exist here. Nothing stands out because everyone stands out. The pavement vibrates with sound. Wheelers, talkers, joggers, screamers over speakers on cafe patios, the amplifiers of street musicians, boom boxes in motion, and below it all, the ocean’s rumble and crash.
A sound rises above the rest. A man in dreadlocks is screaming something about the bible, standing in the shade of three palm trees near the grassy mound. Those in his immediate vicinity ignore him. A woman is dancing to the amplified noise of a screechy guitar player. An ice cream vendor jangles by and out of the alley near our restaurant runs a man in business attire. He stands in the center of the walkway holding a cell phone away from his body like it’s a bomb. Nobody notices him. They notice the woman on roller blades who zooms by in a unitard one subtle shade lighter than her skin tone. The owner of the restaurant comes out onto the patio and observes the conversation between the fat man and the maitre d’. The man with the cell phone is approached by two women who reclaim the phone with gratitude. He leaves the beach scene with haste. The shouting man under the palm trees receives a hug from the dancing woman. The guitar player stops mid song to advise a couple on skateboard technique. The restaurant owner makes his move, approaches the chatty fat man, and asks him to move along. The women with the reclaimed phone snap a selfie in front of the bench under the palm trees. The man on the bench in the black t-shirt, whose mission is to fuck shit up, has not moved.
We pay our bill, stand up, and rejoin the parade. The sun lets go of its hold on the sky and sinks below the horizon. In the distance, the Santa Monica pier suddenly wakes up to dazzle with lights. The path is a freeway without cars. Everyone looks away – at the sunset, at the light show, at each other, everything a sight, everything about to vanish, phones held up high. Capture it, capture it again, keep it close, don’t let it leave, don’t stop moving.