SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 204: “Pay Attention”

I’m in the eye of a humanity storm, partially pushed by the requests of my friends to visit where I find myself this afternoon, and more realistically as a result of a business meeting that I just concluded at an office directly across from Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

That’s correct… I’m on Hollywood boulevard, lane of sidewalk stars and walls of world travelers. It’s a surreal place, definitely a land fluctuating with light and darkness. Families and singles from all over the world mingle with local flavor, some of which in inviting and some that is foreboding.

I confess, I usually avoid this boulevard of static stars and lost dreams. Its rhythm is unsettling and its pulse can be dizzying. Yet, to pass on journaling an experience would be a disservice to my claim of everyone is of worth. Even the dark citizens of a Hollywood disillusioned.

“Why do I start so dark?” you ask.

I have to; it is the only way to set the stage for the sheer contrast of the ever-shifting residents of this relic of a Hollywood past.

Settling at a chair on the corner of Orange and Hollywood, I pause to absorb the pace. The history is rich, on the South West corner, the Hollywood Roosevelt, home of the first academy awards and the haunting place of the ghost of Marilyn Monroe.

To the North and just slightly East of the Roosevelt is Mann’s (Historically Grumman’s) Chinese Theatre, the concrete shrine of imbedded body print since the inception of stardom.

These two alone stand as an iconic evidence of an era gone by. And although enduring the test of time, there exterior has become in a way, polluted. Not by the travelers desiring to get a glimpse of the past glamour, but by the onslaught of commercialism and vice; vice that hits at the very core of the spirit of the street.

And as I sit, observing the happenings I am stricken uncomfortable in what I partake. Know that as I write this, my heart is filled with compassion and void of judgment, yet it would be dishonest of me to hold back my feelings; feelings that I’m reframing into an outlook of acceptance and hope for those who are trapped (for whatever reason) in the depths of a dark energy that is palpable.

Take for example the superhero look-alike I approach with the 365 questions. To respect their boundaries, I will refrain from identifying them. Humble at first, and with a listening ear my superhero stranger, absorbs the 365 message.

“That’s cool,” they reply, “But you really! don’t wan to publish what I have to say. It’s way too dark!”

“Try me?” I ask… furthering, “Everyone is of value and deserves to be heard, and we all have something to say.”

Every Mother F—– in the world needs to be killed… Starting with all the Mother F—— in Los Angeles, Tell the world that, don’t say I said that, it would be bad for business.”

“Richard! why did you throw that at us? I have kids that love the characters on The Boulevard. “

Like I said, I had to. It is a prime example of the result of a dehumanized population. I am completely speculating, but somehow life has dealt a rough hand to my costumed friend, and my heart aches from hearing such a painful and angry response.

What is surreal is the contrast of the street, the shoulder-to-shoulder contact that I am experiencing with not only my hardened masked friends, but also the smiling faces of children from foreign lands. The crowd is deafening.

All around is activity; hands placed in George Clooney’s concrete shrine, the smile of a thin Tom Cruise, and the pamphlets of dinners done cheap. I must escape this wonderland of noise and visual attack!

Past the roof chopped busses of tourism I groggily sway, focusing on the happy faces of tourists not yet demystified. I stumble to Hollywood and Highland, where upon the flashing approval of the green LED walker, I cross the street to the lesser crowds of the Southern side of this starred river of traffic. Here the sidewalks are much calmer and the volume of solicitation diminished.

My senses become overloaded and with in the moment decision, “To seek the peaceful.” It must exist, and time has proven to me that in all situations it can be found.

Back West I slowly stride, and with the lowering of my ringing ears and overloaded brain, I begin to regain my composure in seeing mankind. Here and there another movie character passes by, and with a head nod I welcome them. Some reply, others don’t; it’ all good, at least I threw it.

The atmosphere is thick with diverse languages, German, Italian, Hebrew are but a few of the tongues flowing around my route. Cameras point in every direction, even down as I cross paths with a touring teen as she clicks a downward snapshot of a paved star… Tom Cruise, your now immortalized in the photo album of a fans memory.

Past Orange I progress, and as the crowd thins yet again, I am drawn to a quite man who is sitting un-noticeably painting, palm tree behind him and poised on a small folding chair.

Stopping, I observe his work, “What are you painting?” I inquire.

With pleasant and non-assuming pause this stranger replies, “Hollywood boulevard. Someone else just asked, but they said they could not see it, do you?” He shifts his art to my view for my approval.

The work is in progress and rough, but I can see the foundation of the street emerging. “Yea… I see it, it’s rough and I know it is the base for where you are going.”

My stranger is becoming my friend, “Exactly!” He smilingly responds. And with his smile… peace has found me.

Tom shows me one of his favorite paintings, The Cesar Chavez bridge

“Where are you from?” I interact.


I teach engineering at Penn State and am here for two weeks working with the Huntington Library in examining their newly acquired collection of 19th century engineering documents. It kind of aligns with a project I am working on.

I paint for relaxation, and as soon as that bus blocking my view leaves I finish this painting.” He again smiles.

“I’m Richard, nice to meet you, may I invite you to be part of a Blog project I’m working on (I go on to explain 365)?”

“I see no harm in that, I’m Tom, good to meet you Richard.”

Tom is a very interesting man with an amazing outlook on life and society.

“The secret to all is the ability to just listen and look. And I’m just beginning to learn how to look,” he launches.

In a way Tom speaks in parables:

“The people who do pay attention are usually the people to talk to or listen to.”

“Shut off the part of you that says do this or do that, just allow yourself to pay attention.”

Pay attention hits me with resonance, and at the exact incidence of this Tom parable, I accept a friendly smile from a chauffeur who has been sharing space with us a he patiently waits for his fare.

“I’m Richard, what’s your name?” I inquire of this unknown friend of united geography.

“You look like royalty,” I visualize in noticing the grace of countenance from my car driving acquaintance of the moment.

His guarded shoulders loosen, “I’m George, I migrated here from Armenia many years ago. I you are right… I come from a wealthy family. We had to leave because of political reasons.”

He begins to tell Tom and I of his upbringing, his trails and the wisdoms he has learned about society in meeting many different types of people while working as a chauffeur.

“You can tell a lot about a person at first sight, I always know what kind of person is entering my car from the way they say hello, and there are a lot of good people out there.” George shares.

This is crazy good, this whole pass it on thing is happening right before my eyes, even when George’s fare arrives I witness him showing them the 365 card, that only minutes ago, I presented to him.

On this funny little square, on this edgy avenue, the 365 message goes forward in affecting Tom, George, his five fares and myself. Eight individual lives influenced, and hopefully for a better outlook on humanity.

In the eye of this storm of Hollywood distraction, we have found a fountain of unity; a fountain that Tom intuitively has promoted with his very mention ofPaying Attention.”

Even his pointing it out, prompted me to reach out to George. And following this direction, led us all to a greater conversation. How spectacular is that!

The bus pulls away as George and his fare’s drive of, and with unobstructed horizon, it is time to let Tom complete his artwork.

I ask my final questions of the future.

Tom answers in two parts.

For the short-term:
“Increased isolation and alienation.”

For the long-term:
“Some day we will come to our senses… maybe before the total destruction of the planet… maybe not…. and maybe that makes me an optimist; I’m OK with that.”