Written by Angela Flournoy
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Stars on the Strip
At 16 you’re not old enough to step inside the establishments that shine the brightest on Sunset Boulevard — clubs, bars, strip joints—but you’re old enough to cruise. You have your license because this is LA and to be without it for too long after turning 16 feels like the first step toward living a derelict existence. You want better for yourself than that. You don’t know what you hope to get out of cruising Sunset, but you go, many weekends in a row.
Odds are your car is not cool. Odds are it’s not quite yours. It’s the early 2000’s, not the early 80’s, so summer jobs and after-school retail work isn’t enough to get you the ride of your dreams. No drop-top, nothing sporty. You’re in a sedan, happy to not be in a minivan, driving your homegirls, rolling five deep. You waited until after the last smog-streaked blaze of sunshine vanished from the sky to come to Hollywood. You don’t live near here. You came from south of Olympic, for sure, and east of La Brea, most likely. Far east, in some cases. You sat in an hour of traffic on the 101 to sit in more traffic on Sunset. If traffic can ever, under any circumstances, be described as sexy it would be now, you think. The plan is to sit in this traffic and be hollered at by men. Dudes, you call them, unselfconscious of the Country and Western undertones.
Pull up to a light, check your peripherals. There are dudes in a blue ’98 Volkswagen Golf. Button-down shirts, jeans and Chuck Taylors. Middling confidence. They roll down their windows and you do the same, eyeing one another. You don’t know what you want 20 Angela Flournoy from them, exactly, but you need to be seen by them on this street on this night.
Truth is, even if you were old enough, most of the clubs on Sunset wouldn’t have you, black as you are, broke as you are. If you so much as pull up to the front of a fancy-looking place the valets will look at you askance. So you pull into the In-n-Out parking lot, a safe space to see and be seen. This isn’t the only strip. Your Mexican homegirls are probably on Whittier Boulevard this very moment. You tried Crenshaw before but LAPD enforces the cruising laws there too tough, tracking how many times a car goes up and down the street. Plus, the likelihood of something violent popping off is too high. You don’t know what you want from this, but you know you don’t want to die.
In the parking lot all the hand-me-down, mom-can-I-borrow vehicles have their doors open. You smirk, you giggle, pretend not to care when a dude passes you by. You give out your number, collect a few numbers scrawled on burger joint receipts.
Later, when you live on the other coast and try to explain what the point was, of wasting gas and entire nights on less than a mile of congested Hollywood road, your friends will assume you were hoping to see someone famous. They’ll be wrong. You hoped to see yourself out there, shining, growing, unafraid.
© 2016 Angela Flournoy