Fishing boats tie up along the dock;the Santa Maria, the Maria T, fish traps cage turquoise flotation buoys, piles of working nets spill along the waterfront on the San Pedro marina. I walk past sandy-haired captains working on their boats in the sun. The Midnight Hour lurking on the other side of the channel, a haunting flat black vessel watching the clock. Nearby busy seafood markets and restaurants do a local, blue collar tourist business. The San Pedro Fish Market, Crusty Crab, Baja Fish, Alaska Seafoodand Sushi, the Pan Pacific Restaurant, all featuring local catch laid over shaved ice along with shrimp, mussels, scallops. Live lobster and crab float in salt water tanks. Women wearing white smocks and rubber gloves package it to go or take it to the kitchen to grill, sauté, broil, deep-fry or poach to your order. The markets are a frenzy of eyeballs peering over glass partitions into icy display cases classy as a photo layout for a vacation buffet or a catalog of the best the Pacific Ocean has to offer. I mingle among large crowds of people speaking Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese and Korean, children holding hands of the elders who pick and choose filets, whole fish, head on, head off, steaks with bones-in, catching the eye of an attendant holding the tail of a whole red snapper with glistening scales that speak of fresh caught, same day.
I move on, order a beer, take a table by the window, watch the easy movement of families, young couples clutching bags they have purchased from the African American shop with its red and yellow and green banners, Wing’s Oriental gifts, ice-packed bags of fresh catch.
At Venice Beach on Sunday I stop in at the Candle Café and have a chicken salad and a beer. A Reggae band strikes muffled rhythm chords on the sidewalk, a couple at the table outside the window smoke, the girl a pretty blonde who strides inside a moment later, her bronze arms wearing a light blue tattoo and her sunglasses the latest. The boardwalk is a zoo.
‘Spare a dollar to help my black ass’, a blunt pitch from a large black man . A skateboarder with empty eyes holds a sign ‘Hungry . . .Spare Change?’. Women walk by a man holding two strips of cardboard with the words ‘You’re Soooo Beautiful’ . He'll read the words with feeling if he likes what he sees. Girls squeal. Men recoil. He gets a laugh.
Burning sage in brass pots, a man wah-wahs a guitar solo through a two-inch speaker; ‘Walk Your Bike’ a cop commands from a bullhorn sitting in a squad car off the boardwalk.
Hat shops, head shops, marijuana clinics, pizza by the slice, smoking accessories, discos, CDs, sunglasses spread out on card tables next to the back end of a station wagon, tie-died t-shirts, others with air-brushed heroes—Hendrix, Obama, Charlie Sheen, Che Guevara, Dylan, Kobe, Shaq, they’re all there. The fresh smell of the Pacific Ocean breeze mixed with suntan lotion, incense, burning sage, pizza, sausage sandwiches, the drumming of Afro-Cuban rhythms layered amongst chanting, flutes, guitars, percussion, barkers asking for five dollars and you enter the Hall of Horrors with the red-plumed woman in the black fish net and corset. It seduces, subverts, suckers, sells, assails, assaults senses, reality is in check, reason is on hold, cacophony orchestrated to slide a dollar or two from your pocket, make you smile, give you pause, get you high.