23 May 2013

Michael is king of the Bigg Chill parking lot. The Bigg Chill is a west side institution in LA. Long before Starbucks’ Howard Schultz invested $27 million in Pinkberry, The Bigg Chill was serving frozen yogurt from a small storefront just south of UCLA...far enough to be away from any campus traffic, but close enough and a straight enough shot down Westwood that the sorority girls driving the expensive cars their daddies bought them often need help navigating their way out of the tight, efficient parking lot. 

That’s where Michael comes in. For two years now he’s been there almost every night. Tall and strapping, with towels thrown over his right shoulder, he’s there to wash people’s windows while they enjoy their yogurt. Then, when they are ready to leave, he directs and stops traffic and helps people out of tight spots. He wears a vest that has fluorescent safety tape on it and a cap.

Though he doesn’t look old enough, Michael tells me that he served in Vietnam. He used to be a truck driver, but his job went to Mexico and he says he’s still mad at Bush Senior for that, but he doesn’t want to sit around and do nothing.  “I’ve got 10 fingers and 10 toes and five senses. There’s no reason for me not to be working,” he says. 

Michael lives up the road at the VA Home with other war veterans and it turns out he’s a little peeved at another Bush, George W. As someone who served his country proudly, he’s still upset about the Iraq War and that some of his comrades were “killed for a lie. And now Bush is in Texas, and Cheney is in Montana.”  I don’t engage him in any kind of debate, I just listen. He’s calm, but there’s an anger that roils under the surface. 

My friend and I shake Michael’s hand, thank him for his service to our country, and  get into our car. After making sure our path is clear, Michael comes back to the front of the car, stands ramrod straight and he salutes us as we leave. His form is perfect. 

About 20 minutes later, as I’m driving back home, the Bigg Chill has closed, but Michael is still there, walking the perimeter, making sure his kingdom is safe one last time until he returns tomorrow. 

May 23: Michael

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