I did comment several times that arriving at an unknown place without preparation allows serendipity to play at its best. Furthermore, arriving off-hours, not knowing the local language and having no local money assures a fast-learning experience. In California it is difficult to fulfill all these requirements, but serendipity still exists.
Los Angeles and San Francisco served me several times as the gateway to Asian destinations. Instead of making specific exploratory visits, I toured both cities randomly, in between flights. Feeling both cities are too well known to be able to say something new, I didn’t take those tours too seriously.
My third visit to LA was a bit longer than the previous ones; exploring the metro system looked as a good method for discovering new destinations in the area. Long Beach appeared in the metro destinations list and soon I was in a train leading there. I knew the name, but thought it was just one of LA beaches.
Twenty minutes later I became worried. The train had emerged from its tunnel a long time ago and we were traveling along low suburbs that seemed to reach infinity. I couldn’t see any beaches. From the supposedly near Pacific Ocean didn’t emanate even a trace of salty smell. Moreover, many businesses featured Khmer letters. The stations had signs in Khmer. I love Cambodia, but I was planning to reach Southeast Asia on another day.
Soon we stopped at a station named Anaheim. I remembered the name from a friend that participated in a convention there. She called it a city. I took a closer look and found a sign clearly stating "City of Anaheim." It meant I had left LA, though I obviously haven’t reached Long Beach. Something was wrong.
Yet, the route printed within the car showed Long Beach was ahead and that the train will draw a loop and eventually return to LA; I had nothing to lose.
Other stations taught me that Long Beach was also a city and soon I left the train at Long Beach Transit Mall, next to the loop drawn by the Metro Blue Line at its southern end. Being on an elevated spot, it allowed seeing the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
While leaving the car, I briefly noted an ad showing passengers. Above them it was written "Which one is undercover?" I took a picture of it and forgot about that. A new city was waiting ahead.
Before heading downwards to the sea; I walked around the railway loop. The area was attractive, the train stations were open and at the street level. Unobtrusive, they gave the area a look of urban efficiency. I took a few pictures. For one of them I was unable to get rid of a big sign. Instead I read it. Worried, I looked at nearby signs and read them as well. Surprised, I took pictures of them. The messages were incredible, the first one stated:
10 PM – 6 AM
Minors under 18 not allowed without adult"
The second sign was too long and complex to quote here. In the attached picture, the most interesting item said in English and Spanish:
"No Spitting or Chewing Gum"
Half an hour earlier I thought I was in Cambodia. Now it looked like a combination between Singapore and a Soviet Gulag. A curfew in California? Luckily I was an adult and it was the early afternoon.
The third sign read:
Three times past same point within four hours is cruising"
I could imagine the previously met – at list in a sign – undercover agents making lists of who is passing and when. I took note to cross the same spot for the third time only within four hours and a minute.
Would I be able to memorize all these new rules?
Yet the place looked peaceful. In the second look, it also looked empty. Probably it meant people run away from the frightening signs or were already imprisoned. Was this America, the Land of the Free?
There was nothing I could do but walk downwards, towards the Pacific Ocean.