2023.38 : The Hooker Who Changed Me

Sunset Strip, California U.S.A. Circa 1989

Vee: Nobody’s treated me the way you do before.
Tom: How do I treat you?
Vee: Like a person.
Tom: How does everybody else treat you?
Vee: Like a hooker.
Tom: Why do they treat you like that?
Vee: Because I am hooker.

— From the movie: Milk Money

A journey awaits. Starting from the epicenter of the City of Angels, and for 22 miles to the Pacific Ocean, is a legendary boulevard that snakes along the path of an 1780s cattle trail along the arc of the northern rim of the Los Angeles Basin. The drive from one end of Sunset Boulevard to the other will transport you through the entire economic spectrum of neighborhoods, from the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest in the world. From concrete jungles to coastal mountains, canyons, and seaside vistas that take your breath away.

Halfway to the beach, you’ll pass through a two-mile stretch: The Sunset Strip. Renowned for birthing legends about legends. It’s home to comedy clubs, rock venues, restaurants, dance clubs, and hotels that cater to this eclectic crowd. It’s where wannabes party with the rich, famous, and infamous.

At sunset, the Sunset Strip swells with day-dwellers scurrying homeward and night-owls shaking off slumber, getting ready for the night ahead. As the sun descended, I headed for dinner—a sandwich at Subway located at the corner of a strip mall that marks the eastern boundary of the strip. Fuel for the long night ahead as I shuttled customers home from the airport and later chauffeured others to their favorite spots along the Sunset Strip.

Seated at one of the tables, I was a third of the way into my meatball sub, Sun Chips, and a diet soda when the front door swung open. A gust of vibrant energy invaded the snug space. My attention shifted from my meal to the woman who entered with unwavering purpose. She was dressed in attire that, if not emblematic of a streetwalker, certainly echoed its signature style.

Without hesitation, she approached the counter. With graceful precision, she ordered her meal, paid, spun around. She carried her tray with an air of nonchalance, seemingly unfazed by the world around her to an open table opposite me, offset one table back for ideal viewing.

I could no longer focus on my meal, not for the reasons one might expect; my attention couldn’t turn away from one-woman drama unfolding before my eyes. My inner dialogue thundered, “Don’t look at her. Be discreet. Avoid eye contact. Respect her privacy. Don’t interject yourself into whatever is happening.”

With meticulous care, she placed her unpretentious purse beside her, treating it as if it were a luxurious Hermès accessory. Seated with impeccable posture, she ensured her drink was within easy reach yet safe from any accidental spills.

As a worker of the night, I was accustomed to observing the manners and habits of working girls, usually much deeper into the early morning and further east. I had never seen a member of their guild with such refined manners and habits.

She delicately transformed the wrapping paper into a makeshift plate, placing a napkin elegantly on her lap. Opening her bag of chips, she didn’t immediately indulge but instead arranged them properly. Between bites of her sandwich, she’d savor a single chip, washing it down with her refreshing beverage. All her actions were marked by an unhurried grace, yet she wasted no time.

Her refined manners, rivaled those of the most esteemed British ladies or Southern belles. That juxtaposition with her job was intensifying my confusion as stereotypes splintered and shattered in my mind’s eye.

I deliberately slowed my own eating. I couldn’t leave before the final curtain, even though each moment was filled with the same question, “What am I witnessing?”

She concluded her meal with an expression of utter satisfaction. Retrieving the napkin from her lap, she ensured her mouth’s corners were immaculate, and her hands, pristine. From her purse, she retrieved a compact mirror, touching up her lipstick and meticulously inspecting her makeup. With a gratifying snap, she closed the compact and secured her purse.

With her tray in hand, she approached the nearby trash bin, responsibly disposing of all remnants in their proper receptacles. Turning to face the entrance, she adjusted her attire, confirming her black skirt hadn’t ridden too high and that her top—and the girls—were in their proper places. She tossed her hair with flair and gracefully exited.

The front door closed behind her, and she stood still on the walkway. A moment later, she raised both hands high above her head. As if right on cue, two LAPD patrol cars pulled up, and the officers arrested her without any theatrics.

Just as quickly as they arrived, the squad car drove off, carrying this lady to jail. It was over. Yet, her life, as well as mine, had been profoundly impacted. I will carry with me to my grave the haunting questions about her backstory and what had brought her to that meal.

From the moment she walked in the door, she knew her last minutes of freedom would soon end for an unknown duration. How to comport herself in such a frightening situation. She had a menu of choices, with chaos being the most popular one. She chose a delicious meal. She chose dignity.

While she made that choice with no thoughts of influencing others, she did. I have done my best to convey the beauty of her facing down all the indignities up to that moment in her life with courage. All I know is this: I bore witness to a triumph of human dignity that has never left me. To this day, I endeavor to emulate her whenever confronted by indignities.

My sincerest hope is that she found and lived her best life.

Even though I never learned her name, if she’ll permit me, I’ll call her Roxanne, after the character in the hit song by The Police entitled ‘Roxanne,’ this week’s companion video. To my constant surprise, a high percentage of those who enjoy this song have never truly listened to the lyrics of Roxanne.

Thank you, Roxanne. You are the reason I vowed never again to mistake a person’s character for their circumstances.

And now…know the photograph.

The Police - Roxanne (Official Lyric Video)

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