Walking to Starbucks, as I often do in my West LA neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to see someone at a freeway ramp, making a living by holding up a cardboard sign. And, as a relative recently told me, “panhandlers with good spots make bank.”
Maybe. But not this guy, no way.
As I approach the gridlocked corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and the 405 freeway onramp at rush hour, I see a man with wild, wild hair, wild-waving arms, wild-eyed mania, and wildly-spoken threats. His abandoned his cardboard sign is now wind-glued to a nearby chain-link fence, torn and flailing uselessly, as is his original enterprising mission.
Drivers may not want to be the man’s audience but they are, unavoidably; the backed-up freeway means that the lunatic has a captive crowd to his gyrations and proclamations.
Traffic trying to get on the freeway barely moves. As drivers inch closer to the mad panhandler show, they roll up their windows. I don’t blame them, do you? I slow down my gait, also hesitating to approach the intersection.
At least I have a choice. Not so the drivers; social custom, blaring horns, and street laws mandate that the cars keep moving when the light turns green, even if it moves them toward the mad man. But for unknown reasons, though I do have a choice, curiosity compels me forward.
Meanwhile, the mad hatter’s incomprehensible sermon gets more vehement – and more threatening to the drivers, as he is now leaving the curb, stepping into the onramp lane, just inches from the cars now.
At first, drivers can edge around him because it’s a two-lane entrance ramp.
But clearly, the crazed panhandler doesn’t like this; he leaps and jumps about directly in the middle of the first lane, and then begins scooting back and forth between both entrance lanes, like a soccer goalie who is determined to let nothing get past him. And now he’s screaming at the drivers, pointing accusingly.
Traffic comes to a complete halt as drivers go into a kind of shock, not sure what to do or where to go.
Being concerned myself, I reach for my cell phone; it’s armed with a 9 and 1 key, right? So I think I should call.
Another part of me is thinking that, hey, this is L.A. – is it really a 911 emergency if he hasn’t killed anyone yet?
But no time to debate – before I can make the call, Wildman Willy stops. I don’t know why, but he just stops gyrating and threatening and walks away, heading down the street.
Relieved drivers start up the freeway ramp, and I continue on to Starbucks.