Toady remembered the first time he’d come down to the river’s edge. It was back when he was in fifth grade and he was with his first volunteer big brother — Greg, a law student at UCLA. Growing up westside one didn’t get many opportunities to see the L.A. River or more specifically the monster concrete channel into which it had been made. Nor did one really care to what with the great big Pacific Ocean only a few miles in the other direction. But after a day spent at Griffith Park when Alan found out that Toady had never been up close and personal to it, they packed up the baseball gloves and the balls and headed out of the park and into a residential area where they parked and walked through a broken section of fencing at the end of a dead end street and there she was.
Having seen the Tennessee River as it winds its way through Chattanooga a few summers previous, he wasn’t at all impressed. Hell, even the creek that ran next to his grandma’s house in Alabama held more appeal, not to mention crawdads.
Six years later now in high school and here he was beside it again. Still not at all impressed. The reunion hadn’t been planned. He’d been trying to get from Beverly Hills to the Yamaha dealership on Brand in Glendale with a lousy moped he’d stolen from the the bike racks by the student parking lot. He’d made it across town via Beverly and then up Silver Lake Boulevard around the reservoir to Glendale Boulevard, but coming down the hill to Riverside Drive, the shitty little Puch gave up and he coasted it to a stop by the offramp from the Golden State Freeway. Probably had never been throttled that far at any one time in its life.
No big deal, he thought as he rocked it back onto its centerstand and looked in the direction of his destination. It was only another mile or so to walk and so he began that last leg, just leaving the moped where it stood next to the curb. He’d saved up enough of his meager income working after school and weekends washing dishes for a pizza joint up there between the derelict rail tracks and Little Santa Monica to get his 50-cc motorbike out of the shop, a victim of the freak deluge in the middle of a night a couple months ago that backed up the sewer system and turned the slums of Beverly Hills street he lived on into a raging river — one that poured into the apartment building’s underground garage, filling it full, about seven feet deep.
Four other tenants’ cars drowned that night. His mom had been the last one out and the old Mustang and her floated down the street ending up on a lawn on the other side of the street half the block down. There was a reason the name of the street he was one block over from was Spanish for “the swamp.”
When the landlords finally got the garage drained, his Yamaha was a mud-coated mess. But despite the external grunge, Toady figured if he took everything apart, cleaned it, dried it, WD-40’d it, and put it back, it should work. At least in theory. A couple weeks worth of toiling and sure enough the little bike fired up, albeit a bit spluttery with an uneven idle. So one Saturday he’d surreptitiously borrowed the pizza owner’s delivery van and used it to transport the bike out to Glendale, where the bill came to about $100, which was $100 more than he had at the moment. The mechanic said they’d hold the bike for him until he could get the money together. It took six weeks, what with having to give his mom most of his paycheck to help with the rent. Such was life.
But now Toady stood just off Memorial Bridge looking down into the shallow water that flowed slowly over a concrete bottom covered in something green, happy to be so close to getting his beloved little scooter back. The honk of a horn startled him and he turned to find a van stopped at the top of the offramp with a big shaggy-haired man wearing sunglasses leaning across the seat.
“Hey, you need a ride?” the dude asked through the open passenger side window.
“No way, man.” Toady replied.
“Come on. Where you going?”
Toady didn’t answer. Instead he just started walking across the bridge. The driver of the van turned right onto Glendale and pulled alongside pacing Toady’s gait.
“Don’t you want a ride? I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
Toady thought “Sure you will, fag,” and looked straight walking for a few more paces until the van lurched to a squeaky stop and Toady heard the driver’s side door open. Without hesitating Toady reversed course and ran back to the offramp where he shimmied through a hole in the chainlink fence and scurried down the bank not looking behind him until he was at the water’s edge. When he did, heart jackhammering in his chest, he saw the man at the hole in the fence. He stood there for a few moments before shaking his head and yelling at Toady “Well fuck you then punk!” before stomping off.
Toady flipped him the finger after he was out of view.
He knew better than to go back up that way. The queer could be waiting for him. So instead he made his way alongside the river under the bridge and cautiously came up to the street on its north side, relieved to find the coast clear.