This morning I saw a man walking on the 405 connector to the 710 north. He wore a school-sized backpack. He saw details on the concrete wall, over the railing toward the vegetation below, and out past the electrical towers that I will never see from my 65 mile an hour car. There's a place along the Harbor Freeway, right around Exposition Boulevard (sorry, I can't remember whether it's the southbound side) where someone has left a dark commuter mug on the median's ledge. The only time I get to see the coffee mug and think about whom it belonged to and the dark, expressionist tire marks below it, is when traffic grinds to a crawl.
The price I pay for speed in this freeway city is knowing large parts of the region as blurs. Not L.A. poet Marisela Norte. She's chosen to live the city by bus and on foot.
For several decades she's documented the stories she hears on the bus seats in front and behind her, and the world just outside the bus window. Her book "Peeping Tom Tom Girl" gathers many of these poems.
Starting today and through the end of December, Norte's poetry will pop up for several seconds or longer on the TV screens of dozens of Metro buses as those buses approach and pass the key street intersections in Norte's years of bus rides.
"The project links physical and virtual worlds through digital media offerings that coax viewers to explore and reconsider what exists out their window," according to Freewaves, the organizer of the Out the Window project.
Here's what Marisela Norte said about the collaboration:
I've chosen public transportation and my own two feet as my preferred means of navigating the city. Every day I make it a point to venture out with my camera and a small notebook and just take in this landscape that is Los Angeles. It can be a short tour around the neighborhood, a visit to the Shoe Repair man or a six mile walk. I take a personal object along with me to leave at a bus bench or atop a newspaper vending machine and try and imagine who may have come across it; might this be something they were looking for or had lost? Will they carry it home? Will it remain there for me to find again? Questions posed, and there begins the writing. I have received many, many beautiful gifts on the sidewalks of the city; this is my thank you.
Empathetic eavesdropping, and street-level staring have led her to fill dozens of notebooks. Several years ago she piled many of them in the center of the Tropico de Nopal gallery on Beverly Boulevard for a show of her street photography. To me they gave off an invisible aura as I thought about all the conversations between señoras, young women, and men she'd managed to save from evaporation. So many stories in the wire-bound notebooks: hot bus rides, humid rainy day bus rides, back from work bus rides, early morning bus rides with the rest of working world L.A. I had to sit down and stare at the stacks, which she cleverly wired secure to the table.
I'll leave you with this audio soundscape I produced a few years ago with an interview of Marisela Norte. At the time I was intrigued at how hearing a particular song made me think about a specific place, and not necessarily the place where I'd heard the song. She told me "In a Sentimental Mood" often came to mind when her bus crossed the Lorena Street bridge in East L.A.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.
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