My hometown of Sierra Madre is about 20 miles east of my current apartment in East Hollywood. Unfortunately, there is not a direct route from A to B, so you always have to take a certain permutation of freeways, ex: (101-110-210), or (101-134-210), or (2-134-210). The best option of getting to central Hollywood is to exit Forest Lawn Drive off the 134, and drive up Barham Blvd to plop you on Cahuenga. It’s a good shortcut.
The trade-off, of course, is that you have to drive past a huge cemetery. It is a beautiful, morbid sight, the acres of gravestones and tombs offset by the green grass and marble statues. Unfortunately, I know two people who were buried there before the age of 21: one to cancer, one to a heart attack. Each time I drive past, it’s a crap shoot to whether or not I’ll be reminded of their memory, so I make sure I’m blasting some happy, interesting music.
There are men on the side of the road selling flowers, like oranges, for the last-minute purchase.
I’ve never seen anyone buy them, but it must be fair as far as side-of-the-road selling goes. Give the gift of a fresh flower, its color and fresh scent meant to ephemerally honor the departed friend.
It’s not as contextually dramatic or haunting for me to see these men, as it is for Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire, the voice of the old woman draped in black echoing through the street. “Flores! Flores para los muertos!” But the sight is stirring, nonetheless.
Sometimes I drive by a funeral in process, the crowd gathered by the grave. Sometimes I am in a slow crawl behind a funeral procession that turns into the park and continues up the hill. I react the most when I see people alone. The man sits on the grass as if he were talking to a friend. The two women, perhaps sisters, are fighting, perhaps crying. Those conversations are quiet and honest.
In a way the experience is a purge. The sorrow of loss and the happiness of remembrance come rushing back, and it feels like my friends are back with me for a moment. I’ve always had a tough time accepting that when my loved ones pass away, that they are merely carbon matter, returned to the Earth. In my mind they are walking and talking, embodying their energy and spirit in some unknown dimension where the drinks are plentiful and hammocks are at every turn. (Or barking in the case of Golden Retrievers, with plenty of tennis balls and fresh grass). It’s not heaven, necessarily, because I hate the idea and the word. My inner agnostic has a fit. Whatever it is, I’m glad to be in touch with my mortality for a moment. I find myself appreciating all the small details in the days afterwards. Then I carry on to the metropolis, descending into the dirty, mystical labyrinth of Hollywood.