Do you like one day old cantaloupes? Moldy strawberries? People shoving you around to get to the ripest tomatoes? Tourists taking pictures of you? - just because they think you represent a "typical downtowner" (whoever that is) - then you haven't lived until you've visited the vendors at the Grand Central Market.
Los Angeles's oldest and largest open air market - Grand Central has been on Broadway for more than 85 years. It is one of the city's landmarks. It is near where I live and when I moved into my loft, I literally couldn't wait to bring my metal cart and shop away. I was going to buy dinner nightly. Shop until I dropped. Soak in the local culture.
That is until two weeks later, when I had thrown away more moldy strawberries, bananas, over-ripe tomatoes than I could count. My feet were sore from baby strollers coasting over them. And the smell - oh the smell - it was a cross between dead fish and steamed beef tacos in hot sauce.
The intrigue short-lived. My fantasy of shopping daily like the Parisians, or at Zabar's in New York was essentially over. Finito. Nada chance. I was done.
But I wasn't.
Like the sun sets in the west and rises in the east, I needed my cup of morning Joe. And when I first moved in, I didn't own a coffee maker, and I was too cheap to buy one. Granted food was out at Grand Central - but I knew about its hidden secret. COFFEE.
There is this one vendor - I don't even know the name - that faces Hill - and they serve the best. And it's a bargain. Almost half the cost of the trendy coffee places. I was hooked.
So, morning after morning in a trance like state, I would walk over and say the exact same thing "medium de-caf, extra hot, leave a little space at the top, please."
And that's how I got to know "the coffee girls."
Joy (she's on the left) and Dalci (on the right) have worked there for years - churning out coffee and fruit smoothies. Got to the point, when they saw me coming, my order was ready. I was their new neighborhood regular. A friendly, curious one.
So...it wasn't long before the smiles began and so did the stories. I found out that Dalci lived downtown with her mom and husband, and Joy, typically would just laugh at pretty much anything I would say - a great audience. Dalci told me that many of the vendors were losing money - and she was proven right - many have been forced to leave. And that the rent keeps getting higher and higher. I asked her often about her mother. And one day I gave them both clothes. I thought Joy would jump over the counter and kiss me.
I just liked them, my new friends who I labeled "the coffee girls." Then guess what? I finally popped for a coffee machine. No need to go to Grand Central. No more daily dose of Dalci and Joy.
But that didn't stop "the wave." I'd occasionally walk down Hill, and I'd wave at them from the sidewalk, then they would wave. "When you coming back?" Dalci would yell. "I bought a coffee maker," I would answer, "How's your mother?"
Just yesterday, I popped back in to say hello. To smooze. I missed my girls. And coffee or not - I marveled at how "medium de-caf, extra hot, leave a little space at the top, please" brought us together. At the Grand Central no less!