It was just before dawn on the Hollywood Transit Center Max platform. The daily commuter population had not yet exploded. As usual, I walked to the far end, hopeful of easier seating at the front of the train. I paced slowly a few steps back and forth like a caged cat, trying to feel a little more alive.
Nearby, another human cat was marking territory. He was more tiger than kitty. His path completely encircled mine. He was punching the air. He was angry. It was in the low forties, but he was dressed for playing tennis, in shorts, sneakers and a light hooded sweatshirt. He wore a gray ball cap. As we passed, he growled and spat out a flaming F-bomb: "F***!" Maybe he had lost a tough match.
I gave him room. He was talking to himself, not to me, but I gave him room, because he was scaring me. I watched him, without making eye contact, because eye contact with an angry predator is asking for a fight. When I was a kid and got into fights, I was sometimes the angry predator reacting to eye contact. But that was a lot of testosterone ago.
He got on the train with me. I curled up peacefully on a seat. The other cat paced on, spitting an F-bomb every five to ten seconds. He paced nearby, back and forth between car doors, muttering and punctuating the mutters with "F***." Every person within earshot was watching him; no one was making eye contact.
After a few minutes he walked from between the doors down the car to where I could neither hear nor see him behind the gathering crowd. A few minutes later he came back past me and took a spot between the next set of doors.
Something was pushing the man's buttons over and over and over. I could not relax and read. There was nothing to do but just wait for one of us to disembark. Oh, I thought of asking him if he needed to talk to someone, offer to buy a cup of coffee, but I couldn't muster the courage. At my stop, the Sunset Transit Center, Tiger got off a few steps ahead of me.
I put some space between us by waiting at the foot of the first set of stairs while he climbed them I pulled my beanie over my ears and gloves onto my hands as he marched upwards, bare legs flexing. They were lightly tanned, and I thought maybe he was angry with himself for not packing warm clothes for the trip from Paradise.
He went out of sight. When I reached the top platform, Tiger was taking his first steps on the second stairway, the one that leads up to the bridge over Highway 26. That's where I was going.
I followed him across the bridge, wary in case he smelled my fear. At the intersection on the other side, he turned and marched in the direction I was going. Was he headed for my office? It was possible. the business where I work has plenty of walk-in customers.
When he reached the short street that led to my work, to my relief he walked past. I thought he was headed for the Sunset Strip, a strip club located in a former Denny's. Then he turned, as if he might be coming around the block. I walked slowly towards work, and could see that no, Tiger's destination was not the Sunset Strip, but the Rodeway Inn motel. And he disappeared into it.
A couple hours later I was taking a break outside the back of the building where I work. The area is surrounded by a six-foot wooden fence. I was stretching and bouncing around. Somebody said, "Getting some exercise?"
I looked up and a guy had come through the gate to stand nearby. He looked a lot like Tiger, except he was dressed in warm clothes and a blue ball cap. He walked over to the cigarette butt holder and went through it looking for good ones while we chatted. He was friendly. Could it be Tiger?
He asked me what I did in there, and when I said I was a business writer he said he wished he'd taken his father's advice and learned computers.
That's all I recall from our five minute conversation, because the whole time I was trying to figure out if he was Tiger. Coming to get me because I'd seen too much.
Eventually he said, "Have a good day, I gotta go."
"Okay," I said, "Have a good day."
He mounted a bicycle he had left leaning against a dumpster and rolled away.
A co-worker told me, "Oh, yeah, that guy comes around all the time and scavenges cigarette butts."
Good set up for a scary movie, eh?
If this turns out to be my last blog post, you know which motel to check for clues.