So I'm walking down Brand Boulevard in Glendale, CA. Signs along this section of the road suggest that it is also known as the "Boulevard of Cars," and the nickname is apt: the street is lined on both sides with auto dealerships representing every make under the sun. Also lining both sides of the street are sparingly-used sidewalks – unsurprisingly the Boulevard of Cars is more often cruised down than strolled. I myself have driven this stretch of road 50 times at least, but this is my first time walking it. I'm killing time while getting my car serviced at one of the dealerships, taking care of a recall on a daytime running lamp that I've been putting off for over year. I'm a relatively new car owner, but I've already developed the bad habit of putting off automotive appointments, in much the same way I put off going to the doctor or the dentist. In each scenario, I dread learning of an expensive, even devastating problem that I can do nothing about. In all of these areas, let's just say...I've been burned before.
But back to the sidewalk along Brand Boulevard. It's hot and I'm on the sunny side of the street. I'm killing time until my car is ready, walking the three-quarters of a mile to the fancy shopping center at Brand and Colorado. I make it as far as Lomita when I come upon two elderly, copper-haired ladies. One of them asks me in a beautiful but heavy accent if I know where the Armenian church is. I have no idea where it is, and I'm willing to hazard a guess that any church in the area could potentially be an Armenian one, but I have my smart phone in my hand, so I offer to find the church on the map. The second woman, shorter, dressed all in black, is on the phone and she seems upset. It's Friday morning, 10:30 am – not the traditional hour for church in my experience – and thinking back on it now, I wonder if maybe they were headed to a funeral. But I don't think about this at the time, I am just a woman giving directions to strangers.
Sidenote: Giving directions to strangers is something I do quite regularly. I'm not the kind of helpful busybody who seeks out confused-looking tourists and offers her help, but rarely does a week go by that someone doesn't ask me on the street, or shout to me from a neighboring car, a question about how to get somewhere. And damned if I don't tell them the answer every time. More often than not, I know without looking it up. Whether I am somehow projecting this geographical knowledge from my aura like some kind of informational beacon or if it's just that I have a friendly, approachable face, I know not. Regardless, this direction-asking phenomenon cannot be denied.
Anyway, back to Brand, late Friday morning, and the old Armenian ladies. The sun is blazing overhead, so bright that I can barely see my phone screen, and the woman who asked for my help notices me sweating and squinting. She says to me with a grandmotherly combination of pity and gratitude, "The sun! It is so hot on you!" I smile, focusing more on figuring out which church is the Armenian one than on what she's saying. But then, much to my surprise, she holds up a piece of paper I hadn't even noticed she's been holding and places it above my forehead, making it a kind of visor that now both protects my face and shields my screen from the sun's glare. It is a simple, wordless gesture, but the tenderness of it, especially in my current anxious state, is sweetly devastating. I find the church on the map, St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic, just down the block and around the corner. The directions are simple, but I repeat them several times, making sure the women know they're close. And then I go on my way, feeling a little better about the day general and musing on things like karma and the depending on the kindness of strangers.
It would be enough by itself, this tiny little moment of my morning. Enough to muse on when I'm feeling frustrated with humanity. But not 10 minutes later (after getting a call from the dealership saying my car was ready, the man from the service department asking Did I know my check engine light was on?) something else happens worth musing over. I am now waiting at the intersection of Brand and Colorado, across the street from my intended destination but turning back before reaching it. I have put my headphones in, am listening to the opening sentences of a podcast, waiting for the light to change. To my left, a beat-up minivan is honking. Noncommittally, I glance back to see why, but it's unclear. The honking continues – I surmise that someone behind the van is pissed off because the van is not turning right on red (a variety of honk common in the Los Angeles area). But then I notice that the van's driver is up out of the car, propping herself on the door so that her head sticks out over the top of the thing. And she's calling out to ME. I can't hear her over the voice in my ear, but the podcast has barely begun, I don't even know what it's about yet, so I pull out my headphones, asking aloud that simple question that will forever sound like a joke: "Are you talking to me?" And yes, she is.
The woman is in her mid 50s, slim, too tan in a way that speaks of wreckless, sun-soaked decades rather than expensive spray tans, and, I kid you not, dressed in jean shorts and a green lamè bikini top. She has to repeat her question several times before I understand: she is asking me if I'm trying to get to the bus stop down Colorado a little ways, and offering to drive me there. She has seen me, waiting to cross the street, sweaty and burning in the mid-morning sun, and thought maybe she could help make my life a little easier. I mean. What the fuck.
If I were catching the bus, the unusual offer might have given me pause. I probably would have declined simply because it seemed too kind, too out-of-the-ordinary a gesture to be purely offered or graciously, casually accepted. The woman might have been a lunatic, bizarrely dressed as she was and oddly insistent on getting my attention. But I am not trying to catch the bus, I'm just crossing to the east side of the street, which I'm now realizing is just as sunny as the west. Which means I can just smile warmly and say, meaning it entirely, Thank you so much for the kind offer! And I can cross the street, making the hot trek most of a mile back to my car – which has been given, if not a clean bill of health, at least permission to leave – with that smile plastered onto my face, thinking of how strange the world is, and how nice it is that there are people in it who will take it upon themselves to try and shield you from the blaze of the sun.