I’ve heard of it and gotten it’s location from an undisclosed source. Undisclosed because this place is an actual functioning juke joint in the second largest city in the United States.
I don’t know what this says about me, but I have to admit I was a little nervous as soon as I parked. It was a Saturday night, and I was in Compton. I’ve lived in Los Angles for more than fifteen years, and the closest that I’ve ever been to South Central is the LAX airport. My youth was spent watching this area depicted in movies like Boys N the Hood and Menace II Society, not to mention the L.A. riots on the news. South Central has officially been renamed “South LA” to cover up any dark connotations to what what guys like have have associated with it.
I’m a white guy from the working class suburbs of Seattle. I’m from another planet, or at least I thought so.
I arrived and found myself hustling in to what basically looked like the entrance to the set of Sanford and Son. This wasn’t some official business or club with a parking lot. It’s basically a residential area of Compton. When I say I hustled, it was because I saw a couple of young guys walking down the sidewalk in my direction on the way in. I obviously stood out like a sore thumb here – a white guy carrying a camera with dark rimmed glasses and a ball cap.
I walked in, trying to look cool, and was probably the only one there who wasn’t a regular, and everyone knew it. The young guys from the dark sidewalk outside came in a few minutes after me, greeting friends and laughing. “Jesus, what an asshole I am”, I thought. These guys weren’t after me. They couldn’t give two fucks about me. They were just guys in the neighborhood dropping by to say hi to pals. I needed to pull the stick out of my ass and relax. I realized that in many ways, this was a lot like the culture that I had grown up in. It was a lot alike, but in a totally different setting. I grew up drinking beers around bonfires in the woods, and here it’s basically the same deal but in the back of what was basically a junkyard with live blues backing it all up.
“Hey, man. It’s five dollars”, said a big salt and pepper bearded guy in a well worn fedora who tracked me down after I blew in unaware of what the fuck the deal was here. “Oh, I’m sorry, man.”, I said as I broke out a five spot. “Can I buy a beer from you guys?”, I asked. I was in. He pointed towards a back room, where two ladies who I assume lived in the house next to it were talking and smoking. I walked in and asked for a beer. One of the ladies charged me five bucks and tossed my a can of beer out of the fridge. I was home. I wafted some weed smoke out of my face, took a pull off of the can, and was on my way.
I was a stranger in a strange land, but I with that can of beer in my hand, I was welcomed and treated like an old friend – even with my camera in my hand. Technically, it was a business (although obviously not an official one, but I imagine that South LA has bigger fish to fry rather than worrying about something as harmless as this place), but it felt more like just a family or old school neighborhood gathering. They do it every Saturday and Sunday night, and I’m assuming that it’s basically the same crowd coming every weekend for years. After joking around with everybody that I came into contact with, rather than getting some kind of, “Who the fuck is that?” looks or attitude toward me, I got smiles and a complete welcome.
The blues were raw. It was the real deal, and I fucking loved it.
I felt a lot of gratitude in this experience.
I felt a lot of love.
I learned something about myself in my trepidations of coming here alone at night. I want to live. I want to soak it all in, and make life an experience. Make it art. Do whatever it is that makes you feel a little nervous or anxious. Dive into it. Take that chance. Love it. Take a big fucking bite of it. Living and creating like this isn’t for everybody, and it never has been.
If it is, you’re at the right place.
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