Oompa Loompas!I poured some coffee into my travel mug and walked out of our Hollywood apartment stopped in my tracks. I was disturbed to see the little man who wanted a dollar sitting in the bus stop shelter. The bus was due in three minutes. There was naught I could do but wait there with him. I stood at the stop and pretended not to see him, opting to inspect my fingers at close detail.

“Hello chum,” said the little man.
“I don’t have a dollar,” I said.
“No worry, my friend. I got my buck, bless my luck.”
“Ah.”
“Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.”
“I’ll try not to.”
“De bus, de bus,” said the little man, doing an incredibly accurate impersonation of Tattoo from Fantasy Island.

I hopped on the bus and found a window seat. The little man sat down next to me.

“I was a munchkin,” he said. “An Oompa-Loompa too. Damn orange paint made me break out.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a candy bar. He pulled back the wrapper and took a bite and then offered some to me.

“No thanks.”

He shrugged, carefully re-wrapped the chocolate and put it back in his pocket.

We rode in relative silence for a while as Latino ladies boarded the bus for their hour long bus trip to Bel Air, which would be followed by an hour long walk up steep hills to get to their jobs as underpaid nannies and housekeepers in the homes of wealthy Angelenos.

The bus came to a stop at Santa Monica and Highland. I looked up.

“My stop,” I said. “Good luck.”
“Luck’s the confluence of the right knowledge and the right situation. Remember that,” said the little man.
“Will do. Take it easy.”

I stepped off of the bus and glanced at my watch, ten after nine. Shit. My boss was an asshole about time.

I opened the door and stepped into the Wilcox Agency, a firm that considered itself an high power advertising agency, but in reality was so low on the food chain, it had to be content with being the company who was the primary provider of sign holders in the greater Los Angeles area.

That was my job, I was a sign holder. That is, I was one of the guys you see standing on the corner of the street with an arrow shaped sign pointing in the direction of the latest condo project, apartment building, restaurant, or massage parlor trying to encourage drivers to stop on in for a look.

I wandered to the back of the office where the meeting room was. Dan Templeton, my boss, was briefing my fellow sign holders as I walked in.

“You’re late Van Dyke,” said Templeton.
“Sorry, bus was slow.”
“Leave earlier next time.”

I wandered over to the coffee maker and topped of my travel mug of coffee, Templeton following my moves with a look of contempt.

“As I was saying before Mr. Van Dyke so rudely interrupted us,” said Templeton, “Barrister condos is a very valuable account to the Wilcox Agency. I want to see you guys working your asses off today. You damn well better be flinging those signs with gusto and flair or I’m going to nail you to the fucking wall… Especially you Van Dyke.”

With the morning debriefing over, the twelve of us boarded the company Econoline van which would drop us at our assigned corners. I slid into the back seat staring out the window as I sipped my coffee. Owen Grady, professional weasel, planted himself next to me.

Owen Grady was a twitchy sort whose bug-eyed facial expression always looked as if he was being half throttled by his own hands.

“That coffee better have a lot of caffeine,” said Owen. “Maybe that will put some energy into your performance.”
“Piss off Owen.”
“Nice attitude Van Dick.”
“Oh, you’re clever Owen. Never heard that one before.”
“You’re such a slacker Van Dick. You don’t take the Wilcox Agency seriously.”
“I hold signs for a living. How can I take that seriously?”
“You better. Mr. Templeton assigned me one block down from you and if you don’t fling your sign with gusto and flair I’m gonna tell him.”
“Great,” I said sarcastically and took a sip of my coffee.

The Econoline sidled up to the corner of Doheny and Sunset Boulevard near the eastern border of Beverly Hills. Owen Grady and I clambered out of the the back of the van. I took up my station on the north side of Sunset next to the guy who hawked Star Maps to tourists as Owen jogged down the street to his.

“I better see gusto and flair Van Dyke!” screamed Owen as he ran.

I sighed and took another sip of my coffee.

“Morning Lucius,” said the Star Maps guy in a thick Mexican accent.
“Morning Ricardo.”
“Don’ worry ’bout him. He a chilito.”
“Yeah.”

Ricardo reached under his chair and pulled out a small red Igloo cooler.

“Tamale?”
“Sure.”

Ricardo’s wife made the most fantastic tamales and would pack him off in the morning with a cooler full to sell to the locals while he peddled maps to the homes of the stars.

He opened the cooler to a big blast of steam. It was truly amazing how long those tamales would stay hot in that cooler.

I handed him a dollar and unwrapped the tamale from it’s corn husk.