The term "skid row" or "skid road", referring to an area of a city where people live who are "on the skids", derives from a logging term. Loggers would transport their logs to a nearby river by sliding them down roads made from greased skids. Loggers who had accompanied the load to the bottom of the road would wait there for transportation back up the hill to the logging camp. By extension, the term began to be used for places where people with no money and nothing to do gathered, becoming the generic term for a depressed street in a city.
Skid Row in Los Angeles is a 54 block area next to downtown that is home to the highest concentration of people experiencing homelessness in the United States and it’s still growing. It’s also got the busiest fire department station in the country. Living on the street is dangerous and unhealthy. Often its inhabitants are either predators or prey. It’s filled with pain, suffering, anger, racism, frustration, cynicism, addiction, abuse, hopelessness, and violence.
Ironically, painted on the sidewalk on San Pedro Street is a little piece of art that people walk on and walk by but seems so out of place. It reads, “Keep Smiling”. I see two problems with it: 1) You’d have to be smiling in the first place to keep doing it; 2) There aren’t a lot of reasons to smile on skid row. I walk the streets regularly as part of the community. Most people aren’t smiling and most don’t even want to exchange pleasantries. Life is hard out there and so are hearts.
Yet there are some who abide by the street art and “Keep Smiling”. I met one such man this past week on one of my walks around the neighborhood. He goes by the name of “Uncle Adrian”. I couldn’t help noticing him because he had such a big smile. It was so out of place. He was sitting on a folding chair with a book on his lap and a bright blue shirt. I just had to stop and strike up a conversation. I found some common ground by talking about the book he was reading. It was “Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I have read most of those stories and enjoy them so we had something to talk about.
He proceeded to tell me that he lived in the government housing SRO building down the street from the mission. He was a good conversationalist and a good-natured fellow. As I began to leave I asked him how I could pray for him. He asked for good health and to be a positive influence in the community. Then he said, “Can you pray for me right now?” So we prayed right there. He thanked me and I said I will be by again soon. He smiled as I headed off.
Uncle Adrian is one of the best dressed persons on skid row… not because of his stylish blue shirt, but because of his beautiful, contagious smile. Interestingly, Uncle Adrian was sitting there smiling just steps for the sidewalk art that encouraged passers by to “Keep Smiling”!