• Ursula Vari

CHRONICLES OF AN L.A. PHOTOGRAPHER DURING THE CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN: THE SEARCH FOR TIM



When I met Tim on Thursday on the desolate Hill Street, he was just pondering life in his wheelchair staring into the fading sun. I pulled over to give him some oranges and apples and fresh baked cookies given to me by my friend and fellow yogi, Peter. Tim was surprised to see me, then his distant eyes darted to the bleak asphalt. I gave him the bag filled with love and asked him what else he needed. He gave me the usual street-dwellers’ list: wet wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, food. I asked him if he needed anything else. He shook his head and asked me what time I was to return the next day. I said 11:00 am. I thought about him the whole night. That in his condition he couldn’t even push a shopping cart with his belongings. All that he had was his weary backpack behind the seat of his wheelchair. 60 years of life encased in it.

When morning came, for 10 minutes I counted my blessings, I listed all the gifts in my life, my dogs, the roof over my head and even the reality that I am unemployed became a blessing as it freed up the time to reflect and to express my heart. No, I couldn’t pay rent this month and it seems like that will have to wait for a while due to COVID-19 and due to the loss of income, but somehow I have this unshakable faith that all will be taken care of. I just need to continue being of service in the only way I know. Giving my heart.

I stopped at the farmers market at Phil’s Deli because I knew that aside form the two big boxes of food: canned tuna, peanut butter, kind bars, bread, water and hygiene supplies, Tim would enjoy a fresh Philly Cheesesteak. Ricardo, the man behind the counter prepped it with love and off I went into the glorious spring morning. I knew I would be a few minutes late and I didn’t know if Tim would be there, waiting for me or if he would even show. Unlike many street dwellers, “homeless” as you probably call them, Tim didn’t own a phone. When I got to Hill Street it was 11:11 am, I was late by 11 minutes and Tim wasn’t there. I drove around the block about 4 times, carefully surveying every doorway and store entrance. I even drove down to Skid Row, which resembled a war zone. By now the Philly Cheesesteak gone cold and my heart grew heavy. But I knew with over 50,000 homeless people in Los Angeles none of the goods would go to waste. I stopped at a store entrance where a man in his early fifties was laying on his sleeping bag. That was all he had, a sleeping bag and his shoes by his head. I carefully placed the tuna, the crackers, the soup, the Kind bars, the water, the wipes by his head- I didn’t want to wake him. I imagined him coming to at some point and surveying the goods with joy without my presence. But my car keys dropped and Charles woke up and he saw me. He said thank you, we shared a few laughs, I told him my friend, Peter helped finance the goods. Charles immediately canonized him into “Saint Peter”. We couldn’t stop laughing. I left him with a promise that I would be back.

After Charles, I stopped to give care packages to James, the Dalai Lama of Broadway, a wise, kind eyed man with 11 years on the street and his mentee, another Charles, a young man from Canada with 15 years on the streets. There was also Davis and Michelle and a couple who were too distraught to give their names, regardless they too received the goods.

It made for a great day. When so many bought and surrendered into fear and when ten million people lost their jobs –I am one of them- and with that many losing their LIGHT, and most of them rely on feeding their fear with what the media gives them- it is the very FEAR that has been installed into them through all these years by The Machine. For me, I choose LIGHT and joy and humanity, of course keeping my 6 feet, washing my hands, wearing a mask, but I CHOOSE to hold onto my humanity. It is a choice that we could all make, but for that we need to use this time to reflect, to go within, to plug back into ourselves. The BIG QUIET has been given to us as a gift and we can choose to continue consuming the noise of binge-watching and doomsday news, the numbing of pills, booze or whatever your drug of choice is or step onto the WAY OF THE LIGHT.



"On March 16, 2020 I became unemployed like millions of others due to the COVID-19 virus. My services as freelance photographer and as yoga teacher were no longer considered essential. With two dogs in a one bedroom apartment living modestly didn’t seem like the ideal set-up for the unknown future. I spent the first couple of days of the lockdown in a daze, trying to make sense of it all, just like you. Eventually, I shook it all off. I grabbed my camera and I ventured out keeping my six feet and washing hands frequently with the eventual squirt of eucalyptus oil. Painters paint, musicians make music, writers write and photographers tell stories. And that’s what I do. I am not here to please anyone. I am just here to express myself the only way I know how, through words and still images, chronicling my process.

When I met Tim on Thursday on the desolate Hill Street, he was just pondering life in his wheelchair staring into the fading sun. I pulled over to give him some oranges and apples and fresh baked cookies given to me by my friend and fellow yogi, Peter. Tim was surprised to see me, then his distant eyes darted to the bleak asphalt. I gave him the bag filled with love and asked him what else he needed. He gave me the usual street-dwellers’ list: wet wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, food. I asked him if he needed anything else. He shook his head and asked me what time I was to return the next day. I said 11:00 am. I thought about him the whole night. That in his condition he couldn’t even push a shopping cart with his belongings. All that he had was his weary backpack behind the seat of his wheelchair. 60 years of life encased in it. "