They haven't seen me yet. If they are city workers, they might report me for being in some sort of restricted area. But would city workers be using those old machines? And do they even wear those suits? The city workers that I've seen before have a checkerboard reflective pattern on their suits. These are reflective all over. Maybe it's a group of workers I've never seen before because they work in these tunnels. If I’m polite, maybe they will just think I'm confused and point me to a way out.
"Excuse me," I say, stepping out from behind the mass of scrap metal. "I uh, have no idea where I am and I was wondering if..." But before I could finish my sentence, they take off down the tunnel. I guess they aren't city workers after all. "I'm not a cop!" I yell to them. Like that has ever helped anyone. I wish there was a secret code word I could say so that they know I work in the underground too. Well not literally this underground but... I skate around the piles of scrap metal and follow them down the tunnel. At least it’s easy to see them with the green lights reflecting off their suits. "Please if you could just show me the way out?" I keep asking. It doesn't take long for me to catch up to them. I can skate much faster than they can run and besides half of them are carrying computers. I zoom past them and stop square in front of them, forcing them to stop. "I promise I'm not like... I don't even know what y'all are doing. I just want to get out of here." They look at each other. "I can, like, pay you in CASH?" I try. They look at each other again and laugh.
"I really thought for a second!" one of them wheezes.
"I almost dropped my shit!" another one cries.
"I mean I did drop that monitor back there!" a third one complains. "Fuck, dude. That was one of the more useful things over there!" They start walking back.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I really didn't mean to scare anyone. I mean the LAST thing I want anyone to think is that I'm a cop." I breathe. Still picturing police in my room, sifting through my dresser, pulling out cords and clothes. Thumbing through Lime's magazines.
A few more of them head back down the tunnel.
"Look, just keep heading down here. It's about a 15 minute walk, and you'll see a ladder out," they explain.
"Thanks," I say. "I'm sorry again," I add. I feel really guilty. I wonder what they're doing down here. Analyzing that pile of junk? I watch them walk away, their suits glowing smaller and smaller. I turn and head down the tunnel, trying to go at a walking pace so I don't miss the ladder. It's dark and I find myself speeding up on accident. I wonder how far I've gone. And has the tunnel been turning? It doesn't seem likely that it would be just straight. I wonder how long it's been here. Was it going to be another transportation route? It seems too narrow to run a subway.
I find the ladder. The tunnel snakes up for several feet and it’s hard to see the top of the ladder. I wish I had my goggles. I reach the top and push back a square door. Behind the door I find a large grey room packed with crates. Cords spill out between the gaps of the crate walls. There is a slow beeping. I look around for a camera but can't find one. I pull myself out and shut the door behind me. In the dim light of the room, I can see that my arms are covered in black gunk. Tiny specks all over my arms and shoulders. I try to wipe them off and they smear, leaving a greasy brown line across my skin. I look at my backpack. It's covered too.
I move around the crates and find a door. The handle is covered in dark grease. There's a hallway beyond the door with no EXIT sign but several more doors. One has no handle, but a big smear of grease so it seems like a good enough guess. I push it open to find a hard floor dipping down to a drain in the middle. The walls are stained with dark splatters. There is a long black hose hanging down from the ceiling with a trigger sprayer. I spray some water onto the floor and wipe down my arms. I feel over my head and find my hair is flecked with the oil too. The water is so cold. Should I try to rinse out my hair? It will probably just turn into a matted mess afterwards since I have nothing to condition my hair afterwards. What the fuck am I doing here? I wish I could go to Lime's and get a real shower. I wipe off my backpack with my hands and rinse my hands. I walk back out into the hallway and start trying doors. Room after room is filled with crates and machinery. Double doors lead me down another hall to an elevator. It has one huge button inside. I guess that's it. It moves slowly but not far and opens to a large, empty room. I skate across the hard grey floor to a garage door. It only takes a few moments of button pushing to get it open and I am back onto the street. I have no idea where I am. I skate down the road. There are liquor stores and light shops, restaurants and clothing stores. Everything feels dirty, even for Los Angeles. Why don't I recognize anything? The road winds around and dips down a very steep hill. Cars bear down on me and I zoom around a corner. I'll recognize something eventually. There are billboards for TV shows that I've never heard of. Giant silver people, looming over me and gazing away into the building beside them. I can't even tell what they are ads for. Maybe it makes sense if you know celebrities. There are people standing outside of shops selling gadgets and food. I should just ask someone. Not someone selling things. I really don't want to have to buy anything right now. There is a young person with a child. They seem kind enough.
"Hi, excuse me," I say. They both stare at me and turn head in the other direction. As they pass, I see my reflection in a giant mirror facing down the alleyway. My face is still smeared with dark oil. Great. Looks like I'll have to buy something after all. I find a McDonald’s and duck inside. I buy a water on registered credit and get the code for the bathroom. The entire exchange is fairly humiliating but I'm glad to have the water to drink. I wash my face in the bathroom sink. It smells like hydrogen peroxide in here. The light over the mirror flickers and I think about calling Lime. I should have asked the person at the counter what neighborhood I'm in. Why does it feel like this isn't my city?
I leave the bathroom and sit down. I try to ask a few more people but find it just as hard to get anyone to talk to me as I did outside covered in that junk. I look up to the counter. The cashier is watching me. Maybe I should just go. I feel like I could skate pretty far if I needed to. I might as well just start skating until I recognize something. I stand up and head towards the door. I throw my water cup away. The trash box is full and my straw sticks up out of the top. I look back to the door and see three police officers step inside, looking directly at me. My stomach drops. I smile at them and move towards the other door. I make it about two glides away before I feel hands on my arms. I'm being pulled backwards and I fall back off my skates.