Photo courtesy of Jeff Su.
The 88 Steps is a San Gabriel Valley phenomenon, a local attraction for Chinese-American teenagers looking for something fun to do on Friday nights. According to legend, the elusive flight of steps is located in a hilly neighborhood in Monterey Park, and from the top, you can see all the lights of Los Angeles for free.
Like any resourceful millennial, I snagged the address off Google, where it was mentioned by enthusiastic Tumblr users. But the day we got there, the gate to the steps were locked and chained up.
Cue Jeremiah. He’s a 22-year-old Silicon Valley computer programmer fresh out of college that I met a year ago off OkCupid. The first time I messaged him, his profile was still set to Anaheim instead of Berkeley, so we exchanged numbers and platonically messaged each other from time to time. The month after he graduated from Berkeley, he came back home, and I invited him to grab boba with me. We ended up whizzing around the city in his dad’s midlife crisis car, watching YouTube videos on my laptop, and awkwardly having sex with me in my room.
After that, he went up to NorCal to pursue his job and I left university and started working. We maintained the platonic friendship we had prior, but seven months later, he messaged me, saying he was back home for the holidays.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Jeremiah asked.
“Yeah.” Darn those hipsters. Whatever they did, it probably made the neighbors complain and shut it down.
“Hmm.” He zoomed in on Google Maps and checked the surroundings. “What’s this up here?”
There was a wide stretch of green above the stairs.
“I think there’s an elementary school up above.”
“Yeah, looks like it. I think it goes all around the neighborhood too. I see a parking lot. Maybe we can circle around and try to enter from the other side.”
I was about to call it quits, but I didn’t want to wave off the suggestions from a guy who I could tell from our first conversation probably had an IQ of at least 140.
We jumped back into the car and drove back up the hilly neighborhood. Sure enough, Hillcrest elementary school was perched on top. We parked along the side of the sidewalk, and after a few cars passed by, inconspicuously circled the perimeter of the elementary school. Of course, at 8 P.M. during winter break, it was locked up from every main entrance.
When we were about to give up, Jeremiah spotted a side gate.
“That looks like it might be open.”
I squinted at it, but in the dark, my eyes couldn’t see.
“Should I check it out?” he asked.
He dashed up the steps and pushed on the gate. Like a miracle, it just swung open.
“Oh my god, let’s go.”
We closed the gate behind us and snuck in – the first room was a little garden with silly-looking gnomes. Then, we passed the hallways and little courtyards.
“I can’t believe we’re breaking into an elementary school,” I squeaked.
He made a joke about trespassing and I shrugged it off, saying people probably did this all the time.
“We’re young,” he said. “Plus, I’m a white guy. We’d probably get a slap on the wrist.”
I mentioned that the elementary school looked kind of creepy at night – like a Walking Dead set, and that made him laugh.
“My parents were schoolteachers, so I would see how an empty school looked like way too much. It’s pretty normal to me.”
The school, true to name, was uphill, and at the top, we found a vast playground with overgrown grass, fenced off on the sides. I realized it was the giant green spot that we had seen on the map.
Jeremiah frowned at beer bottles in the grass.
“I guess someone got here before us,” I said. Sure enough, we wandered to the edge of the fences and looked down – a flight of stairs was below us.
“I can’t believe we’re above 88 Steps,” I muttered. All my friends would be amazed. An entire school, and for a moment, it belonged to the two of us.
In my head, I considered breaking the platonic still that had settled between us again. It would be the perfect moment and the night was full of potential.
Instead, we gazed at the LA skyline that was spotted with yellow and orange lights glowing in front of us.
“Are those planes coming from LAX?” he asked.
“I think so, they’re coming from …the West right? This is the East.”
“What is that thing?” I asked, pointing in the distance.
“Pretty sure those are satellite dishes.”
We stood quietly, apart from each other, gazing up at the starry horizon. He started pointing out constellations, sharing the stories of the Greek myths that came with them. Later, it got colder, and we returned towards the car.
We decided to shut the gate behind us in good will.
We didn’t have sex that night, and I said goodbye to him later after reminiscing and cuddling. Still, the memory of the elementary school above 88 steps resonated in my mind – like children; we had lost ourselves in an innocent moment again.