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Al Martinez

Street people call him the Music Man. He spends his time composing songs and saving hookers. : Playin'in the Storm

October 29, 1987|Al Martinez

Robin Reid was back on the street, ducking under the shelter of awnings along Hollywood Boulevard, turning the collar of his black leather jacket up against the driving autumn rain.

I watched him coming. He joined me dripping wet.

"It's a lousy day to be looking for hookers," I said, as we stood staring out at the storm from the protected doorway of Musso & Frank's.

Across the street, the double bill at the Pussycat Theatre advertised "Head Waitress" and "Naked Scents."

"There actually aren't many girls working today," Reid was saying in a soft, almost whispery voice. "The only one I found was Wichita."

Wichita is one he's known for a long time. He got her to give up the life once, but the lure of the street was too much and she was back hooking in a month.

"She's at the corner," Reid said, gesturing.

I looked down the street, but the only thing that stood out was the blinking golden arches of McDonald's. Wichita was nowhere in sight.

"I asked her what she was doing out on a day like this," Reid continued, "and she said, 'Just playin' in the rain.' "

"Another song?" I asked.

"Maybe," he said.

Robin Reid. Street people call him the Music Man. He spends his time composing songs and saving hookers. Sometimes the efforts intertwine, like in "Children of the Night":

You got a white man to your left and a black man to your right,

You're 15 this morning and 21 tonight.

He writes about young girls, some barely in their teens, who hit Hollywood looking for dreams and end up living nightmares, strung out and desperate, hustling for pimps who'd as soon cut their throat as look at them.

"I asked Wichita if she'd ever really get out of the life and stay out," Reid said.

He thought about it as he watched a couple pass in front of us, paying no heed to the drenching rain. The man had bushy orange hair. The woman was bald.

"Just about then her pimp drove by and gave her a present. 'Look,' Wichita said, 'my man takes good care of me.' He'd given her a new pair of shoes.

" 'Yeah,' I said to her, 'he buys you $12 shoes and gets himself a Cadillac.' "

"What'd she say?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Nothing. I'll keep working on her. She can be saved."

Reid is an unlikely hero. At 34, he's slim and almost sweet-faced, a rich man's son out of Beverly Hills who got caught up in saving prostitutes a few years back while searching for a woman he loved.

Her name was Jill and she'd left him for the street.

They met at the Troubadour where Reid was playing (he had a band in those days) and it was like the room was suddenly filled with summer lightning. They fell into each other's arms in a thunder clap.

Jill moved in with Reid almost immediately, but it wasn't until years later she told him she'd been a hooker once and was going back to the street.

He didn't believe her until one night she disappeared. All she left was a strange kind of note that said, "Save yourself."

"I was such an innocent," Reid said, watching cars splash by along Hollywood Boulevard, studying each one, thinking maybe Jill could be in one, picked up by a guy buying a good time on a rainy day.

"I had no idea what she'd been. There were hints, I guess, but I never picked up on them. It was unreal. . . ."

He went looking for Jill among the hookers, got to know a lot of them and gave them his phone number in case they spotted her.

He'd buy them coffee and maybe drive them to the county hospital when they were sick or put them in touch with people who could help them.

"Pretty soon they were calling me at home," Reid said. "I'd get a message on my answering machine. There'd be the sound of traffic and one of the girls shouting, 'Don't leave me out here!' Later, there'd be another message . . . a scream. How could I not help them?"

Reid began challenging the pimps themselves, who aren't the cute, jivey guys you see on television but violent men who trade in human flesh and kill to keep their stable of girls in line.

He'd grab the girls right out from under their noses and sometimes kick in motel doors to save a hooker being beaten by a junkie turned mean.

"Reid does things," a cop told me, "that I wouldn't do with a gun on my hip."

Now he's out there again, working in the rain, just like Wichita, still halfway looking for Jill, but mostly helping the girls: giving what he's got, asking zero in return.

"I've never had sex with any of them," Reid said, as the rain drummed harder on the awnings of the restaurants and stores along the boulevard. He smiled. "That isn't really the point, is it?"

He turned his jacket collar up and headed toward Vine Street, vanishing in the mist and rain that blurred the distance, a fragile component of the storm around him.

I ducked into Musso & Frank's and had one of their martinis and thought about another song Reid had written, about a street synonymous with all the streets the street girls walk.

Anything you want , anything you need ,

You best get on down to Birmingham Street.

And I stared out at the falling rain.

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