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L.A. Stories

The 3rd Street Charmer

November 30, 1997|PATRIC KUH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

From the way the ladies flutter their eyelids around him you'd think he was . . . well, Clark Gable. He's a sharp dresser, has jet-black hair, a well-trimmed goatee and deep brown eyes. And with a smiling ease that many men would consider to be flirting with disaster he meets his many lady admirers all at the same spot--the sidewalk of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Office Towers on 3rd Street in Los Angeles.

The plaque on the lapel of Omar Trujillo's pinstriped suit may read "Curbside Attendant," but to the people who come in and out of the 125 doctors' offices in the two towers he is a lot more: a welcoming smile, a supporting arm in that long yard between the taxi and the curb and, to many, a friend.

At any given moment he is instructing cars to move out of the red zone, calling a taxi, lifting a wheelchair, carrying an oxygen tank, or gently helping a man weakened by dialysis into a car seat. He does it all with such a willing disposition that it has won him the admiration of both patients and doctors. "When I noticed him I thought this is a nice thing that we offer," says Dr. David Cossman, a vascular surgeon. "Having surgery is easy compared to getting to the office from the ground floor."

As helpful as he is with everyone, it is clearly with the ladies that he has the most special relationship of all.

"I love him," says a little bubehleh with a strong Russian accent, "Oy, I forgot to page my daughter." Omar uses his walkie-talkie to get her doctor's office to page the woman's daughter.

"He has such presence," says another admirer, "and he rides up in the elevator with me because I'm afraid to go up alone."

"They all know I'm very happily married," says Omar, displaying a picture of his wife, Karla, a quality-control supervisor at a video duplication company, and their 2-year-old daughter, Kimberly. Then he flashes his broad smile and adds, "but if they want to kiss me what can I do?"

One lady does kiss him, another happily allows him to help her into the van from her residential hotel. A third one brings him a fruitcake for Christmas and another simply stops by to let him know that the neighborhood supermarket has some beautiful grapefruit on sale. He nods, thanking her for the information.

"I was raised by my grandmother," says the 29-year-old native of Santiago de la Frontera in El Salvador. "Maybe that's why I have a special feeling for old people. I know they like their routine." He's been six years at this post after being promoted from parking attendant and garage cashier by his employer, the Automac Parking Co., and he has gotten to know the routines of many of the patients.

"Did you keep an eye on my Rolls-Royce?" asks one woman sporting a nice new perm.

"Yes," he says, pointing at a supermarket cart she keeps hidden by the beauty store on 3rd Street.

"I'm Mrs. Stilton," she says identifying herself, and with a performer's sense of delivery adds, "like the Hiltons but without the money."

"He makes all the difference in the world," says one lady searching in her handbag for some walnuts she meant to give him. She interrupts the search and the conversation because she's spotted a man jaywalking. "Hey mister, don't do that!" she yells. Omar smiles good-naturedly--some people were born to direct traffic.

The curbside scene can be humorous but it can also be sad. When a woman says, "You're better than my son, he doesn't even answer my letters," Omar is momentarily at a loss for words. He remembers once being overwhelmed when one woman he'd been helping in and out of the building for several years sat him down as they walked toward the hallway and told him that she didn't have long to live.

"When I haven't seen them for a while I wonder. . . . All I know is that it makes them happy to see me happy."

Proof of this is a lady approaching from the building entrance. "O-mar!" she calls in a weak but lilting voice. He waves at her but remains at his post knowing that this particular woman does not like to be helped. He doesn't turn away from her, however, and, as she crosses toward him, supporting herself shakily on a three-legged cane, her eyes are locked on Omar's and the years disappear in her beautiful smile.

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