AN ACT OF GOD
On Wednesday, April 29, 1992, I had just driven across the country in a car given to me by my father, and arrived back in Los Angeles. I was desperately waiting on a check for a job I had done several weeks earlier to arrive so that I might pay my rent.
When I got home the check was not waiting for me, however a pile of bills were. Rent was due in two days, my old car wouldn't start, and I was informed that I could not leave it on the street without a license plate. That meant I had to leave my new car on the street, in Hollywood - not a great a idea - it's kind of a rough neighborhood.
The only thing that would save me from not having to pay the rent, I thought, was an act of God - like a big Earthquake or something.
On Thursday, April 30, I got my act of God. Ask and ye shall receive.
The policemen that beat up Rodney King on video were all acquitted and subsequently rioting broke out in south-central L.A. The last report I'd heard said eleven dead. My feeling was that after you send the cops on a many mile, 115 mph chase, then you don't do what they say when they've stopped you, you're lucky they don't just shoot you on the spot. Particularly in L.A. Not that Rodney King deserved to be beaten up, but it's not surprising and burning down your local grocery store certainly won't accomplish anything other than cause you discomfort.
A block away from me at the Hollywood police station they had cordoned off the street and stationed cops wearing flak jackets and helmets, holding shotguns at all the corners. At one point a brigade of cops in riot gear, maybe thirty of them, came marching past my driveway in tight formation. My neighbor, Dean, went running after them with his camera.
At first, when the fires and looting were all happening in south-central L.A. it was sufficient to watch the events on local TV (local TV was covering it much better than CNN, unlike the Persian Gulf War. After the war ended my friend Jane said of her boyfriend, "Rob can't stop switching stations. He thinks there might be a war on another channel. I'll have to send him to CNNannon"). My friend, Jim, in Newport Beach called and suggested that I come down there and stay with him. This seemed like a silly, humorous scene to me -- the two of us sipping martinis in swanky Newport watching the riots on a large-screen TV with surround sound. I imagined that we would eventually become piqued with the event, then finally overcome with ennui and have to change channels. I declined his offer.
My friend, Lon, called from Detroit and asked if I was OK? I said, "Sure, it's miles away. But I'll keep you informed." Then the fires began to break out along Vermont Avenue going north. When they got to Vermont and Third I called Lon back and said, "the fires are within three miles." Lon had several people over his house and announced this to one and all. When the entire corner of Santa Monica and Western went up in flames, I called him again. "A mile and a half." Lon gleefully announced this, too. When the Hollywood Swap Meet on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Wilcox ignited I called Lon again. "Two blocks," I said. "Oh my God," Lon replied sounding concerned. "Two blocks!" he proclaimed excitedly to his friends. I said, "When my house burns and my phone melts, you'll hear a high-pitched shriek."
All of my friends called and no one in my family.
When the Hollywood Swap Meet conflagration occurred and all of the TV station helicopters swooped in on it, I had the unique experience of watching the event on television while simultaneously hearing the choppers go around over my house. This was the true definition of surround-sound.
At one point as the sun was just setting, I stepped out on the driveway to watch the plumes of black smoke rising in every direction. Soon my neighbor Courtney, Dean's wife, and Curtis, the white-haired gay man in the front house, all congregated on the driveway. I noticed that all three of us were holding our TV remote controls in our hands. It was because we were all switching back and forth through the local channels, but it seemed like we'd had enough of this event and wanted to change to another show -- the "Everything's OK In L.A." show.
By the next day, Friday, May 1, the rioting had mellowed a bit. There were still a few fires burning and the police and the national guard were all over the place. The newspaper wasn't delivered. Courtney said, "It's the breakdown of modern society." I could hear sirens screaming past every few minutes and helicopters flying overhead constantly. The totals at that point were 26 dead and over 1200 buildings burned.
Meanwhile, the check I was depending on didn't arrive and I didn't have the rent -- but I did have a damn good excuse.
By Saturday, May 2, the riots were over, the newspaper was delivered and everything went back to normal. It was kind of sad really; it was rather exciting all in all.
As I was pulling my old car off the street that was to be cleaned and stopped at the stop sign at Leland Way and Seward, a long convoy of battle-dressed Marines in green and tan desert camouflaged vehicles drove by. When they had passed, myself and a woman who sat at the stop sign facing me didn't move. We both stared at each other like we weren't sure what we'd just seen.
On Thursday, May 7, the check came and I paid the rent. The riots worked as an excuse for late payment and I didn't get charged a late fee.