It was an interesting Friday night in the City of Angels.
It was such a day where the city almost lived up to its name.
The weather was perfectly cast for the first day of Spring. A blimp drifted lazily across a dependably blue sapphire sky. After seducing the flowers to bloom all day the sun was laying down to rest over the Pacific in a soft hum of orange light, punctuating the sway of palm trees in the foreground.
L.A is beautiful when it’s a set.
The freeways were light and fluid. I zipped towards the Westside with ease.
It was the kind of traffic that allowed your mind space to roam.
As I passed under a bridge a calcium stain caught my attention. It had an evil grin, wings, and eyes the followed me. A demon of decay. I momentarily questioned my sanity, but then — reassured that I had questioned my sanity, and therefore perfectly sane — I thought about Daniel Johnston, and how he went insane, believing the devil was after him, and suffered from a mental condition, which made his eccentric lyrics appear touched by madness, and therefore, genius; an artist, like Van Gogh, aided by the mythology of insanity. I concluded that it’s good Daniel Johnston lived in Austin and not in Los Angeles, so he wasn’t behind the wheel when he had his mental breakdown; because he probably would have really believed — as opposed to my mere quirky reveries — that the stain on the bridge was a demon; and probably would have swerved into traffic and caused an accident.
Whereas, I just make a mental note to write a blog about it later. That doesn’t quite add up to a mental condition, just weird.
Then again, isn’t the very act of driving, willfully submitting yourself to a “mental condition”?
The fragility of the ego exposed, driving turns everything into a ‘you vs. them’ dynamic. More than just a battle for lanes, it’s a battle for personal space, for respect. Road Rage is impossible in a supermarket. The metal frame of the car and the anonymity it provides allows us to act in an aggressive manner we never would in public, on the street, or at work. You wouldn’t see your co-worker approaching the copy machine, happily singing along to Umbrella, and run to cut her off, sliding your document onto the glass tray a second before her.
I got to my friend’s without any more demonic stains on bridges. He was having a burger and beer chillfest on his balcony in Culver City. Holiday lights adorned the scene, illuminating little pockets of air and lending their charm to the festivities. The beer was kept on ice in a big red tub and the breeze had “seaness” to it, salty and cool.
We chowed down beef burgers with hearty chunks of 100 year-old cheddar; buffalo burgers with garlic and onion and liquid smoke all mixed in, served on a kaiser roll with sauteed mushrooms and muenster cheese.
A giant jug of punch the color of bat blood sat on the wooden table. We freely ladled it into our cups as the moon, inflated and white, rose over the city like a giant spotlight.
We talked about silly things, things I don’t really remember, just the fact that they were silly.
It was around ten o’clock. The party was winding down when the sound of a loud engine caught our attention. We leaned over the edge of the balcony just in time to catch a quick glimpse of a screaming, yellow sports car tearing down Washington Boulevard, a couple of cop cars following behind.
From out vantage we couldn’t see what happened, assumed the chase had passed, but we could see people emerging onto the sidewalk and heading towards the direction the car was flying. The sirens weren’t fading away either.
We decided to investigate, joining the crowds headed east on Washington. Two blocks down we came upon a yellow sports coupe crumpled into the back of a parked truck. A trail of smashed cars lined the road in front of the accident. The cops were still in the process of stringing yellow tape when we arrived. I don’t know how we didn’t hear it because the aftermath, at least, looked violent and loud.
I had my video camera in my car and I brought it along and started filming right away. I zoomed in on the shirtless chollo, in a daze, sitting on the curb, clearly intoxicated, while policemen spoke in his ear. There was an empty beer can on the roof of the car. Other policemen went around asking onlookers if anyone had seen the accident.
“This guy is fucked,” we jabbered to each other.
Within ten minutes there was a news crew on the ground. I filmed the cameraman’s viewfinder, filming the drunk driver, as he was being fitted with a neckbrace. An image within an image. There were maybe 80 – 100 people on the sidewalk, checking things out, chatting. Neighbors were buzzing around, asking each other if they saw what happened. There was a festive feel to the scene, a weird electiricity permeated the ocean fog. We could even smell our barbeque two blocks away. Buffalo meat grilling away. Little ripples of information swept through the crowd. “I heard he was going 100 mph.” “It started at Jack N’ The Box.” “It was a stolen car.”
There was a strobe effect from the red sirens on top of the fire engines, causing our shadows to appear and disappear phantasmagorically against nearby apartment walls.
Plato came to mind.
Meanwhile, the moon continued to rise, and cars, after making a quick detour, continued into the night. The rest of the city was oblivious to the little bit of excitement on Washington Boulevard.
I got some great footage of it all.
At least, I thought I did.
Later, when I checked out the scenes I shot, it turned out that I was pausing it instead of recording it, and recording when I thought I was pausing. So all I had were quick scenes of me holding the camera down at the ground. The cement going by. Glimpses of shattered glass.
By the time I realized this, the perp was already rolled away on a stretcher and fire engines blocked a view of the car. All the good stuff (for lack of a better word) had already happened.
In other words, I failed. Some citizen journalist I am.
Oh well, it’s a new camera, and I learned my lesson.
You get one chance at life.