LA burned down 20 years ago Sunday--if you don't remember, you were a baby, have age related disabilities or you weren't here at all. No Angeleno could forget boulevards in smoking ruins, Reginald Denny's assault or the arrival of the Guard to encamp in our streets.
No Angeleno with a brain larger than that of a walnut could not have predicted this would have happened at 2:30 in the afternoon of the verdicts in the trials of the four cops that beat Rodney King on that infamous video--I watched them delivered on our tiny telly in the one bedroom my wife to be and I shared with another couple just off Pico by the beach in Santa Monica.
Picked up phone and dialed my friend and fellow Masshole emigre Justin (who, unfortunately, was in the East Hollywood/Silver Lake area) and said sadly "LA is gonna burn down." I have no training or education in police work and yet I was right and the cro-magnon police chief Daryl Gates was wrong (or deliberately took the LAPD away from ground zero on Normandie to remind his true constituents of the need for "law and order" by removing same--as my girlfriend and I were weaving through picketers chanting "no justice, no peace" on Fairfax, that neanderthal was at a fundraiser.)
We were out and about because I had to work on night one. Lou Reed was at the Greek and I was covering the show for Daily Variety. He was promoting "Magic and Loss", a mordant collection of mostly downer tunes and all he said at the show's commencement was that this had been a terrible miscarriage of justice and we were here to enjoy the music, which we did. He was wonderful.
This was before the advent of the Net and so to file the story, I had to do so in person or by fax. I wrote all of my stuff at the LA Weekly's old office and getting there via the 10 wasn't all that terrible. Had a leisurely brekkie at Millie's with another Boston exile and her mate, both principals on a major show at the time and all anyone could talk about was the rioting swelling up south of Silver Lake.
As I was a member of a gym in WeHo at the time, I went down Beverly to that gym and had the workout cut short as the owner onformed us over the PA that the burning and looting was approaching the Beverly Center and we had to leave--to go the 8 miles or so to home took 2 1/2 hours, mostly via alley. Everything was shut.
From our rooftop in Santa Monica, we watched and heard the cops detain would be looters and could hear their bullhorns as they said "hands up or we shoot". Penned up in our tiny flat, we'd had enough--hied off the San Diego for the weekend just to get away.
The sight of our city--plumes of smoke in all directions--was too much to bear.I have no wish to ever glaze or gauze over those memories. If there's anything that can be taken away from those events at all, it's that people that feel they have nothing to lose by destroying everything they see do just that and all the hand wringing and moralizing in the world won't stop them, even force won't in some cases.
You'd hope the powers that are today would remember this, but I get the sense that either they don't or do and don't care--which is worse.