An image of the 1992 Los Angeles riots from the Los Angeles Times:

Los Angeles riots
Photo by Kirk McKoy of the Los Angeles Times

I think this was down on Normandie – the civil unrest lasted six days. Things got quiet when the National Guard was called in. I don’t write a political blog, however, there are factors even I can’t ignore when describing what goes on in Hollywood and by extension the great city of Los Angeles. To get an even more macro-view I’ll turn to a YouTube video posted by politizane that’s gone viral:

Incredible gaps between those who have and have not, mix it with the LAPD beating a man senseless, a teenager shot in a convenience store, a recession, tension…

And then we come to my very small story, which in the face of the death, and damage, and destruction is going to appear pathologically chipper. But, as you might have gleaned, that’s my default position.

At the end of April of 1992 my friend Heidi, a photographer – PORTRAITS BEFITTING THE STARS ā€“ BY HEIDI GUTMAN | BEGUILING HOLLYWOOD – was moving into her ground floor apartment in a French Normandy four-plex just off Wilshire between Hancock Park and Beverly Hills – let’s call it mid-city. A very brief description of the two of us – Heidi is tall, like a fashion model, and I am not… We had been shoving furniture around all morning and, taking a break, we walked down the street, with a turn here and there, to refuel at a favorite spot, Caffe Latte, which happened to be a good restaurant located in a mini-mall on the otherwise majestic boulevard. Strangely, the boulevard was deserted. We turned our heads to see a low slung four door sedan, like an old Crown Vic, full of young men drive slowly past toward Beverly Hills, and then another but this one was more arresting. Men were hanging out of all the car windows, one was brandishing a gun. We were the only pedestrians I could see. I remember Heidi planting her feet and saying something about her camera and I remember taking her by the arm and dragging her off Wilshire asserting we were going home. And by that, I meant my home up in the Hollywood Hills.

Apparently, I was not alone in my assessment of the situation. At the same time I was pulling Heidi off of Wilshire the Mayor was closing down the city. A drive that should have taken fifteen minutes, tops, took nearly an hour. When we arrived at my house in Beachwood Canyon my husband had been sent home from Warner Bros – every film studio in Los Angeles was being shut down. Then the phone began to ring and shortly after three more of our single female friends arrived with pajamas and toothbrushes and I began to call our roost in the hills Mr. Lester’s home for wayward women.

Bill, the manager of the Beachwood Market, kept the store open for the neighborhood that first day and we stocked up on cookie fixings and chickens to roast and we checked in with the rest of the canyon denizens before we all retreated to closed doors as curfew fell. Los Angeles has a lot of ambient noise at night – what we heard as darkness wore on were predominantly helicopters and sirens.

Inside we were sprawled across the living room, eating chocolate chip cookies, trading stories, watching South Central burn on the news, hoping it wouldn’t reach Hollywood Boulevard. At one point we climbed up a conveniently placed tree onto our flat roof and watched the plumes of smoke rising from Downtown, and then we smelled smoke and saw Hollywood Boulevard was burning.

That’s the gist of it. After things quieted down we helped sweep smashed glass off of Hollywood Boulevard. We had a very fortunate experience out of harm’s way. As I said, while over fifty people died and over 2000 were injured we huddled together and closed our front door.

I remember that year being on a film location with my husband and filling out my first absentee ballot and checking Bill Clinton’s name I knew, I just knew, nobody I ever voted for reached office. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the results came in… And yet, the recession ended, and more tinkering, deregulation, tax cuts, crisis, too big to fail, the Great Recession, stimulation, recovery, financial shell games, still no meaningful banking regulation, etc., oh, and a couple more vices, insatiable greed, and some people thinking they’re the special snowflake of a corporation or private citizen who doesn’t have to contribute a fair share to taxes. Yes, and I know what’s legal in terms of taxation, but there are other criteria to be met: what is morally correct, what is good for the nation, what a decent citizen is obliged to do to be worthy of the rights granted in our democracy. Rant over, the chipper facade is cracked straight through, and where are we now?

Only time will tell my angels, only time.

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  1. April 2, 2013

    It’s frightening at times. This is why I often fantasize about living on a remote island.
    Well done, Vickie. A post with a serious message… lots to think about.

    • April 2, 2013

      No! No remote island – you’d have no Internet connection and then where would we be??? I have friends who hightailed it up to an island off the Canadian coast, it’s beautiful, but… They don’t even have cell phones. I have to talk to them on their hardline and only at their convenience. I ask you, what is world coming to? šŸ˜‰

  2. George Kaplan
    April 2, 2013

    Beautiful heart, beautiful mind, beautiful piece. You are so beautiful in every meaningful way, Vickie; chipper V, righteous V, Hollywood V, every Vickie that you show to us, if you’ll forgive me for being so embarrassingly straightforward!
    My heart swelled when I read that final paragraph, it’s not about politics, not about blue state/red state, it’s just humane and true. I’m sure others will be more erudite, less long-winded, and a lot less goofy in their praise for you but Vickie you’re so darn *good*, so perceptive, so unselfrighteously clear-sighted, that I have to say you’re just the Tops! (and now I’m blushing and afraid that sounds inept and like goshawful gushing)
    We love you being chipper – you can take anyone down and make them feel up because of your words… I should imagine – but we are privileged to see this other luminous part of you. Ahem.
    Great story about the riots and your lovely friends too. I genuinely think this post should win some kind of award, you may think me silly but I’m not kidding… šŸ™‚
    I had been wondering about how it was to be in the riots or near them and what people thought who may have been, justly, frightened by them and the terrible events that occured, yet understanding of the spark. This was perfect. Vickie, We wouldn’t have you be any other way. Please never change, you’re swell. Hugs, George xox

    • April 2, 2013

      I agree with you, I think it’s more about community and a civil society. As to your heaping praise, the older you get the more you take the good with the bad (there’s plenty of both), but candor becomes very easy. When you get to be my age you’ll know what I’m talking about šŸ˜‰ Thank you, V

  3. George Kaplan
    April 2, 2013

    Ha. Well, as you point out I’m not your age, but I’m candid when I’m comfortable and one doesn’t have much choice to take the bad with the good :).
    As for the “when you get to my age” talk – pshaw, babe. Age schmage! You’re a wise woman but you talk as if you’re 50 years older than me, you’re still young, I think your wisdom and candour just comes from you being you. That’s the kind of insight when you get to *my* age šŸ˜‰ (oh, and I’m sure you know of people your age and older who are denser than dense – tho’ you may be to polite to say so – and younger people uncannily insightful ;))
    Thank *you*, V.!

  4. April 2, 2013

    Hear, hear.

    • April 2, 2013

      Were you in town? I remember hearing one of my neighbors saying they were going to Pasadena because you could buy ammunition there and you couldn’t in the city of LA. Very weird few years, riots, fires, the ’94 earthquake…

      • April 2, 2013

        Oh, yeah. My wife and left early from work. Drove past the old Fedco that had closed prematurely that day at La Cienega/Rodeo. Saw the broodly gathering at its front door. We went directly to my in-laws’ home in the hills of View Park. We counted the smoke of the fire from their roof top (that had about a 270Ā° vista of the city). And then caught the looting that had begun at Fedco on their TV. It was an extraordinary time, Vickie.

  5. April 2, 2013

    Extraordinary times, we were linked by TV then (almost like the Internet now) I remember the man who rescued Reginald Denny, Bobby Green, was watching the news and ran to Florence and Normandie and (I think) drove him to the hospital in that huge truck the victim was first dragged from.

  6. April 2, 2013

    Thanks for reminding us — of where we were and how things aren’t getting a whole lot better. I remember considering voting for George HW Bush for the reason you mentioned — whoever I voted for always lost so … but I didn’t. And I changed my luck, at least for a while.

    • April 2, 2013

      At least some sort of widespread discourse is going on – here we are chatting on the Internet – that’s hopeful and probably good luck for the world at large to be so instantly able to connect…

  7. April 2, 2013

    An excellent post Ms Lester
    I’m not sure if it is the same now as it was when I was in Los Angeles a decade ago, but one of my most vivid memories is crossing the boundary between Beverly Hills and, I guess it must have been the City of LA. One side immaculate pavements, manicured parks and gardens, the other, immediately ramshackle and disrepaired, reeking of neglect.
    Of course all cities have textures and differences in contrast and tone, but this felt violent, like a wound, and one unhealed at that.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • April 2, 2013

      It’s so many cities in one, like London. I know this a weird thing to comment on, but every time I pick someone up at the airport I’m reminded how ill planned and ugly parts of LA are, and it’s mostly where cars have become more important than people. If we can’t figure out how to move through the city on mass transit it’s just going to be a giant gridlocked blot. Sorry, I am in a MOOD today.
      Yours ever so cross and ever so fond,

  8. April 4, 2013

    Last Saturday I went to a retreat with Zen teacher, Norman Fischer. The focus of the day was compassion and I jotted down several things he said:

    “Not a single one of us can afford to forget that *all* our thoughts and deeds have impact on the world.” Great thoughts in your post, and who knows what impact a “simple” blog post may have.

    Fischer also said, “When we love other beings, we are liberated from the dream of self-clinging and are reinsured. Maybe this is the only kind of life worth living.” I think that’s “political” too, but sometimes these things must be said.

    • April 4, 2013

      Thank you, that is very kind. I wrote the post in response to a question a reader posed about what it was like living in Los Angeles at the time the riots occurred. I had the leisure of many years of retrospection, and I tried to put my response in context. (My old journalism professors would be so happy šŸ˜‰ ) I don’t think I did the topic justice, it’s a very small, very personal piece, but, if I’m reading your comment correctly, all acts are “political” and it’s good to be mindful of that. Thanks again (and thanks to your teacher, Norman Fischer), V

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