Saturday, April 19, 2008

I Love LA—Mostly (Apologies to Randy Newman)

(Click on the thumbnail to view larger image)

This evening, we went to Gabrieleno Park to chase moonlight and found some light we weren’t counting on. As we entered the park in what used to be my Honda Accord, but is now The Husband’s, we noticed a rather sizable gathering of folks in the area closest to the entrance where the public restrooms are, along with several barbeque pits and a large grove of beautiful old oak trees. One of the barbeque pits obviously had a roaring good blaze going and I noted that I had rarely seen that many cars in that part of the park. We drove on by, following the road that wound toward the back of the park and past the large fenced arena for the horseback riders.

Our intention was to hike away from the park, along Haul Road and the nearby horse trails, to make our way toward the giant blooming yuccas about half a mile from the park. We have never gone there for a walk that we didn’t have a good time and every visit is little different. Besides, tonight there was a double mission. My handy-dandy calendar I print for each month said the moon would rise at 7:11 PM tonight, and I figured that would be just about right to catch a near-full moon coming up over the mountains with enough light in the sky to get a nice shot. Besides, what the heck, if that didn’t work, I would turn around and maybe get more sunset shots. All that and the yuccas, too. Sounded peaceful, wonderfully bucolic, and I would add to my pile of shots for my SoFoBoMo project. (There’s some question as to whether that’s really a good idea, but never mind.)

Just as I had stuffed every last shot I could get on a one-gig card, we heard six or seven loud pops, one after the other, coming from somewhere behind us—in other words in the direction of the park. I was thinking, “Strange, why would anyone be shooting off firecrackers this time of the year”, when The Husband said, “That was a pistol.” Within seconds, there it was again. “Pop! Pop!” By then, the mood had changed a bit and we knew chasing the moon was a lost cause anyway. Sure enough, the cloud cover that had rolled in about 4 PM was thicker than the proverbial pea soup in the East. No moonrise for us, so we decided to head back West. As we picked our way back through the mean chollo cactus and over the rocky trail, we couldn’t help but listen to see if we heard police sirens. Nonetheless, for the longest time it was absolutely quiet out there, except for the distant hum of the freeway and a brief exchange of niceties with the charro in his colorful, ultra wide-brimmed sombrero riding a big paint.

Of course, I had to load another CF card just in case the sunset became irresistible, but before long there was a distraction and I forgot to keep an eye on the sunset. A helicopter had begun circling to the west of us—that would be over the park. Soon it dropped down, so we could see clearly that it was, indeed, a police helicopter. I began to wonder if we would be stuck in the park waiting for a long investigation. (I was once waiting in line at a bank and found myself behind a fellow with a gun who hoped to withdraw a lot of people’s money. Fortunately, he never used the gun, almost in spite of the loud-mouthed woman behind me who kept asking why that rude man had stepped in front of the line, and who did he think he was anyway. I wanted to clamp my hand over her mouth to shut her up, but figured I would then be identified as an accomplice. After it was all over, I remember how long it took waiting for the investigation before we were all released to go home, stop shaking, and say our prayers of gratitude for walking out of there.)

As we neared the park, the light was fading and the helicopter circled high above us while the passengers got a good look at us. The husband said, “Don’t point that camera at them!” It was tough to resist because there was a bird flying exactly in almost perfect sync with the ‘copter and the two silhouetted against an inky evening sky was very tempting; but I had already had the thought that that might not be a smart move. The Husband was a little concerned about toting the tripod in the growing darkness and wondering what it might look like from up there in the air. When we got to the fence bordering the park and ducked under it to head for the car—the only one left in that part of the park, the ‘copter began to circle us, and by now the searchlight was on. Now, I have lived in Los Angeles for thirty-five years, but this was a new experience for me.

I am wearing a sweatshirt hoodie with my head covered (forgot the hat). Jim is carrying the large weapon; I am carrying a small weapon of some sort. And, we are coming out of the brush, in the semi-darkness, to get into a dark Honda Accord in a deserted parking lot where gun shots have recently been fired. Hardly any gang members drive Honda Accords, right? Wrong!! Why else would they steal them? By the thousands?!!! Because they not only take them to chop shops for parts, but they drive them themselves. We calmly packed the gear in the trunk of the Accord, being careful to not make any sudden moves and just as we finished, the police car came down through the trees and headed for the lot where we were. The cruiser pulled up— we had been careful to not make a move to get in the car, and the helicopter was circling in a tight circle now, with the searchlight pinned on the two of us. I am thinking dead bodies on that lawn near the entrance and wondering what this chat with the police will be like.

The police couldn’t have been nicer. I think they figured pretty fast that we looked quite harmless, and it turned out they just wanted to ask if we had heard gunfire. We told them we had, they said thanks and wanted to know how many. We obliged, then crawled in the car, finally out of the spotlight and, by then, sure that there obviously weren’t any bodies on the lawn. The cruiser followed us toward the exit, past the deserted lots, and when we reached the spot where the party had taken place, we were appalled to see that the barbeque was still roaring and the area looked like a giant pig sty.

We pulled in—still being followed—and began picking up garbage—believe me we couldn’t have made a dent in it if we had spent the night there—and searching for bottles of water to douse the barbecue pit that was filled with enough hot coals to cook barbeque for a small army. The Husband told the patrolmen that this was where we had seen the big party, and they set about picking up shell casings in the parking lot while we worked on garbage and the fire. I heard one of the policemen place a call asking to be notified if anyone appeared at nearby hospitals with gunshots wounds. So there was a pathetic ending to a night of idyllic beauty and tranquility, punctuated by what is all too common in Los Angeles. There are parts of my life here I will miss fiercely—and then, there are some….

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