Last Monday was our 15th anniversary of living in Los Angeles. How can I be so certain? Last Sunday was the 15th anniversary of the L.A. riots. We arrived on day two of the riots. Happy Anniversary!
It’s strange because it’s not something I would normally focus on. But it did get many of us talking about what we ourselves were like “way back when”.
First, a quick re-cap. Lyle wanted to go to school at UCLA for graphic design. We came early and pre-scouted. Then went back to Bellingham, WA, loaded up the car and drove South. We stopped at my grandmother’s outside of Sacramento and spent the night. On Wednesday April 29, 1992 we watched the riots break out in Los Angeles from the safety of my grandmother’s television 350 miles away.
On Thursday April 30, we woke up with our plan in place to drive to Los Angeles and stay with friends in West Hollywood. We watched the news. We got out maps and we discussed that the riots were something happening “down there” but we weren’t going all the way “down.” Just as far as West Hollywood. We’d have no problem.
We headed out after lunch.
We drove South on I-5. As we approached the final hill to climb over to L.A. we decided to turn on the radio and see what was going on.
What was going on was all hell had broken loose. The news station we were listening to was based one block away from Hollywood and Vine. I kept telling Lyle that the riots were far away from our destination. I’d pull out my trusty Thomas Guide and say, “The radio is talking about this intersection on Map 652, but we are going here in West Hollywood on map 793. See, FAR away...”
Now as we listened to the radio station (KFWB) talk about what they could see from their window I pulled out my Thomas guide and said to Lyle, “I’m sure it’s not that close. See, the radio station is located here on Map 792 and we are going here on Map 793... oh. my. god.” I was sick to my stomach, “Pull over. Pull the car over. We need to call our friends.”
So we phoned. We heard that one of our friends had driven home via the 10 freeway which runs South of downtown and through some of the most affected areas. She was running low on gas and could see fires breaking out on both sides of the freeway. She was terrified but made it home. We learned there was a curfew starting at dusk. Our friends said that things seemed good where they were, but then again, this thing was moving so quickly and unpredictably that though they felt comfortable telling us to come it would probably be best, if we could, to find a place to stop and come in the next day during daylight.
So we proceeded towards Los Angeles. Like something out of post apocalyptic movie there were no cars on the freeway. Us, and maybe 4 others headed South. Headed North we saw the same sparseness. Never more than 5-6 cars anywhere. We turned our mirrors so they wouldn’t shine light on our glowing white faces. Seems so silly now. We were so far North in Valencia near Magic Mountain. Nothing was going to happen there. But we had no idea where L.A. actually started and suburban white flight had landed.
We scanned every motel and hotel from the hi-way. No Vacancy. We kept moving forward.
We threw out that we would keep going towards WeHo and if there were no hotels then we were supposed to make it tonight. If we found a hotel, we were supposed to stop.
We continued to listen to the radio station when they broke into the newscast for a special announcement from the owner. I can’t remember the exact wording but the it went something along the lines of, “KFWB has been broadcasting 24 hours a day for 25 years and we have never gone off the air, until today. From the roof of this building I can see the fires and looters. For the safety of our employees I am shutting this station down. It is a sad day indeed.” He started to ramble off on the state of the world and the tragedy of violence when in mid-sentence the radio went to static.
We had mapped out a route to West Hollywood from the 405 freeway, exiting onto Sunset and driving through a residential area of Beverly Hills. We suspected this would be the least likely to attract anything untoward. When we exited the freeway there was a Radisson Hotel on the corner. Lyle had worked for a travel agency connected with the Radisson hotels. We had stayed there earlier in the year and received the family discount rate of $35 a night. “Maybe?” I said and jerked my head towards the hotel. “Doubtful” responded Lyle. We were so tense we had stopped using any unnecessary words.
We pulled in and made our way to the check in desk. It was pandemonium. My heart is beating faster as I write this and remember how the way people were behaving in this hotel lobby made me more afraid than anything I could have imagined listening to the radio. If these people so far removed from the affected areas were so freaked out, what did they know that we did not?
Lyle approached the desk clerk told him he knew it was a long shot, then launched into our sob story. “Left Sacramento this morning... had no idea... been driving all day... freaked out to drive to friend’s house... student... employee ID... know it’s impossible...” Then came the puppy dog eyes.
He told us they had three rooms left, no just two rooms now. He’d probably loose his job, but he was going to do it anyway.
Finally, NOT SHIT.
We checked in and phoned our parents. You know that phone call where the first words out of your mouth are, “I’m okay.” We had to make a couple of those. I cried. Lyle cried. We watched the final episode of the Cosby show. Apparently a riot was not enough to pre-empt that.
We were hungry. We hadn’t eaten all day as we kept saying we’d eat when we got there. Now here we were in Bel-Air at the Radisson and we needed to find the nearest store. We looked one up in the yellow pages (all of this is so pre-cell phone!) and we called a little store in the Brentwood plaza.
“Hi, are you open?”
“Don’t come here! We have guns! We’re not open! We’ll shoot you!!!” and they hung up.
We made our down to the hotel restaurant. Keep in mind that Lyle was going back to school, neither one of us had a job in our new city and had given up our old jobs to move. We had serious budget concerns. I knew I need a drink. After looking at the prices I was only going to get one. We had dinner. Each of us got a salad and we split an entree. One cocktail each. No dessert. It was $80. “Well, that was our budget for the week,” I told Lyle as we walked up to the rooftop patio of the hotel.
There was an interesting article I found on the riots, but the link doesn't work, so here is the summary that I found quite fascinating:
We stood on top of the hotel and watched as hundreds of fires burned in the distance. If you didn’t know better it could have looked pretty. But we did know better and for us it was very sad.
The Los Angeles riots ended after five days, leaving more than 50 people dead, thousands injured, and almost $1 billion in property damages. A Federal aid package of $100 million in disaster assistance was given to riot victims, $200 million was designated to rebuild damaged areas, and $400 million was made available in loans from the Small Business Administration. The Los Angeles Community Development Agency approved $200 million in emergency relief for small businesses and homeowners. Rodney King eventually sued the city of Los Angeles for $83 million dollars, but the city rejected the suit. The four police officers who had been acquitted in the beating of Rodney King were reindicted, this time for violation of King's civil rights. Two of the officers were found guilty. King was awarded $3.8 million dollars. Daryl Gates, chief of the LAPD, was replaced, and the LAPD undertook to improve its relations with inner-city residents.
From beginning to end, the riots were a media event. The repeated airing of the beating of Rodney King, on top of deep-seated grievances in South Central Los Angeles, effectively prepared the way for violence. News of the acquittal of the four police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King set off rioting by African-American, Hispanic, and some white residents of South Central Los Angeles. Televised images of street scenes acted as guides to looters and helped to propel the rioting. The impact of videotaping was particularly noteworthy; it was through this medium that images of the beatings of Rodney King and Reginald Denny were seared into the nation's psyche. Reporting in the Los Angeles Times seems to have been more restrained than television coverage, but both broadcast and print media engaged in controversial and sensationalized reporting. Such coverage led many people across the nation to fear that the lawlessness in Los Angeles might spread to their neighborhoods.
I told Lyle if you squint your eyes, all the fires linked together to spell out “Welcome to L. A.”
What you can't see is we both have on big black work boots with those shorts.
I 've gone full circle and returned to the V-neck T-shirt but not pleasted shorts.
(The Terminator pic at the top of the post is me in the actual costume worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. The back of the leather jacket even had bullet holes in it.)