Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 14 - Life and Death
Log 14 - Life and Death

Life and death in Los Angeles
Daniel Mancini


Here's an LA anecdote. Last week there was a live car chase. Like OJ's. They have a couple every week. But this day was especially good. Or bad. Depending on whether you were in bed with a beer or in the traffic. I'm an 'in bed with a beer' kind of kid so that was me. This guy's getting a divorce, she's leaving him, maybe having an affair. He's also losing his home, both the kids and the roof. He's driving to pick up some lunch, maybe some "Kenny Rogers Roaster" meal or "Norm's", but he's running out of gas. He pulls into the gas station. Realises that he's left his wallet back at work. He fills up anyway. To the top. He has a gun in the car (not unusual for LA: ratio = 1:3). He's pissed off. He drives off without paying. Doesn't steal money or even lunch. Just gas. Gas guy calls the filth. One cop starts chasing him. It's fucking hot. Smog and 100 degrees. Steering wheel's black plastic. It's too hot to touch. The cops flashing his lights. OK. He'll pull over. Then he'll be late for work. Fired. And still no lunch. He won't pull over. This domino effect is beginning to hurt. He pulls the gun. So be it. Shoots at the cop. So be it. Calls his x?-wife on the mobile. Tells her what he's doing. Laughs at her screams. Finally he's getting some attention. Finally he's getting through to her. Easy. Now there's more cops. Armed and live offender. Now there's news helicopters, three of them, he's live on three channels. He turns on the radio. He's live and alive. He's in LA. This is the movie he was always supposed to make. He claims his fame, his fans, his bike shorts, his 15 minutes. He shoots some more. At the filth. At the helicopters. Easy. He flips the bird to the cameras. People start appearing on bridges and overpasses to cheer him on. Fuck Burt "The Bandit" Reynolds. This is real. He's not an actor. He's rocking a full tank of gas. The chase is on and just beginning. He should have done this along time ago. Easy. I'm at home. Get a phone call. 2:00pm. The chase is on. The word on the news is that the offender's got a full tank of gas. That means the chase is just beginning. I get a beer. Move the telly into the bedroom. Make myself good and comfy. Take a long cold sip in the streaming sun. I am so happy. He should have done this along time ago. This is the movie this guy was always supposed to make. Easy.

Four hours later. He's running out of gas. It's been a long run and a good one. Knew there wasn't an out. Just driving until the earth melted with the heat or the rearview with his tears. There's more cops now. Most of them are probably not even on the clock. Working for free. Who wouldn't in a cars-and-guns freedom-fighting situation like this one. Lives are at stake. And not just citizens. The misguided fool shot at the LAPD. The cop I feel for is the one holding last night's gold watch. It should have been him. Other filth calling their sitcom-soaked families, telling them to "Watch for me, I'm car 107, sixth from the front". The good guys with the worst jokes. Yet, the jokes on the insomniac family man. It always ends that way. But this guy's not playing by our rules. Not anymore. This guy runs the show. And right now he decides what's on the air and what's in our homes and right now what's in my bedroom is a news still of his blurred yet triumphant middle finger. Caesar never had it this good. Anyway, so finally on the 110 heading East the car falls to a slow thirsty stop. Immediately the road on both sides is closed down. This is not a small road, it's ten lanes across. It's about 6:00pm. Mid rush-hour. Immediately the blockage causes queues of Woodstock proportions. I'm drinking another beer, kinda smirking, waking up a little from a four-hour slumber of blurred nothingness, cos the chase is over and the vehicles are stationary. It's a thriller at work though. Cos the twist is coming. The camera knows, the viewers know and the police already knew when they signed on; the victim/offender of course doesn't have a clue. Cos the snipers have been called. Super-hero masked SWAT playstation all-American heroes. Special forces. Charlie Sheen played one in some mid-'80s film. So it's a glory role. It's well and good. No-one is in danger. No car moves. Every car waits. Just let the pro's handle it. Tax dollars at work. Spotlight on the badge. Where the chase has ended a huge crowd builds on both sides of the freeway. People complaining who just wanna go home after their usual day at work and people who really and truly wanna see someone get hurt. Close up. This ain't political, cultural or geographical. It's of a far more pure form than any of these things could ever be. It's entertainment. Entertainment without censorship, casting, scripting or editing, and in a town like LA we thrive on this. We need it. Cos in LA even our coffees are more spontaneous than we could ever be. Cos we live in fear. Fear of fucking up our big break by wounding not killing the wrong casting agent at the wrong cafe. Supporting the wrong band or team at the wrong arena with the wrong shirt. So when someone loses it like this guy has, then cop or culprit, someone's gonna get hurt and we just wanna be part of it. It's called envy.

A little after midnight. The crowd's still there and still getting larger. Any minute now the souvenir vendor will set up shop and afterward tan for a month. I have reluctantly moved only from the bedroom to the loo to the fridge and back again. I have been watching TV for over ten hours. The moment I stop watching it'll all be on. And over. So, I can afford to spend this kind of time on something like this. Cos lives are at stake. And who am I to play God with that kind of typical bullshit Los Angeles indifference? And so I watch. We all do. His cell phone is gone, out the passenger side window. It smashes and breaks on the spot-lit pavement. It gets a slow replay on all three news channels. That phone's a star. That phone's the Olympic torch. That phone's either out of batteries or driving the mans soul crazy. Cos his x? wife was, so we're told by the eye in the sky, on the other line. Tracked by the police and made to call up and tell him that; "Honey, everything will be OK". A clever ruse, but obviously one that our man has the insight to recognise as a small fib. Outside the snipers are lined up. They've been lined up for hours now and in full evening battle gowns. Lined up first on one side of the road and then on the other. Because the poor soldiers un-Sheen-like had to swap road sides and set up sights all over again when our hero rubbed soap or shaving cream or something all over the drivers side window and spoiled both their target and my camera angle. Thus receiving the first communal cheer from the local crowd on the bridge and the first communal groan from the stationary traffic still waiting for their "hungry man" TV dinners. The second and largest response comes when a remote-controlled disarming robot is sent down to the rear passenger door with the intention of firing tear gas inside our mans vehicle. But our hero will have none of that. He calmly leans over, opens the side door real hard and with perfect timing and knocks the three million-dollar robot on its ass. It's wheels are still spinning in mid air while a million local teenagers slap each other five in happy unison, the crowd cheers and my phone rings again. I can't believe this guy hasn't done this before. Like we all said, "this is the movie he was always supposed to make". He hears the crowd. He hears the reports. He'd like to thank "God, Mom, Julia Roberts and sorry, mustn't forget the x? wife. The silly bitch." Also, he'd like to thank "the LAPD and the city's media for being so quick to recognise real talent". More after the break. His car radio's on till the battery dies. Then he doesn't know. At least the fuckin' phone's not ringing anymore. He knows there's thousands of people like him trapped in the evening traffic. Just like him before fame came a-knocking. Waiting for him. Listening to their stereos for news. Expectant parents panicking. Junkies unfixed. Flights missed. Sleep lost. This is blue-collar fame at its most potent. Only the state lottery or stalking can get as close. We love our cars and we love our chases and we love our TV. We just wanna be part of it. It's called envy.

5 in the morning. On and over. All so quick. I told you. Quicker than a commercial. Teargas and an army, blood and bullets and a man alone. A 15-hour wait for a 15-second procedure for a lonely man's last and only 15 minutes. Then the screen turns white. Same colour as the sheet over our mans face. But only for a split second. Then we return to regular programming. Crowd slowly disperses. It's a quiet crowd now. Not in reverence or requiem. Just a little disappointed. The thousands of blocked cars may as well turn right around and head right on back to the rocks they crawled out from. Rock's called work. I flip the TV the bird, my small tribute to taps, and roll over in my slumber. My phone stays silent. My beer looks bored. Truth is, like everybody, I'm a little disappointed. I hate it when you guess an ending.

Dan Mancini is the devil's insomniac, a Los Angeles gutter harlot and a shameless advocate of better sleeping through chemistry. He is tired. So very tired.



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room