Thursday, February 12, 2009

At times in our lives, we may find ourselves in a public frenzy, where everything just goes nuts. Sometimes, you'll happen upon the frenzy. Other times, you'll go to the frenzy. On Monday night, my neighbor and I decided to do the latter. It was a cold night in LA, even by non-California standards. At around midnight, I got a call from my twenty-two-year old next door neighbor who told me to turn on the television. Instead, since I was right in the middle of writing a show recap and had my television playing a DVD, I walked over to her apartment. On every channel, the news was showing a car chase that had now become a stand off happening blocks from us. I stepped outside the door, and sure enough, the humming of the helicopters I'd heard when walking over to her house were indeed that, and louder than I'd realized.

Earlier in the evening, I'd heard about a slow speed car chase going on where the police were chasing a $100,000 Bentley. I didn't think anything of it at the time, and was surprised to see this was the same car. It was sitting in front of a Toyota dealership with the trunk up so the police couldn't see into the rear view window. The news said that the driver was depressed after being sought for assaulting his girlfriend, and that he had a gun. Since there had just been a high profile assault on a girlfriend and the guy was driving a Bentley, all of us came to the conclusion that it was Chris Brown, someone I'd never heard of until he was arrested for assaulting Rhianna the night before.

I don't know what made me want to be a gawker that night, but I did. I asked, C, my neighbor, "Wanna go see?"

She did.

We dressed warmly, me in my fake mouton coat, and got into my car. As we approached the action in Universal City, six helicopters lit up the sky like an alien invasion, some stationary, others circling. We pulled into a Metro station parking lot a couple blocks away and saw that we weren't the only ones who felt like being gawkers that night. There were several paparazzi already jumping the cement wall, huge lenses in hand. As we parked, several cars pulled into the lot behind us. There were already several police cars that had blocked off the street and policemen tried to corral the crowd that was walking toward the standoff. We scaled the cement wall from the parking lot to the sidewalk, proclaiming our insanity as we did so, but kept going anyway. Some people tried to walk directly to the scene via the sidewalk, but the police cut them off. To the left, there was a neighborhood and we veered into it, all of a sudden realizing we'd picked up a woman and two boys who were walking with us. C noticed their accents and asked them where they were from. "Texas," they said. The boys were maybe 11 and 8, and were actors in town to audition for shows during pilot season. Both extremely good-looking kids.

"Welcome to L.A.," I said as a searchlight from a police helicopter swept over us and created temporary daylight. As the 11-year-old excitedly chattered at me, we made our way through the darkened neighborhood to the end of the street. We came across a woman who was barefoot as a result of rushing out to try to get the story. She said she was a reporter who had gotten separated from her friend.

We walked to the side of the last house on the street before the dead end, and reached a fence that blocked access to a city waterway. At least, that's what it is when it rains. Otherwise, they are big cement gulches snaking through the city. You see them in every movie shot in Los Angeles that has a chase scene. Terminator 2 was shot in one, when the T1000 is in an eighteen wheeler chasing John Connor and the Terminator on a motorcycle. Above the waterway was our sought destination, a bridge where there was a large crowd and tons of activity. Between us and the bridge was a steep dirt embankment with a couple foot flat area to walk on. The embankment bumped up against an apartment complex and a cement barrier.

"I know we can get through that fence," I said to the eleven-year-old. "There's gotta be a way through. This is Los Angeles and that's basically a huge skate park below. Someone's cut a hole, I'm sure." He was all too eager to try to find it with me. We went to the end of the fence and sure enough, there was a hole where we could fit through. He pioneered through first and I called to the rest that we'd found a way. The boy then held back the shrubbery for us. A helicopter light passed over us and a German Shepherd barked from someone's back yard. We passed through the hole, the wind whipping our hair, and walked precariously on the dirt grade, hugging the cement wall as we did so. It wouldn't have been a nice tumble into the waterway had any of us fallen. When we made it to the bridge, we scaled the cement barrier and were there. I looked behind me and saw that the barefoot woman had followed us. Shocked, I offered her my shoes to climb over the barrier. They were slip-on Birkenstocks and easy to share. She was extremely grateful, and we helped her over the barrier.

A CBS News van sat parked in front of police crime tape that blocked anyone from going further. A half a block away from it, the white Bentley that we had seen on TV sat in the middle of the road. A smattering of cop cars and police were well...everywhere. Directly behind the Bentley, four police cars sat with doors open, police standing behind them with guns drawn. Paparazzi were running around everywhere, other news vans were parked all over the place and reporters chattered into microphones. C and I stuck together and tried to avoid any news cameras that would forever capture us as "people that go gawk." However, others weren't as embarrassed as we were. They clamored behind the cameras and tried to get on TV. A bunch of guys were dressed in pink and making idiots of themselves behind the reporters. That irritated me, because when it got down to it there was a troubled person in that car and it was very serious. Sure, Los Angeles does turn it into a sideshow and we had been drawn to go there and see it. But, the fact that someone has reached this kind of crisis in their life is no laughing matter. C and I had that in perspective, mentioning it several times. And the thing is, when you see something like this in person it sinks in as that much more real. It's not filtered by a TV screen, no matter how good a resolution it has. Seeing it in person, and feeling the wind, hearing the helicopters, watching the police and the reflection of their lights bouncing off buildings, streets, cars, billboards and people, and yes, being in the frenzy, is so much different. The only thing still and eerily silent was that white Bentley at the center of it all. In its stillness, it was the eye of the hurricane.

Car chase, stand off in Universal City. The driver sadly killed himself.

This is a zoom of a wide shot that I took. You can see the white car with the trunk up.

C and I maneuvered around, linked arm and arm so we wouldn't get separated. Rumors continued to circle that it was Chris Brown. After about thirty minutes, the police wisely decided to move us back. On the way back to my car, I saw why. A huge SWAT mobile vehicle was making its way toward the Bentley, followed by other armored tactical vehicles that looked like they had battering rams on the front. Finally, the police got the order to move us all back, and we complied. I saw my eleven-year-old urban spelunker partner again and he was still excitedly chattering.

When we got back to the parking lot, it was completely full. We hopped back over the cement barrier and drove home, then watched the rest of the action play out live on the Internet via raw video feed. The TV stations weren't carrying it anymore, as nothing had happened to warrant them breaking in. For about twenty minutes we were treated to the sounds of the helicopter pilot yawning and readying to end his shift. Soon, we heard a female voice from the replacement helicopter. It was that one that would capture the ending of the stand off. The SWAT armored vehicles moved in and blocked off the car, then the SWAT team busted a window in the Bentley. When they opened the car door and didn't pull out a defiant angry suspect, the woman said to her producer, "It looks like he killed himself. Oh, how sad." They pulled the cameras back to not to show it on television. With raw feed, you aren't getting a reporter. You're getting the producers and camera people talking to each other. So, this woman's comments were not broadcast on TV and were genuine. And yes, it was terribly sad that it had to come to an end like that.

Apparently the man was distressed over losing his business, which was a luxury car rental company, and also depressed over the fight with his girlfriend. I thought about what we had witnessed in person; the last moments of a man's life. And, how completely tragic that was. The sad thing is that he would have probably gotten help and little if not any jail time had he just decided to give himself up. His psychological state of mind would have certainly been taken into consideration. But, when one is in a state such as that, perhaps all they can see is the immediate way out.

I think I was compelled to go see this because this has been a hard couple months on me. I wanted to be reminded that I was holding it together pretty well considering. I've felt the pressure of the economy as well and more than a few times questioned if it's worth it anymore to keep trying. Not necessarily because of that, because economic trends pass and are external, but because of the state of non-feeling that I've been in lately. What I mean is, is it worth it to keep trying to succeed, because I don't know what that is anymore.

On Friday, after lunch at Urth Caffe, which I forced myself out of the house to do, I actually found myself in the Bodhi Tree Bookstore reading a book about the Zen path through depression. I hadn't gone there to look for anything. I was just browsing, and like it was trying to get my attention, that book stuck out on the shelf. Interested, I sat in the chair and read the first paragraph. Almost immediately, I felt tears working their way toward my eyes. I didn't let them, but it was nice to know they were there, so readily waiting to be released. The person who wrote it eloquently described what I had gone through during the more severe bouts as well as what I'm going through now, which is a lesser degree of that. I've of course read other books on it, but this one was a way different perspective, which was refreshing. It also offered exercises one can do that may help.

Also, to counter it, I try to step out and do fun things that get me out of my head. I'm lucky to live in a place that offers that. I'm also lucky to have into perspective what depression is. I get it. It's a constantly mutating beast. There is no one answer, so you have to be on your guard and stay one step ahead of it. On days it gets the upper hand, you change your tactic or tough it out the best you can. It's sad that this man couldn't see that. Had he not chosen to end his life, he'd certainly have a long road ahead of him, but I have a feeling he'd be glad to be here right now.

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