Twenty years ago, I worked in the Graphics Dept. at KCAL-TV. The station was located on the Paramount lot then, on Stage 21, the old Star Trek "Enterprise" location, in Hollywood.
As I pulled into the parking lot behind Astro Burger getting ready to walk across the street onto the lot, I listened with great interest to the radio station. It was almost 3pm. I listened to the verdict of the Rodney King beating in disbelief. How can this be? We all saw the video of this guy getting the crap beat out of him. A chill came over me as I sat and listened. I knew this was not good.
I walked into the station and everything was coming undone. And it just got worse as the day and days continued. I was dating a station cameraman then and I instantly grew concerned because I knew he was going to be out in the unravelings of L.A. That was his job. While I was safe and sound in what is basically a bunker, he was out in what was to become a situation where military tankers were patrolling Hollywood Blvd. to keep the peace. It was all very surreal.
Day two of the riots was insane for the station. Reporters and cameramen were out in the tensest part of L.A. Reports had come in saying that bricks were being thrown at the windows of the newsvans. It took about 3 days until the local TV stations got with the program...and painted over their giant blaring channel logos identifying the stations of 2,4,5 and 7. The news would continue but it also took days before bullet proof vests were purchased and passed out to the reporters and cameramen. These people were just out in it risking their lives to do their jobs. One reporter quit. He said, "I didn't get into the news business for this!". Another reporter melted down in the bathroom as I ran in to pee. She was in hysterics and wondered if she could "go back out there." She had a love of baking and I had hoped this would be propel her into leaving the news business and open a bakery.
I drove home that evening. Military was in plain sight. Some guys were just patrolling the streets with baseball bats. There was mandatory curfews. No one was to be on the streets past 10pm.
Fires that had been started on the day of the verdict made the horizon hazy. I think there were over 100 fires started in protest. As I drove on the 101 into Hollywood, I saw fires on the horizon for as far as I could see. I cried. What was happening? Why were people doing this?
It was one of those things that happen that changes everything. Suddenly the African-American people that I was working with became uncomfortable and we were back in the 60's dealing with race issues. I had been lucky enough to have not been involved in any of that. I had know great people of every color and was fine about the color thing. That's just how I grew up. But now, here it was, people were suddenly walking on eggs and not wanting to agitate the wrong person.
More stretching, I suppose, for us humans. Bad things happen and we have to make the best of them. I always think that good things come out of bad things and I'm hoping the L.A. Riots taught L.A. that if nothing else, with all the tinsel and glitter of Hollywood, just underneath the facade, is a cauldron of stuff, that needs to be stirred every now and then...just to keep people interested in progress.
Here is a piece I did called "Copper Haze." It's what driving into Hollywood looked like from the 101 freeway with the fires on the horizon.
Hope you have a great week..