The Sunset Boulevard Gunman and More LA Traffic Distress

Did you all hear about this? Just wondering if the news made it out of California. It seems like unless a lot of people are killed these kinds of stories don’t make national headlines. Anyway, Friday early afternoon a 26-year-old man – a hipster type from the looks of him on the news – stood in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street – a very crowded, touristy part of Hollywood – and began shooting a gun mostly at people driving through the intersection, but at some pedestrians as well. Several people were shot, and one man – a music industry executive driving a Mercedes – is in critical condition. The gunman was eventually shot and killed by the police. From his angry shouting and his failure to drop his weapon at police orders, it seemed to onlookers that it was a suicide, that he wanted police to shoot him.

I happened to be in that part of town right at that time. Yet I somehow missed all of it. When I first heard word of it I was sitting in a film processing shop a few blocks over on Sunset getting headshots I’d just had taken developed (I decided it would be fun and interesting to try to get some extra work while I’m here). I thought it was a joke it seemed so unreal. It also seemed like a crazy ridiculous metaphor of my experience that day, the worst I’ve had yet on LA streets that made me truly not understand how people can live and drive here for any length of time without seriously going nuts.

I’d answered a call for extras the day before. The casting agency decided to take me on. But I had no headshots so the agent referred me to a photographer in Hollywood (an excellent photog, by the way). So his studio was in a cottage, the second of two large cottages situated down a very long narrow driveway off a very busy street. He’d told me I could use the driveway to park in, but if I did, to drive in as far as I could. But the driveway was so long and narrow and there were two cars already parked there. I didn’t know how they’d get out if I parked behind them. I was there early so I drove around and around and around trying to find a parking space on the street – on any street in the area. It was a residential area. Nothing, no spaces at all. So, finally I just decided to park behind the last car in the driveway, hoping the other cars wouldn’t have to leave until evening. I no more than got out when a woman came running out of the first cottage. “Oh, I’m really sorry,” she said, “but could you pull out so I can get out please. I’m so sorry!” I told her not to worry about it at all – I totally understood – then fumbled for my keys, got in my car and backed my Prius out the long long long narrow, narrow, narrow driveway, terrified I’d hit one of the cottages or the brick wall on the other side on the way out.

I made it down okay, miraculously, but then had to back out onto an insanely busy street. I tried to see around the cars parked on each side but couldn’t really see well no matter how hard I tried. So, I just had to take a breath and go very slowly and hope if anyone was coming down the street they’d see me backing out and nicely stop. It worked out, amazingly, but when I drove out my front bumper crashed into the pavement because the driveway’s incline was so high. Ugh… I find this everywhere too in LA – really steep inclines into driveways and parking lots that you can’t help but crash your bumper on. Who designed them, owners of enormous jacked-up trucks?

So, the woman thanked me and pulled away, and in I went again. I’d just parked and gotten out of my car when the guy whose car was still parked in front of me came rushing out of the house next door asking if I could please just let him out before I went inside since he would have to leave in about 15 minutes. I laughed and he apologized. I don’t know why drivers kept apologizing though. It seemed the person who should have been apologizing was the idiot who designed a driveway serving several residences on which only one car at a time could drive.

So, same thing – I tried to back up poker straight so as not to hit anything, risked my back bumper crashing into traffic I couldn’t see, and crashed the front bumper into the steep entrance to the driveway. I drove down the street, got honked at for going too slow, had to go around the corner and come back up the street so as not to block traffic, leaving the guy who needed to back out waiting for me so he could park behind me…

All I could think about all throughout my photo session was how many people I’d have to search for in order to ask them to move their cars so I could get out.

Unbelievably, there were none when I left. My little car was the only one in the driveway. This time the photographer helped me back out. He tried to instruct me on how to turn the front tires just so so that I wouldn’t bump the front again on the steep incline. But I just couldn’t avoid doing that – especially because I was so nervous about backing out onto a crowded street lined with parked cars. This time there was a car coming down the street but he saw the photographer in the middle of the street with his palm up and stopped to wait for me. After that driver waved me on, I continued. But a driver behind him didn’t feel like waiting, and so went to pass him. I guess that driver didn’t realize I was backing out, which is why the guy behind me was waiting. I don’t know what that driver was thinking. I guess he thought the car in front of him just felt like stopping for no reason. Anyway, that driver nearly smashed into me when he tried to pass the car in back of me. Of course another car was coming down the street in the other lane, in our direction, and the car who needed to badly to pass me and the guy in back of me nearly crashed into that car head-on. I really don’t know how there aren’t more car crashes here. I really don’t.

So, after taking my pictures, the photographer had instructed me to take my film down the block on Sunset to have it developed, which I would then bring back to him so he’d help me select a headshot from the proofs. It took me about half an hour to find a parking spot in the shopping center. I even drove down the street to another shopping center – a Rite Aid – to try to find a space. But every parking lot here is just insanely designed. It’s like the designers don’t think of the possibility that every space might be filled and there may, just may be a car driving into the lot trying to park AND a parked car needing to back up out of its space and leave. I mean, unthinkable right, that two cars would be driving in the same parking lot at the same time. There is no room in these parking lots for more than one car to drive in when full. And then when you go to pull out of the lot onto the street, there are so many cars parked on the street, and the lanes are so narrow, and there are ALWAYS ALWAYS cars driving EACH way down these narrow narrow streets. So, you’re going to have a total of four cars on a two lane street – one traveling in each direction, and one parked on each side. These are streets that were meant for two cars only. And then you need to pull out onto this street so you can leave the lot that was full that you couldn’t park in. So, you have to pull out, and you’re going to have a very hard time seeing around the parked cars, and when you finally think you can go because it’s clear one way, of course the car coming the other way nearly smashes into you, often trying to pull into the full parking lot you’re trying to pull out of.

I don’t understand how people do this, I really don’t. It’s like LA is a parking lot in which there can fit 100 cars. But there are 500 cars that need to park. And there’s nowhere else for the 400 extra cars to go. So what’s that going to be like? Yes, nowhere to park, no space to drive around the parked cars. Major major congestion trying to get anywhere you need to go. And major major potholes, these streets are so overused.

Anyway, I remembered a friend’s advice to park in shopping mall lots whenever possible since they’re usually the cheapest (because they usually give you a few hours for free and / or validate for a few dollars off). So, I drove up to Hollywood Boulevard and drove down to Highland and parked in the Highland and Hollywood (H&H) mall. The mall was probably a good 3/4 of a mile from the film processing place. I then walked up and out of the deep bowels of the garage and walked all around, everywhere I needed to go: back to the film processing place to get my finished proofs, back to the photographer’s studio to decide on the headshot, back to the film processing place to get the headshots made, then to the casting agency to deliver the headshots, then back to the mall to have dinner, get validated, and get my car and go home home home!

It was a hell of a lot of walking around – must’ve walked a good five miles in all. Probably more. But it was so worth it; I was so much happier having my Prius safely ensconced in its little space deep in the bowels of the mall. On my way to the casting agency I saw an accident and thought, of course. Of course of course of course. I mean, how not?

Then at the casting agency, headshots finally in hand, while waiting to see the agent, I collapsed onto a couch and nearly fell asleep. Until news of the gunman popped up on the TV and woke me up. And then I remembered the talk of a police shooting in the area at the film processing shop, and I realized, wow, that was for real. I phoned my mom immediately thinking she’d be out of her mind with worry, knowing I was to be in Hollywood that day. But she hadn’t heard the story – she lives in North Carolina. Nor had my dad, who lives in Arizona. I still don’t think anyone outside of CA, outside of LA heard of it.

After giving the agent my headshots, I walked back to the mall, found a nice restaurant for dinner, and sat in a dark corner trying hard to decompress. But it was difficult to do so because it was getting dark outside (ie: after 5) and I started to worry about it being dark and dangerous deep in the bowels of the garage. I tried to hurry and eat. Waiters in LA never rush you, interestingly. It’s so the opposite of NY in that sense. And restaurants are rarely packed, also interestingly, because I always wonder where in the world all the drivers on the streets are going.

Anyway, for some happy reason the mall garage was full of security guards directing traffic. Weirdly, the mall parking lot wasn’t full. There were lots of available spaces. I guess this is another reason why my friend told me to park in mall garages – because others don’t. I thought how nice it would be if there were guards directing drivers searching desperately for parking out on the residential streets and the shopping center parking lots, like the one where I saw the accident. I was glad for their abundance in the mall lot because that meant I was safe.

The mall parking ended up costing me $10 – the maximum rate – even with validation from the restaurant because I was there for so long. But by that point cost was so unimportant. I just wanted to get home. It took me an hour and twenty minutes to drive the six miles back to my apartment because Sunset was blocked off due to the shooting.

This coming week I have at least two places to go during daytime, both of which, thankfully I can take a bus and a bus / subway to. But I have a third thing I want to do as well – and that I may well have to drive to, which I’m kind of dreading. I could take a combination of three buses, which gets expensive because they don’t have transfers here. So, you have to pay $1.50 each time you board, even if three of the rides are going in the same direction, en route to the same destination. And buses most only run once or twice an hour, and most don’t run after 8 pm. The subway runs much more frequently and is pretty good for the areas it serves, but stops on most of the subway lines are few and far between, so you usually need to take a subway / bus combination. And the trains don’t run all night either.

There are things I love about LA. I actually really love Sunset Boulevard – it goes from the east side of LA all the way to Pacific Palisades, to the ocean. I always try to drive home on that street, even when my GPS insists I should take Santa Monica or Wilshire. It’s like the A train in NYC, passing through practically every neighborhood in the city. It has history and soul. It’s a microcosm of the city. I saw a book the other day in the shop of the ArcLight Hollywood cinema (which is at the corner of Sunset and Vine, right where the gunman was). Each chapter was devoted to celebrating one stretch of Sunset Blvd and highlighting some of the ever so engaging characters who live in its neighborhoods.

I don’t know. I guess I’ll get used to the driving and parking insanity. Maybe. I do desperately wish they’d improve the public transportation system though.

9 Comments

  1. It made national news :)

    The reason for the heights? Cars were much higher when a lot of cities were built or in the case of my neighborhood, the street was lowered when several houses were built. So there’s an incline into my driveway. It’s very common in West Coast cities. Seattle’s notorious for it (http://pauldorpat.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/6thMarion-Regrade-1914-THEN.jpg).

    • Thanks for the info, Katrina! I didn’t know all that! Okay, I’ll be sure to stay out of Seattle :)

      • haha Seattle’s great though (though I love Portland better)… Just the old old parts of Seattle… My neighborhood in Eastern Washington had it’s street lowered too.

  2. Alas, city planners in the 50s and 60s decided to opt for freeways and sprawl, and public transportation (what little there was, like the old red car that ran to the beach) went into serious decline. They’re trying to catch up with Metro trains, light rail, and subways, but very few people can take advantage of them because of the sprawl.

    I also sensed a real class difference in LA on modes of transportation. Mainly, the working poor and students take public transportation. In big cities on the east coast, it’s routine to see well-dressed business people carrying briefcases taking subways and buses, but not in LA.

    I didn’t know about the non-transfer policy, mainly because I can count on one hand the times I used public transportation in over two decades in LA. But I see that you can now buy a one-day pass for $5 on the bus and that might be worth looking into:
    http://www.metro.net/around/fares/

    The horrors you encountered in the Hollywood Hills are found all over the place. Anywhere you see beautiful homes on hills and cliffs, from Malibu in the north to Laguna Beach in the south, you’ll find those narrow, winding streets clogged with parked cars and blind corners. Another horror to avoid: the Pasadena Freeway (the first, built in the 50s) still has some entry ramps that are literally the length of the typical driveway, with a speed of 5 mph, and a blind entrance to make it really fun. Also avoid the 710, running from the Port of LA/Long Beach to South Pasadena: most entrances and exists are from the high-speed lane on the left and the freeway is chock full of tractor-trailors going to and from the port.

    There are crazy people with guns all over the country, but LA seems to attract more than its share. They like to shoot from their cars or roll rocks off freeway overpasses. Steve Martin has a funny bit about this in his classic film, LA Story. Indeed, you might want to take another look at the film. Martin was born and raised in LA and it is funniest of all to people who have lived in LA, because it’s all so true. My favorite line: he offers to take his guest on a tour of historic architecture. “We have buildings here that are over 20 years old!!”

    • Thanks for the advice – especially regarding which freeways to avoid. I want to go down to Long Beach soon, so good to know about the 710. I remember when I first got here, when I was first looking for an apartment and didn’t know where I was going, it would seem like I entered the freeway and was all of a sudden right in the middle of the traffic. I must have been on those freeways with the crazy short ramps. Scary.

      Yes, it’s still the same regarding the class breakdown. It seems to be mainly poor people and students who take the subways and buses. In NY, it’s only the very rich who DON’T take the subway.

      Yeah, the weird thing about those day and monthly passes and TAP cards is that I think you need to buy them at certain outlets – like Ralph’s grocery store. I don’t have one of those near me. I guess I could go find one and buy a card if I knew I could use it whenever I wanted and not only on that day; otherwise it’s just such a pain to drive to a Ralph’s, then drive back home, then go back out and get the bus. It’s rather ridiculous that you can’t buy them at the metro stations. They really don’t make it easy!

      I vaguely remember seeing LA Story but am going to rent it again once I get my DVD player fixed…

  3. Tonya, you asked where everyone was driving to while restaurants remain half full? My former acting teacher has the answer. They are struggling actors, writers, models, directors, cinematographers, Ivy league graduates working in the mailrooms of agencies, all driving home to their apartments they share with about 8 or ten people.

    They can’t go out because in addition to classes, the two jobs they work at close to minimum wage, and the daily hustle of trying to “make it” in the biz, they also have car payments, insurance, gas, repairs to pay for so they can get around town.

    And the people who have finally “made it”, only seem to go to places that will garner them attention or publicity. It seems a big status marker is how isolated you are by your money and fame. That is, how hard it is to actually contact you. The more difficult, the more time it takes, the higher up on the tree you are. I know a lot of wanna be’s who purposely blow their friends off to create the illusion they are leading this exciting, glamorous life. Frankly, I think that’s just plain weird.

    An excellent book I think you should read is Linda Buzzell’s “How To Make It In Hollywood”. You can probably pick up a copy at the local library. It really gives the lowdown, in detail, of all the different aspects of the biz, but in a positive way. She’s a great lady! I figure if you’re going to live in Rome…..,

    Cheers,

    Jeff

    • Thanks Jeff – I will look for that book! I’m so interested in the background and history of this place now that I’m here. Yeah, it’s sad how hard it is to survive on any salary in the arts. It’s the same in NY. Weirdly, when I went to that casting call, there weren’t as many people there as I was expecting, given it was advertised on Craigslist. I’m going to go to more though. I don’t have any actor-ly ambitions; I just want the experience, and the spending money!

  4. Come back to NYC!

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