Now that the TV series The People vs. OJ is running, it made me think about that time in my life when I was living in LA, very close to that drama. I lived in a townhouse only a few blocks from the 405 freeway, so when the slow-mo chase was coming up the freeway with the Ford Bronco, I was watching it on TV like everyone else; when I realized that it was going to pass right by my house. I jumped into my car and drove under the 405 to witness history with my own eyes. But when I got to the freeway entrance, it was completely blocked by dozens of cars, people who had the same idea that I did. But, being a “local” I knew right next to that entrance was a cul-de-sac that dead ended right below the freeway – no one knew about that but me! I parked my car there and headed up the hill.
You know that beautiful greenery that borders the LA freeways? Pushing through it, I discovered, unfortunately, that it’s full of thorn bushes. So I finally emerged onto the freeway, in my shorts, cut, scratched and covered with blood! I didn’t have time to think about that, because I looked down the 405 just in time to see the Ford Bronco heading towards me. What I saw I’ll never forget:
The Bronco was going about 35 MPH, and about 50 feet behind it were four LA Police cars, in perfect alignment across all four lanes. Behind them, another four LAPD cars, and then four more, and then another four. What struck me was that all the police cars, maybe 24 in all in perfect formation, were brand new cars! Not the old beaters that one would see on typical patrol. It was like the LAPD knew this was their Hollywood moment, and they somehow rounded up all their brand new police cars for their big screen shot! Above them, again in perfect formation were the news helicopters, four on each side, in a perfectly straight line. I had visions of Apocalypse Now, I could feel more than hear the thud-thud of their rotors as they passed overhead.
As the Bronco passed me, I was torn on how to react. I wanted to yell “Yeah!” and then “Boo!” at the same time, and I think I did both.
At this time in my life, I lived in a two bedroom townhouse with (I’ll call him “Irwin” to cloak his identity). Irwin was the undisputed King of the LA nightclub scene, I’ll explain in a moment. He had a falling out with his girlfriend up the street, and asked to share my apartment. Irwin was a striking looking man. He was very dark skinned, almost black, as opposed to the general racial of label “black”. He was built like a fullback, not that tall but very large – wide at the shoulders and truly imposing. His large shaved head seemed to meld into his bulky shoulders without the necessity of a neck. He’s the kind of black man who would get your attention no matter where he appeared, almost scary but at the same time inspiring.
And he was a big pussycat, I know because I cohabitated with him for two years! Irwin was a theater major in college, and he was talented beyond belief. His ability to talk in accents was so good I hated him! Scottish, Irish, at least a half dozen English (from London to Liverpool). Italian, Swedish, German or French. If you talked to him on the phone, you’d think you’re talking to a Jewish guy in a NY deli. I could not hold up an accent for three words. So Irwin & I lived together during the entire OJ trial. Here’s me, a white guy and a very imposing black guy rehashing the day’s proceedings.
It’s not the contentious evenings you would imagine. I was “working at home” as a sales rep, at a job that was winding up to an eventual closure. So what I did (all day) was watch the trial – gavel-to-gavel. Irwin was doing the same where he worked. Irwin was also a police buff, and carried around (and monitored) a police radio. So every night, we’d have a kitchen table debate about that day’s proceedings. Not so much the Black vs. White thing, but more of the evidence presented and which side was convincing or getting the upper hand that day. And here’s where Irwin’s theatricality inspired us – we’d play the role of the real-life players:
Irwin would be Judge Ito, and I’d be Marcia Clark. I’d be Robert Kardashian, and Irwin would play Johnny Cochran, and we’d reenact that day’s proceedings. Then back to the kitchen table to debate the evidence, with no winner since tomorrow would be another dramatic twist in the plot. It was truly a ton of fun, every night! Oh, but back to the King of the LA Nightclubs, let me explain:
There was a really hot nightclub on Santa Monica Blvd., just North of Fairfax. It had the usual doorman thing, with people lined up outside around the block, earning their entrance via their looks, clothes and coolness. But Irwin created a club-within-the-club inside. You heard me right. At the back of the club was a “private” room, and yes, another line with the doorman permitting entrance by assessed coolness/hotness. Irwin ruled this back room with a theatrical flair and a touch of naughtiness. I’ll let your imagination figure this out. Being Irwin’s roommate, I had instant access into this world of beautiful hotties; our house became a place of soirées in the off hours.
I did learn a little about race from Irwin, two small things that I wouldn’t have noticed as a white man. I shouldn’t reveal this information, but I’ve always been a fan of a hidden key. Why call a locksmith at 3:00 AM when I can simply go to my hiding place and let myself in (if I’ve lost my key). There was an alley behind our building, so I simply put a nail on the hidden side of a telephone pole and hung an extra key there. When I told Irwin about this, he told me he couldn’t use that, because “a black guy can’t be seen by neighbors looking around in a dark alley”. They could call the police.
The second time it got my attention concerned another nightclub we’d go to, then at Hollywood & Highland (where the Kodak Theater is currently). Across the street was a paid parking garage, which was about $5 then (about $10-15 in today’s dollars). I discovered that if you drove up one block, Hollywood Blvd. became residential; you could park free and walk one block to the club. Irwin informed me, again, that he couldn’t do that. Walking on a dark street, he risked a car pulling up next to him and a guy asking, “Who you with” (a gang challenge). Irwin preferred (for self-preservation) to pay the five bucks at the garage. I never thought about that, never had to as a white guy, but Irwin did, as a black guy.