© 2020

Nicotine Riot

By Eric Anthony Kallins

I was living in LA during the Rodney King riots (August 27th, 2017). It was like living in a war zone – at the time I called it “Beirut” because there was a civil war going on then in Lebanon. I lived in a giant apartment complex on Overland Drive, and would go up on the roof and watch the city. I’d see a bunch of fires burning in one place, and as they’d go out I’d see other fires start in another part of the city.

I was working in downtown LA, so I’d drive home on the Santa Monica freeway in the evening. I was going home on the 10, when I realized I was out of cigarettes. I couldn’t wait to get home, so I pulled off about half way to look for a store. The first store I pulled up to had its windows busted out, and I could see all the shelves were stripped bare. Second store – the same. But the third store was open! So I pulled into its parking lot that was surrounded by a low brick wall. Sitting on that wall were about 20 black guys, in every available space. But I’m just guy (riot or not) getting a pack of cigarettes, no more and no less.

As I got out of my car, all 20 black guys stood up. For the first time (at least that night) I realized that I could wait to buy my smokes for a bit. I got back in my car, backed up and drove home. I delayed my nicotine need for a half hour, bought them in Culver City and got home for my bird’s eye view on my rooftop of LA burning itself to the ground.