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DON'T (JAY)WALK : In L.A., Why Didn't the Chicken Cross the Road? : It Might've Gotten a Ticket.

April 04, 1993|Patt Morrison

You're caught on the radar gun, laying rubber at 50, 60 miles an hour out in front of the Braille Institute. The cop hands back your license. A little smile opens up under his mustache. "All right, pal," he says, "I got one of these hemi-head, big-block babies in the driveway myself. So just don't let it happen again. Me entiendes, Mendez? "

You're caught jaywalking in Canoga Park. Bam! The cop twists your arm, kicks you in the belly, throws you to the ground, snaps on the cuffs and drags you off by your ponytail.

I made up that first scenario. The second one is true. Recently, an LAPD veteran was convicted of misdemeanor battery for doing those things to a jaywalker, a Spanish speaker who had asked the officer to read the citation to him.

Felony walking: L.A.'s hidden shame.

Six months before Ronald Reagan became President, his pal Ed Meese, the future attorney general, and his pal Bill Casey, the future CIA director, were caught jaywalking near Reagan campaign headquarters here. Meese ignored his ticket; Casey ignored his. Years later, Meese had to pony up the $10 ticket cost and $120.50 in penalties on top of that. And Casey . . . well, Casey is dead. Nannygate, Jaywalkgate--the big ones all trip themselves up in the end.

Jaywalking is a $55 ticket now. That's more than a tank of gas and a ladies' day carwash special with carnauba wax and valet parking at the Biltmore.

They say nobody walks in L.A. What they mean is, if you walk in L.A., you're a nobody. Can you blame us? The nation's first gas station opened here 81 years ago. Where the rubber meets the road, L.A. treads on Uniroyals, not Nikes.

Robert Redford, before he lit out for blue highways, observed that if you stay in Beverly Hills too long, you become a Mercedes. In my end of town, it's a Toyota, but same principle.

Look at what our music celebrates:

Sure, in the rest of the world, people may go out walking after midnight, walk the line, walk up and down 'neath the clock of a pawnshop on a corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But here, we get our daddy's car and cruise to the hamburger stand now, don't come back from Dead Man's Curve, roll down Imperial Highway, big, nasty redhead sittin' by our side. With us, it's always cars, cars, cars.

Bad things happen to people who walk in L.A. In 1989, when New York City issued 25 jaywalking tickets, L.A. distributed 132,996 pedestrian-related citations.

Daryl Gates, a man whose very soul is spit-shined, was obliged to tour wicked, disorderly New York last year to promote his book, and he found much there to distress him. He glowered at jaywalkers as if they were child molesters.

The first ticket I ever got here was pedestrian-related. On Day One of my life in L.A., I stopped my Corvair at a crosswalk painted across a four-lane street. But I did not wait until the pedestrian crossed the median, plus the other two lanes of the street. You never know, said the cop as he wrote me up. Guy could change his mind, turn around and go back.

More recently, late one Saturday night, some friends were hotfooting it from the Times office against the red light. Downtown was deserted--except for the cop who descended upon them, demanded ID, then ticketed them. It was for their own good, of course. God forbid they should get a false sense of security on these empty streets, start playing mumbletypeg in the intersection and, 20 minutes later, along comes a speeding cab. Wham! I know how grateful they were to the officer for sparing their families that horror.

But really now. Why on earth, in this Dodge City of the Pacific Rim--where kids in certain parts of town sleep in their bathtubs because of stray gunfire--should crosswalks be the safest places in town? Why do we mollycoddle pedestrians, who haven't done a tenth of what Henry Ford did to make this city great?

Spare me the safety lectures. We live on the lip of seismic disaster and urban chaos. We're a gambling people. Let us scuttle across against the light and take our chances.

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