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AL MARTINEZ

A Little Girl at the Corner

May 03, 1994|AL MARTINEZ

The essayist Georges Bernanos wrote that hope is a risk that must be run, and I was running with it Sunday . . . and ducking.

I was running to get out of the way of a phalanx of cops who were clearing the crowds from L.A.'s Fiesta Broadway. They were trotting toward us with batons at the ready and it was either run or get trampled.

I was ducking at the same time to avoid the rocks and bottles that mindless cholos were hurling through the air all around us.

Hope was moving with me because I'd been hoping the whole thing might be different. Running from cops wasn't the kind of weekend I had in mind.

But I was thinking as I trotted across a parking lot that it all seemed so L.A.ish and if I didn't get bopped on the head by any of the participants it might make an offbeat kind of column.

There was an almost lightheartedness to the calamity, the essence of an adventure unfolding . . . until I saw the little girl at the corner.

She was maybe 8 years old, the age of my two granddaughters, and she was crying her eyes out.

Crowds swirled around her at the corner of 2nd and Hill. Police in riot gear ran by, looking grim and otherworldly, a patrol car pushed through the mobs, a helicopter hovered overhead and sirens screamed in the distance.

Her name was Christina. She had come to Broadway with her mother to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and had instead come face to face with the realities of a city in turmoil, and it terrified her.

The fiesta was over. Trouble was in the air. I wondered if she would ever stop crying.

*

I had a plan for the weekend that would show me L.A. was ready for hope.

It began with a concert in the mountains. The Topanga Philharmonic Orchestra was helping to celebrate the end of a 16-year fight to save Summit Valley from becoming a sprawling country club for the rich.

Ed Edelman, hope's best friend on the Board of Supervisors, had brokered a last-minute sale of the land to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, preserving 662 acres of green valleys and rolling hills for all time.

The music of Vivaldi and Respighi filled the air around Will Geer's oak-shaded Theatricum Botanicum in a classical salute to Edelman who, with his wife, joined the orchestra with cellos, side by side.

It was vintage Topanga, denims and divertissement, dogs and kids, and great melodies of the past winding through the trees and the hillside wildflowers like silver ribbons packaging a glorious day.

This was not only a community that had saved open space, but one that had survived fire, flood and earthquake; that was tough enough to face adversity with remarkable aplomb, and gentle enough to observe triumph with a mosaic of soft sounds laid against the mountains that absorbed them.

In addition to honoring Edelman, the concert was a fund-raiser for the Topanga Co-Op Preschool, and children were in abundance.

They danced before the stage, ran down the dirt pathways and sang to an orchestrated rendition of "This Old Man." Their laughter lingered like wind chimes in a wandering breeze.

Hope existed that day among the oak trees of Topanga . . . but Topanga is a long way from Downtown L.A.

*

Here too was the essence of celebration, the heart of metropolis thrown open to its people, to observe both the special holiday of a neighboring nation and the hope of a city to rise to the height of its dreams.

Four other Fiestas Broadway had gone by with a coalescence of spirit unique to Los Angeles, and there was no reason to believe this one would be any different.

Music was in the air here too, but it was played vivacissimo, with life and passion and speed, blending the sounds of two nations in the streets of one.

What a day it could have been. Hundreds of thousands of L.A.'s citizens turned out. Men, women and children filled an area of 40 square blocks and by their very presence made hope a viable factor for at least this one day.

But it didn't last. Optimism, like ice in sunlight, is a perishable commodity, and it melted Sunday under the heat of confrontation. The sequence of events was predictable: a canceled performance, a crowd's angry response, police involvement, gangbangers stirring trouble, a party ended.

What began as a weekend of reconciliation ended in chaos for L.A., but does that mean hope died too? I don't think so, but it's always in jeopardy, always running the risks Bernanos was talking about. We've got to try harder.

I keep seeing that little girl crying on a street corner, and pondering the disparity between her and the children of Topanga dancing in the mountains, and what they'll all grow up to think of one another when the crying and the dancing stop.

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