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Metropolis / Chat Room

This Dancing Machine Stops Traffic

January 27, 2002|MICHAEL T. JARVIS

Rodney "R.C." Smith directs traffic as if he's conducting the world's greatest symphony orchestra. A traffic officer with L.A.'s Department of Transportation, Smith has been unclogging intersections and drawing crowds with his kinetic moves for 14 years. On holidays, Smith, 36, can work at as many as eight intersections, looking at times as if he's dancing a hula, petting a dog or auditioning for a scene in a Jackie Chan film. Unfazed by power outages, bad weather or presidential motorcades, Smith bends his body like rubber and creates a fluid perpetual wave with his hands, often rebuking cell phone users by hanging up a pantomimed telephone. We asked the maestro about his chops.

What's the essence of your technique?

I don't just stand there and wave my arms. I'm moving--sometimes fast, sometimes slow, depending upon the traffic. My hand signals are animated. It's not a flat hand. It's more wrist and finger action and a lot of body motion. I love directing traffic. Pedestrians egg me on, and the more they do, the more I go.

What do you think of while directing?

Sometimes music or a beat that's in my head. Barry Manilow won't work. Before I go out, I may listen to an old George Benson CD or James Brown's "Payback." One day it was the Stray Cats.

What's the biggest crowd you've drawn?

Seven or eight years ago, [then-] traffic officer Timothy Walls and I were at Century Park East and Olympic, and they were redoing the lights. We knew people were watching us, and we got into it. We were changing hats. People were taking their lunch on the corner, watching us. People were clapping. We were high-fiving, low-fiving--anything we could think of, we were doing it.

Any problems with groupies?

I had women flash me when I was younger. Or they say, "Those hands are sexy." I've had phone numbers thrown at me. Or they asked me, "What else can you do with those sexy hands?"

What are the best and worst intersections to control?

LAX airport traffic is easy because it's all one way. The hardest was when it was raining one morning at Imperial Highway and Aviation Boulevard. It's a really wide intersection and it has columns because the 105 is above it. It's tough.

What do you teach recruits?

The first thing I tell them is to disregard what your parents told you about playing in the street. You have to be highly visible. You have to be mobile. You have to have an attitude or command presence. You can't have any fear. The department's style is military, but everybody has their own style or flavor. It's all technique.

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