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Here and Now

Tunnel-vision town

For most in short- attention-span L.A., a light-plane crash quickly fades.

June 19, 2003|Times Staff Writer

I guess I always knew who lived in my general neighborhood: screenwriters, actors, people who keep potbellied pigs as pets, the elderly, Orthodox Jews, production assistants. But then two weeks ago, on a Friday afternoon, a light plane chased freakishly into an apartment building on Spaulding near Melrose, in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. Suddenly there they all were (my people!), in the newspaper and on the local news -- the Orthodox Jews and the actors and the elderly and the guy with the pet pig.

I was at work when I heard. "OK, a plane just crashed pretty much on my house," a friend e-mailed me. On the news they were showing the destruction from overhead, and I had what is the typical Angeleno's reaction: Great, traffic's gonna blow getting home. Maybe I should take this opportunity to do something cultural and out of the way, like go to the Huntington Museum or the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage or the Museum of When You Have Time to Kill, located in some part of the Los Angeles area with which you are unfamiliar because you are incurious and culturally lazy.

When I came to, I realized I had dinner plans on the Westside. "Good luck getting anywhere near Brentwood ... assuming you're taking the 10?" my friend e-mailed. "I won't be able to get home for a while. Melrose closed. Bev. closed ... Etc."

I pictured chaos outside, people out of their cars and punching one another on the freeways, celebrity eye lift surgeries stopping mid-eye as doctors stared at their TV sets.

But, no, traffic was just traffic, and in fact I got to the restaurant early.

The plane saga, meanwhile, played out on the news for the next few days. Local news in Los Angeles cannot be underestimated for the remarkable consistency with which it delivers absurdity. Police chases are my favorite, particularly the anchor banter ("he seems to be slowing down now ... nope, there he goes ... oh, boy."). Just once I'd love to hear an anchor say: "Hmm, that car gets pretty good gas mileage in the city. But I'm not sure I would buy it in slate gray."

The cause of the plane crash has yet to be determined, but the local news, I'm sure, wanted you to believe, or at least to consider, that terrorists had struck L.A. in the form of a mysterious plane that had nose-dived into the heart of Los Angeles, in a neighborhood known for its concentration of Orthodox Jews and not far from a media center (CBS) and a tourist attraction (the Farmers Market).

And so the news trucks hung out a few days, and the pretty reporters reported, and the news choppers hovered over the neighborhood long after people might reasonably want to get some sleep. Then they went away. The victims of the crash were determined to be four people in the plane, bound from Santa Monica Airport to Sun Valley, Idaho, as well as one person from the building.

I avoided going anywhere near Melrose in the days after the crash, which wasn't hard: The older I get, the less appealing it becomes to go to Aardvarks to buy a stranger's pants.

But as I watched and read the coverage, there was my neighborhood again: the woman who went back into the building to retrieve her independent film, the tenant who said he was watching a History Channel special on D-Day when the plane hit. The Hatzolah volunteers who sped to the crash site to aid victims.

Except for the victims and those around them, of course, the horrible event has been all but forgotten -- by the news, by me, living a few miles away. Until the next thing falls out of the sky, I guess, in the general vicinity of my neighborhood.

Paul Brownfield can be contacted at

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