Life on the Isle of California

‘Isle of California’ (1972) by Victor Henderson, Terry Schoonhoven, Jim Frazin of the L.A. Fine Arts Squad. Image from

The man across the aisle is wearing a gun. It’s Friday afternoon in April, 1993. I’m in the Santa Monica Laemmle watching ‘Reservoir Dogs’. His coat is caught on the chair arm. The gun is an automatic.

There has been a verdict in the trial of the four LAPD officers charged with violating Rodney King’s Civil Rights.

The officers were previously acquitted of assault charges, resulting in the L.A. Riots. The coroner attributed 60 deaths to the verdict.

I get why he’s carrying a gun after the riots. I went to a range with a friend who was an NRA instructor. I was good with a .45 and a Glock 9. I killed many paper men. But I don’t have the temperament to own a gun.

They are announcing the verdict tomorrow morning. There is a curfew for the weekend – sunset to sunrise.

After the film, the man with the gun waits with me at the corner.

“Excuse me, but I noticed you’re carrying a gun.”

He’s embarrassed. He’s a cop. He’ll lead a group of officers in the field if anything should happen.

I picture him watching Michael Madsen sawing off a cop’s ear with a razor to the music of Steeler’s Wheel.

Saturday morning: convictions of two of the officers for violating Rodney King’s civil rights are announced.

No riots.

On Sunday, Roy Felig and I meet on Santa Monica Boulevard.

There are no pedestrians. No cars.


We walk to Butler. Village Recorders. A famous mural covers the building.

The street beyond the studio is blocked. There’s a guarded gate with large barrels to slow approach.

Beyond the gate – a multi-story building surrounded by a parking lot.

The mural shows Interstate 10 truncated near Blythe, now the water’s edge.

Context – I completely misinterpret ‘Isle of California’ as California falling into the sea.


We wander closer to the mysterious gate. We see two things: a sign informs us this is the Santa Monica Courthouse.

And a sniper on the roof tracking us with a telescopic rifle.

The Only Way to Fly

Jet Airliner

It is 1993. We arrive late in Denver. I miss my connection to Los Angeles. A United rep meets me as I disembark. She offers to arrange a hotel overnight. Then she realizes there is an American flight leaving in an hour for L.A. If, for some reason, it doesn’t go, they’ll still put me up in a hotel. But I might just make it home tonight.

I have no checked baggage. I take my rolling suitcase, computer and briefcase through the concourse to the American terminal. I arrive at the gate to find – no one. The seats are all empty. There is no one at the counter. The message board confirms this is the flight I want. I sit down and wait.

No one comes. After a half-hour a flight crew approaches with their luggage. They take seats in the otherwise empty boarding area. As they chat they occasionally look my way. Finally, a flight attendant gets up and comes over.

“You’re not on this flight, are you?”

I tell her I am and why. She tells me this flight is just to move the aircraft into position in L.A. They don’t have any food service and technically, I’m not supposed to be on it. I’m beginning to understand why the boarding area is empty.

After a few more minutes, the crew gets up and heads for the jetway. They beckon me to follow them and we board the aircraft.

I am the only passenger on an Airbus 340, the newest and largest of that company’s aircraft.

We stow our luggage and take seats in the First Class cabin. As they’re getting ready to push back, the flight attendant who spoke to me in the terminal gets on the PA system and begins singing ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline. I’m starting to like this style of travel.

I offer to do the safety demonstration.

The movie starts before take off. Once airborne, the co-pilot comes around with a pot of coffee and cups. I get up and walk around the empty aircraft, feeling like I’m in the Twilight Zone.

We land in L.A. as the movie is ending. I get the shuttle home to Long Beach.


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