I'd be a lousy war correspondent. I wanted to be one once; in fact back in college me and my photographer friend Larry made plans to travel to El Salvador to cover the fighting going on there at the time. We never went, of course. I think finals got in the way. But I probably wouldn't have done a very good job if we had gone because the noise would have driven me bonkers.
What brings this revelation? It was like a freaking war zone here today. At one point I had nine helicopters hovering over my house. That's right: Nine. It looked like the 1st Air Cav attack scene from Apocalypse Now. It was slightly distracting.
I was here in the office, cranking up the idea factory, when it slowly dawned on me that the helicopter buzzing the house for the umpteenth time was awfully loud. I looked out the window and saw there were four of them. I stuck my head out the door and saw six. I went out into the back yard and saw that there were nine. No wonder it was loud. Being a curious sort, I wondered what it was. I saw camera pods on a few of the helicopters and noticed that they seemed to be moving in tandem, so I figured they were shooting a movie. That's not uncommon around here.
After an hour I started getting really annoyed with it and started wishing them away. When that didn't work I decided to find out what was really doing on, so I called the Van Nuys airport. They'd know, wouldn't they? Nope. They had no clue what was going on, even though it was all happening within their airspace. I finally called the police and they gave me the scoop. That's when I remembered that this is LA, where the TV stations do live remotes for stories that happened two weeks ago and that if you ever see a bunch of helicopters loitering in the sky, all you have to do to find out what's up is turn on the TV. Duh. I did, and there it was. I could have just as easily looked at the calendar: a day ending with "Y" in LA. Bank robbery.
It's the one you probably heard about on the news tonight, the one at the Great Western in Van Nuys. Five would-be venture capitalists pulled up behind the bank, got out of their car and put on ski masks, and got their shit blown away by a couple of off-duty cops before they even got to the door. One died, one was wounded, and the other three beat feet into the surrounding neighborhood. That's about a block south and a 15 blocks east of my house, so when the cop/news airfleet took up their positions they were virtually right outside my window.
The fact that this bank is about four blocks from the Van Nuys division -- the heart of the LAPD's Valley presence -- would seem to make it a bad choice, wouldn't it? Not really. This is the LAPD we're dealing with here. These guys lose suspects they've got handcuffed in the back of a squad car, so the odds were pretty good the robbers could pull it off. It was sheer bad luck that they didn't make it into the bank, and three of them still got away. Four blocks away from police headquarters and they vanish into thin air. LA's finest, indeed.
I think it was clear to most jaded Angelenos after about an hour that the bad guys got away, but the cops pressed on. They cordoned off and evacuated the neighborhood around the bank, shot somebody's dog in their house-to-house search, and kept those damned helicopters over my house all day long. It's fifteen hours post-heist as I write this and I saw on the news that they're still stopping cars at random in front of the bank, hoping to get lucky and find them. Right. Like these guys are going to swing by to say hi. I figure the bad guys are miles away by now -- and were fifteen minutes after the shootout -- watching it all unfold on TV. I also figure they missed a golden opportunity to hit the Security Pacific just up the street while every cop in the state was running in circles over at the Great Western.
The FBI calls Los Angeles the bank robbery capitol of America and suggests it's because we have so many banks here and, as the ex-bank robber whose name escapes me said, "Banks are where the money is." Maybe. But I can't help but think there's another dimension to it: This is where the LAPD is, too.