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They flagged me down around 2:00 AM---a couple of grungy-looking characters standing in front of the Daily Pint in Santa Monica. The bar was closed, and they were looking to go to McArthur Park, round trip---which meant they were looking to score. This was back when McArthur Park was a teeming, open-air bazaar fueled by the early 'nineties floodtide of crack on the streets of L.A.

So I got my money up front, and headed for the freeway. A lot of cab drivers wouldn't mess with crack runs---but in the midst of that cold winter of 1990-'91, I couldn't pass it up.

When we got downtown, I took them to Alvarado and 7th and followed the procedure experience had taught me: I parked the car in a legal space---leaving enough room in front for an unobstructed getaway---then took it out of gear, rolled up the windows, turned off the lights, and kept my foot away from the brake pedal. (The idea was to be invisible to any units of the LAPD circulating in the area.)

I told them they had five minutes, and they got out of the car.

The harsh glow of halogen street lights threw everything into maximum contrast; I watched for black-and-whites as the two white kids in my rearview mirror crossed the street to where a posse of tall black street warriors had staked out a prominent piece of ground. The pair were like sheep begging to be fleeced---seemingly oblivious to the reality that McArthur Park was that freest of free markets: a place where the powerful were free to prey upon the weak.

Then I remembered the milkshake in the console's cup holder. It'd been an undrinkable mass of ice cream when I picked it up in Santa Monica---but that'd been forty minutes before. So I popped off the lid and took a swig. Ahh, Cappuccino Blast....

Then I looked in my rearview mirror, and here's these two fools hauling-ass back to the car with a gang of those thugs hot on their tails. They must've whipped out a wad of chash like they were buying a couple 6-packs at 7-Eleven. I put the car in gear, turned on the lights, and cranked the wheel over. The faster of the two jumped in the back seat and shut the door; the second one---finding the back door locked,---jumped in front with me. But he was just a shade slow, and before he could slam the door, a couple of these bruisers were all over him. I stepped on the gas---but they had a hold of him, and he began to slide out the door. So I hit the brake and sat there---with the wheel in one hand and my Cappuccino Blast in the other---and watched for a moment as they began bludgeoning the poor bastard and going through his pockets as he thrashed around on the seat beside me. I felt oddly detached---until it occurred to me that I had a couple hundred in my T-shirt pocket, and was, after all, only inches away....

Luckily, I've always had a head for mechanical principles, and I saw a way to apply a little leverage to the situation. With the wheels turned just enough to get the car's nose around the van in front, I eased off the brake and let the cab creep forward---slowly enough that the ongoing assault could move along with it; then, as the open door came in contact with the van's bumper, it began squashing the assailants like trash in a compactor---forcing them to hastily extract themselves from the doorway or suffer grievous injury. My besieged passenger pulled his legs in a thin moment before the door slammed shut---thus averting any inadvertent amputations---and we made good our escape in a blast of toxic fumes.

But having lost one of his shoes, all of his money, and maybe a few teeth besides, that pitiful, beaten crackhead could only sit there weeping and bleeding as we hauled-ass up 7th Street. The trade mission had obviously concluded, so I took the bloodied delegation back to Santa Monica.

The universe, of course, had been kinder to me: I'd covered the lease on the taxi, gotten a couple of hapless characters out of a bad situation, and even managed to do it without denting the car's door---or spilling my Cappuccino Blast.

And if that weren't enough, I had another taxi story to tell.

But my point in telling it here is this: at no time during the incident---or during any of the hairy situations I got into back in my cab driving days---did I find myself wishing I had a gun. And I'm a big pussy, take my word. It's true, of course, that driving taxi is routinely rated among the nation's ten most dangerous occupations---but it's also true that it's mainly the driving that makes it dangerous. (It's a reality you internalize after you've wrecked a couple of cars.)

Also, it's not exactly like I was unarmed. As a lifer told me early on, the most effective weapon a cab driver has is the car itself---and that certainly proved to be the case in that McArthur Park situation. I was also packing a little something called imagination; it'd saved my ass more than once, and I never left home without it. And then there was the Maglite I always kept wedged between the driver's seat and the console; it had no application on that particular occasion, but that hefty little club came in real handy on another night, when a head-case who'd apparently neglected to take his Thorazine wrapped an arm around my neck from behind and made a determined effort to choke me---while we were rolling. (Most of the taxis I drove had no partitions.) In short, things like preperation, experience, and imagination all count; you're almost never helpless.

But what got me revisiting my cab driving days in the wake of the Newtown massacre was the surprising number of commentators, interviewees, and callers to talk radio who claimed to own guns for reasons of "personal safety." It struck me that most of these people probably never have to deal with the spectrum of unsavory characters an unarmed cabby deals with routinely on the streets of L.A.---nor resided in the sort of war zone I called home for many years: the Oakwood section of Venice, where the Venice Shoreline Crips and the V13 kept the rents affordable through much of the 'nineties with continual shootouts and drive-bys in the "Ghost Town" turf wars. I'll admit to being part crazy, but anyone who believes a loaded gun is the ultimate security needs to get rid of the widescreen and join the fact-based community. I personally know of at least three people who were shot to death with their own guns---but not one who got out of a tight spot because he or she was armed. (And I know for sure that if cab drivers started packing, they'd all be shooting each other over airport trips.)

In his Christmas Eve blog post, Michael Moore suggested that most of the guns sold in America are purchased in the suburbs and country by white folks fearful of blacks. Whites have reason to fear blacks, of course---the same reason the one-percent fears the rest of us: by their very crimes, victimizers doom themselves to fearing their victims. Yet whatever the threat of lingering black resentment, you almost have to be a scriptwriter to dream up a situation in which a gun would actually save your white ass. (Or mine; even if I'd been packing that night at McArthur Park, it would've been beyond stupid to get into a shootout with a bunch of gangbangers.)

So if it's security all those fearful white folks are longing for, they might want to rid themselves of the artillery and start working toward a more egalitarian world---a world, that is, without so many anxiety-inducing victims.

Originally posted to Kevin Wolf Caldwell on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 01:51 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Some story. Some writing. Somebody else can (14+ / 0-)

    drive taxis because it don't pay enough.

    There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

    by oldpotsmuggler on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 02:13:22 PM PST

  •  great writing, and thinking, too (11+ / 0-)


    "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

    by chimene on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 02:33:50 PM PST

  •  I read your diary title as (11+ / 0-)

    "Is Happiness a Cod Piece?"

    Which was enticing. So I clicked.

    I enjoyed reading something not at all about codpieces! LA is my hometown although I haven't lived there since the mid 80s. It was pretty ganged up then, as well.

  •  Well, I don't think anyone reasonable (9+ / 0-)

    ever said that a gun was the only applicable answer to everything... only that it is one potential answer among many, many, many others. And if a person isn't really prepared to accept the responsibilities that come with it (and in truth it can be a pain in the ass) then they're better off dismissing it from the start.

    Only the NRA leadership really seems to think that a gun is the answer to every problem. Even a lot of NRA rank-and-file have expressed a willingness for new regulations.

    There are plenty of perfectly reasonable ways to stay safe or even defend oneself that include things beside firearms.

    •  When you have a hammer every thing looks like a na (8+ / 0-)

      everything looks like a nail.

      If the author had had a gun he might have been so busy thinking about using or not using the gun that he may not have come up with the clever solution he actually used.

      They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance. Terry Pratchett

      by Toon on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 10:18:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  yes... & cop's taser use supports this meme (7+ / 0-)

        they all carry tasers and just end up using them where they would not have in the past. Laziness. and the whole mental process of deciding to use or not use... their buddies have deployed them... and they have not... a macho notch on the handle mentality.

        And areas with SWAT teams who do not really need Swat teams send them out to cover relatively minor situation just to justify their existence... have it = use it... whether it makes sense or not.

        And in the 19th century... and later... as countries armed up, built new warships... enlarged their armies, added newer better artillery... they just ended up using them just because. Untested or underused capability leads to rash use... those who lead them chafe at restraint or not being able to prove effectiveness or even need.

        The skipper of the guided missile vessel in the Persian gulf that shot down the Iranian airliner was just such an all decked out and ready to go guy without the really brag-worthy under fire medals... his career retirement was not too far ahead and when his longings for a chance to sport a few more important trinkets bumped into what might have seemed his last chance to A) win glory and B ) seriously defend his ship against a serious attack (and of course not totally mess up by being cautious... except that he did really screw the pooch by being reckless)

        And SWAT snipers have been known to take out innocent hostages by mistake... just a bit too ready to acquire a target... It just takes a few jumpy or gung-ho defectives to misuse all the butch equipment they are trained to use...

        Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

        by IreGyre on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 03:19:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Nice, interesting diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wbr, glorificus, shaharazade

    And I agree with you.

    To talk without thinking is to shoot without aiming - Maguire, Robison, and Maines

    by Captain Sham on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 03:55:26 PM PST

  •  Happiness is a cold piece of pizza (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kvetchnrelease, glorificus

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 04:54:39 PM PST

  •  this is why i don't have a gun- (5+ / 0-)
    I personally know of at least three people who were shot to death with their own guns---but not one who got out of a tight spot because he or she was armed.

    "...i also also want a legally binding apology." -George Rockwell

    by thankgodforairamerica on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 06:09:53 PM PST

  •  For a lot of various reasons I call B.S. ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kvetchnrelease, austropithicus

    This doesn't reflect reality in any sort of way....sounds more like a Hollywood script...

    point of reference.... if you are referring to the Daily Pint on Pico and Cloverfield....during that time you would have passed at least a hundred low income shitholes at minuminum where you could have bought crack cocaine.....makes absolutely no sense....

    Then 2 white men in McArthur Park proper, go out open air buy crack in McArthur Park, get chased, beaten and robbed and no L.A.P.D.

    LMAO ....that's not L.A. during that time period that's DisneyLand, FantasyWorld.

    •  hmmm... (6+ / 0-)

      The riders didn't ask the cabbie to find them some crack - they asked to be taken to MacArthur park. That's what the cabbie did. The cabbie assumed they were looking for crack, but he doesn't know that. Why the hell would the cabbie offer to bring them to closer destination ("a hundred low income shitholes") and lose out on fare money? Is it possible that the riders were not crack addicts but just a couple of partiers who thought getting a little crack would be fun and keep the night going? The kind of novices that end up turning a simple drug deal into a mugging?

       Also, are you suggesting that LAPD presence around MacArthur Park in the early 90s was so heavy that a crime couldn't have occurred at 2:30 AM over a couple of minutes that was unobserved by law enforcement? That seems like fantasy to me.

      If Liberals hated America, we'd vote Republican.

      by ord avg guy on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 08:31:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You do understand that.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        1,) We are talking about the Rampart Police Station....not familliar look at their history and the close proximity to McArthur Park

        2.) McArthur Park was a heavy place not only for drugs but for buying illegal documentaion during that time the Border Patrol, D.E.A. L.A.P.D was always very close to that park and watching activity....24/7

        3.) This will probably be real high in any POC drug dealing bible/manual like in the first 5 rules of successful L.A. drug not sell dope to random ass white people or white people in general if you want to stay out of prison

        I'm not suggesting a cabbie would make that suggestion, but most dopeheads know where they can buy dope...I mean you are going to take money away from your addiction, to get a cab and take that expensive cab ride to the cess pit of downtown, when hollywood and the sunset strip is a quarter of the trip with more than likely a better quality of product  rolling from the homes of celebrities

        LOL...I could go on...but you should get the point by now

      •  But surely they have a future crimes unit? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
    •  Heh (0+ / 0-)

      It's right across from where Otis School of Design used to be, and it was the 90s.  Betcha those white kids had used to go there or knew people who did.

      I live a couple miles from MacArthur Park and when I go walking East at night (a few times a month), I always turn around well before Hoover.  Since I don't really stand out much and I'm not looking for anything, I'm probably safe, but even now, it's not a "walk in the park" for a stranger, if you know what I mean.

      Entirely plausible here on the ground.

  •  "I'm less worried about being safe in my own home (9+ / 0-)

    if all my neighbors have full-time jobs making at least $50k a year" - to paraphrase another thing Moore wrote that stuck with me.

    Poverty kills...

    I'm a Democrat - I believe that government has a positive role to play in the lives of ordinary people.

    by 1BQ on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 09:15:26 PM PST

  •  Great diary and excellent writing! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    glorificus, 6ZONite, rlb, shaharazade

    "On this train, dreams will not be thwarted, on this train faith will be rewarded" The Boss

    by mindara on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 12:16:47 AM PST

  •  Now that was a great ride! Thanks. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    glorificus, 6ZONite, shaharazade

    One of the most thoughtful stories of the Gabby Giffords shooting was the armed citizen (not sure if he was LE) that was considering whether to draw on and shoot the guy holding a gun - that turned out to be the fellow that had disarmed the actual shooter. (Paraphrasing..) He realized that being armed made the likelihood of additional tragedies MORE likely.

    Good diary!, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

    by FrankSpoke on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 03:19:55 AM PST

  •  Great diary, great story! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6ZONite, wenchacha, shaharazade, luckydog

    I would have really enjoyed everything about it even without this:

    Whites have reason to fear blacks, of course---the same reason the one-percent fears the rest of us: by their very crimes, victimizers doom themselves to fearing their victims. (emphasis added)
    Thanks for reducing into a few words something I've known viscerally but hadn't yet found expression for. It explains a lot.

    Guns don't kill people. People kill people. Monkeys kill people too, if they have guns.

    by DaNang65 on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 06:27:24 AM PST

  •  Great writing, thanks. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I love this snippet:

    Whites have reason to fear blacks, of course---the same reason the one-percent fears the rest of us: by their very crimes, victimizers doom themselves to fearing their victims.
    You know, live by the sword, die by the sword.

    Karma's a bitch.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 09:44:11 AM PST

  •  Great story and writing (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    stevej, schuylkill, jessical

    having lived in Hollywood in the 80's and attended Otis Parson right near MacArthur park,you sure captured the essence of downtown LA street life. We didn't have a car so I walked cabbed or bused my way around. Never even thought of a gun. Used my wits and feet.

    I was actually more afraid of the Hollywood Rampart cops then any gang banger. Which proved to be right as the cops threw my ass in jail for 3 days to teach 'little miss white liberal' a lesson about my duty to put a dangerous black man away. I had not showed up to testify against an unarmed petty thief who tried unsuccessfully to break into our apt. I never got the mailed subpoena, I was working out of town, but they didn't like my cavalier attitude. so they cuffed me and hauled me off for contempt of court.

    We lived in a court yard apt. building on Franklin St. and I was at  home that day nursing a hangover. I came out of the bathroom and this guy was trying to come in the bedroom window. I ran to the front room and jumped out the window and ran across the court to my neighbors and called the cops. As my fellow inmates at Sybil Brand said to me big mistake use your feet whenever possible.

    I suppose if I had a gun I could have shot Scarecrow. The burgler and I got acquainted in the holding room at the court hearing. He apologized for scaring me and was shocked that I was in cuffs and jail. 'That's too cold' he said. Yes a more egalitarian world would do much more then a gun to reduce the fear and ensuing violence. 80% of the people I met in jail were not packing guns, violent criminals and were not dangerous.They were simply living the life that was the only one open to them in our society.                  

  •  It does take more imagination and creativity (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to avoid the use of firearms, but I think our society benefits when these qualities are employed.

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 11:42:05 AM PST

  •  While I have no idea... (0+ / 0-)

    ...and can't have any idea, whether this is the true quill, T&R for a good story.

    Though I have a friend who is a cabbie who fired through the roof of his car to shut down some crackheads once.  He was my roomie at the time and I've maybe seen him that shook up twice.  Cops gave him back his gun after a couple of months.  Approach is variable and context dependent.  Personally my takeaway is don't drive a cab, your passengers are nucking futz.

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 03:43:05 PM PST

  •  I enjoyed the piece... (0+ / 0-)

    I lived right of Manchester and 85th in '69.  Late one evening I was walking home from Der Weinersnitzle and had a car suddenly pull over and a shotgun stuck out the window.  

    I was spared only when one of the passengers started yelling he's black, he's black...  

    I ended up living up the coast on the Monterey Penn.  I was carrying a .32 revolver on purpose.  Most stupidest thing I ever did was coming out of a party one night, a car full of punk kids had me penned in.  They were smoking pot.  

    I got in my car and started up and flashed the lights, they never budged.  I got out and walked up to the car and tapped on the window and asked the guy driving to pull up when he rolled the window down.  They laughed their asses off.  

    I said nothing and walked back to my car and reached into my glove box and got my revolver and walked back and tapped on the window with the pistol.  The sound of the tapping had a different ring to it I'm sure.  The guy in the drivers seat tried to get in the lap of the guy sitting in the middle and the others were quickly coming down from their high.  All I said was can I get out please and the driver backed it up and sped off almost side swipping a couple of cars on the way.

    This was early 70s, gang banging had not made it up that far yet.  But I realized how stupid it was and how it could have been an ugly scene had any of the kids acted as stupid as I did.  The host of the l was a cop.  He could have easily handled it.

    About 15 years later I was living back in Louisiana where gangbanging was starting to pick up.  On my way to the market one day in my wife's vehicle with my young son.  Rolled up on two punks blocking the road talking to each other out of their windows stopped in the middle of a two lane road.  I started to blow the horn and yell out at them but realized I had my 3 year old son in the car with me.  Though for a moment about how I should have been in my Bronco where I kept my .380 in my glove box but I thought about my son again.

    After about 2 minutes the one facing me gave me a you better be glad look and they pulled off.  The guy in front of me got caught at the light with me.  I figured he would have given me a staring contest but he never looked back.  Krogers was just across the street and by the time I was in the parking lot I had also realized that by being cool I did not have to worry about my wife or kids riding in her car and these hoodlums trying to send me a message.  

    I may not be deep, but I am very wide... Honree Balzac

    by meknow on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 05:30:35 AM PST

  •  It is a shame that we (the 98%ers) are so... (0+ / 0-)

    are so freightened, hateful and distrustful of each other until we can't get on the same page and recognize that we are all just in the end trying to survive.  Some have a little more wiggle room, but at the end of the day it is all the same...

    I don't see the decision makers who control the job pool and answer to the 1% stopping the trend of mechanization.  A machine takes the place of 4 workers and cuts salaries and benefitts...  it ain't gonna happen.  The stock holders are all that matter now a day.  

    Things are zeroing down to the bare facts but we are still distracted enough to not be able to see.  Wisdom tells us that of the 98% only about 5 will figure it out.  Most of us will be waiting for someone else to fix it or think it will just go away until it is too late...

    Instead of men looking to find our commonalities, it is all about our differences...  and that is where we fail ourselves and each others

    I may not be deep, but I am very wide... Honree Balzac

    by meknow on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 05:57:13 AM PST

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