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Joel Epstein Headshot

A Handful of Fools in Lakers' Jerseys Give LA a Bad Name

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What kind of boneheads stomp a taxi and light it on fire? A handful of celebrating Lakers fans, that's who. I just watched the film clip of a crowd trashing and ultimately burning a taxi following the Lakers' Game 7 victory over the Celtics.

First, I'm glad there's a film, and second, I hope LA's finest identify everyone involved and bring them to justice. Their sentences should be years of hard prison labor to pay for the taxi they destroyed and the cabby's lost income. What kind of a bonehead, however intoxicated, destroys a workingman's tools, in this case a cab?

The reason I'm writing about this rather than the 30/10 Initiative to build thirty years of mass transit within a decade, the usual topic of my weekly musings, is that I'm so upset by what I saw on the film. I don't often take cabs in LA but Friday I happened to. It was my daughter's graduation from Paul Revere Charter Middle School and I was in Universal City without a car. Thinking, OK, no problem, I'll take the Metro Red Line from Universal City to Hollywood and Highland, walk the long block to Sunset, and grab the #2 bus out to Palisades Charter High School at Temescal and Sunset where the graduation was taking place. I expected it to take a while but I'd make it, no problem. Not. Now, being the mass transit nut that I am, I feel like I've been outed. But the outrage and embarrassment I feel for my city and its people outweighs any shame I may have for not sticking with Metro on a day I needed to be somewhere faster than mass transit was getting me there. And that's another reason we need 30/10 now more than ever.

It was 2 pm when I left the US High Speed Rail Association conference of all things at the Universal City Hilton. As the Metro Red Line station is just down the hill from the hotel I hustled out of lunch and by 2:17 was on the Red Line subway speeding comfortably toward Hollywood. With 20-20 hindsight my fatal mistake was staying on till Sunset at Vermont but hey, it was still early and I was carrying a heavy laptop bag and wasn't into shvitzing from the walk from Hollywood to Sunset. My bad, for sure. At Sunset and Vermont, well east of where the Highland stop would have left me, we waited and waited and waited, and when the late bus finally arrived it only went as far as UCLA. Resigned, I jumped on and started the interminably slow ride west. By the time we reached the Standard Hotel on the Sunset Strip it was 3:40, and the 4 pm graduation was too fast approaching for comfort. Rather than miss my second child's rite of passage I got off the bus and resigned myself to a cab. And there it was, parked on the south side of Sunset in front of the Best Western.

The Persian driver barely spoke English and I know just a single word of Farsi but we managed. And the driver did what great cabbies do best, he hauled ass to the Palisades like it was four in the morning on a Monday. Dropping me at the entrance to the school shortly after 4 pm at a fare I dare not tell my wife, I was early enough to yawn through the massive and impersonal graduation. Thankfully I was in good company and the view from the football stadium bleachers is among the prettiest in the city, with the Santa Monica Mountains rising majestically above Sunset Blvd. The beauty of parts of this city still awes me even after all these years. And hey, even if it was dull, it was still my daughter's graduation and that made me proud.

But the torching of the cab, not so much. The presumably drunk and stoned crowd that pummeled the taxi on Thursday night may or may not have families and day jobs. Many wore those pricey Lakers jerseys I can't justify buying for myself or my kids because of the cost, and carried nice looking cell phones, which they used to click photos of themselves and others proudly showing the cab who is boss. Those photos were presumably shared with dozens of people so it shouldn't take police long to ID many of those involved.

What a contrast between the scene near Staples and the scene in the stands at Pali. At the graduation, it was a typically multi-racial, multi-ethnic mix of LAUSD families that listened politely as a group of graduating students of thirteen different nationalities welcomed the audience in as many languages, ranging from Arabic, Bengali and Mongolian to Russian, Spanish and Tagalog. As I sat there with my parents, themselves the product of America's largest public school system, my Brooklyn-bred father marveled at the diversity of the class and how friendly everyone was.

The trashing of the cab was of course one of the worst incidents of violence to occur following the Lakers' victory. But sadly it seems as if the heavy police presence rather than civic pride gets credit for keeping violent incidents to a minimum.

Next year the Lakers get a shot at tying Boston's record for most NBA title championships. When they do I just hope that our fans in and outside of Staples comport themselves in a manner deserving of the victors and the city.