It’s one o’clock and I just got home from seeing Crash, one of the most frustrating films I’ve ever seen. A.O. Scott got it just right in his thoughtful, yet negative review. I left the theater fuming to my friend that race relations are so much more layered and dense than anything shrieked by any of the characters in that film.
Then I drove back home, the top down, through a warm, moonlit night, LA’s lights twinkling not unlike those of the Los Angeles in the film. I turned down my alley, always a bit scary. I live on Venice Beach and though it’s rapidly gentrifying, LAPD helicopter searchlights are still more common than mocha lattes.
A man was running down the middle of my narrow street screaming, “Help! Help!” He was fortyish like me, but white, dressed well and spoke with an accent. Spanish from Spain, not Mexico.
Was this some sort of odd scam? Was a well-dressed Spaniard trying to carjack my gorgeous 1973 Mustang Mach I convertible? Carjackings feature prominently in Crash and this coincidence was just too weird. If I were famous I would have thought I was being “Punk’d” by Ashton Kutcher on MTV.
I stopped, but I was still on guard.
“They’re chasing me. These guys are chasing me. You’re not with them are you?”
“Uh, no,” I said.
That was my first clue that the guys chasing him were also black. (Oprah gets turned away at Hermes in Paris (after it's closed) and all I get is mistaken for a middle-aged mugger.)
Right behind the Spaniard an old beater of a car was stopped. I couldn’t tell if they were stopping to help, were part of the group chasing the guy or were just as cautious of the guy as I was. Finally the car inched past us, two young black boys in the car, looking straight ahead. I still don’t know for sure what they were doing there. Were they acting innocent or innocent for real?
Then two white guys in a white Explorer up on the corner got out of their car and said they saw two kids running far down the block. They said it as if they thought someone should run after them.
“No I don’t want to go after them! They were after me!” said the Spaniard, a little less breathless now. He was now inching away from me and heading for the white guys.
“I live right down the street,” he said. “I was going to my door when they pulled a knife and asked for money.”
“I’ll drive you home,” I said.
“N-no. I’ll walk,” he answered. But the white guys said they’d walk with him. I definitely felt as if the Spaniard had chosen sides and had instantly forgotten that if those kids in the car were with the ones chasing him, I was the one who saved his ass from a beating.
Then there was an odd, heavy silence between us all. Finally the Spaniard gave one last look back at me.
“Thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” I said. “I’m your neighbor.”