City of Angels: the sad truth

Only In LA
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IN ALL the shooting sprees to have plagued America recently, one question has been nagging, secretly but insistently, at the national psyche.

How come none of these horrific events have visited Los Angeles, the city widely acknowledged to be the epicentre of urban dysfunction and gun violence. That question was answered in grim fashion last week when a white supremacist walked into a Jewish community centre packed with young children in the northern LA suburbs and opened fire, injuring five and subsequently killing a postman.

The event was indeed an emblematic event, but not for the obvious reasons. Nobody knows exactly why Buford Furrow, who confessed to the shooting spree, chose Los Angeles. But seeing as he travelled 1,200 miles down from Washington state it seems quite likely he picked the city because its dark, stereotypical image fits right in with the kind of mayhem he had in mind. Furrow certainly didn't pick LA because he knew it. He found the North Valley Jewish Community Center in typical LA fashion - by accident, getting lost off a freeway. Once his shooting rampage was over he went on the prowl for sex, correctly ordering a taxi-driver to take him to Hollywood but then utterly failing to locate a prostitute. This discouraged him so much he took another taxi to Las Vegas, paying $800 in cash, believing he stood a better chance of sex in Sin City.

If Furrow's reaction to LA was naive it was mirrored in grotesque fashion by LA's reaction to him. After the initial interruption of normal programming to bring non-stop rolling coverage, the local TV networks found themselves talking more about the traffic.

"The police have a whole section of Rinaldi blocked off from Balboa up to Hayvenhurst, so you'd do well to avoid that area," the announcers suggested. And so the terrible truth inadvertently came spilling out: shootings really are rather routine in the City of Angels, and of limited interest to TV viewers unless accompanied by some real-time bloodshed or a gripping car chase (the latter being the staple diet of daytime broadcasting). But blocked traffic - hey, that's something Angelenos can really get worked up about.

In another part of the San Fernando Valley, it was air traffic that was getting the citizenry upset last week - specifically, the deafening noise generated by movie stars' private Gulfstream jets and Lear Jets. For years John Travolta, Tom Cruise and the rest have opted for the small Van Nuys airport, partly because it is a quick 20-minute drive across the mountains from Beverly Hills and partly - this being the most crucial point of all - because no other airport will have them.

The noisier class of jet, known as a Stage 2, has been banned from every other small airfield in the city because the ground literally shakes for several miles around every time a movie star decides, say, to pop up to San Francisco for lunch.

Van Nuys was supposed to ban Stage 2s too, particularly since a recent collapse in house prices beneath its flight path has turned half the neighbourhood into a gang-infested slumland. But last week the Airport Commission succumbed to pressure from its private operators and voted to keep the jets, under minimum regulation, for another 10 years.

The efforts of a local lobby group, Stop The Noise, have fallen on deaf ears, as have the furious ragings of LA's favourite gadfly columnist Jill Stewart (who described the stars' lack of consideration as the airborne equivalent of farting in a lift). There is, of course, an alternative, and that is the Los Angeles International Airport.

But for the super rich, that's not an option. As Stewart wrote, "At LAX they might run into normal people."