My first experience with urban survival took place when I was 12 years old. I was at an evening youth event in the city of Downey when my Mom unexpectedly showed up, whispered something into the leader’s ear, and motioned for me to follow.
In 1949, after returning from World War II, my grandfather started Spiral Paper Tube & Core Co., Inc. in South Los Angeles. In 1992, three generations later, my family’s packaging company was still in south central Los Angeles, specifically, Watts. I would often to go work with my Dad on weekends, tinkering around a place that was more like a fortress than a business. My Dad, much too familiar with what actually happens in south central, had built 15 foot walls around the perimeter of our property and decorated them spiraling barbed wire.
One day, a train was making its way up the Alameda corridor from the Port of Los Angeles into downtown, like usual. The train, 30 feet from our guard shack (mailbox), was stopped for a number of hours. A stopped train in Watts is an invitation…many accepted the invite, opened the train doors, and ran away with flat screen televisions. The train was stopped for so long that they returned with their friends, who also ran away with early Christmas presents. My Dad, being the responsible citizen that he is, called the LAPD. Watching the inventory disappear while he was on the phone, the LAPD insisted that such a thing could not be happening and that our address (8802 S. Graham, Los Angeles, CA 90002) was ficticious. Welcome to Watts.
On April 29, 1992, the Rodney King trial had concluded. A Rodney King trial in south central is an invitation…and many accepted the invite. The intersection of Florence and Normandy, the birthplace of the rioting, was all too close to my family’s business. Not unusual for the area, the looting started, the car jackings spiked, the chaos spread, and the property damage began creeping up to $1 billion.
My Mom and I drove to our house, stuffed clothes and food into backpacks, a few second amendment rights into the trunk of the car, and drove into the heart of the rioting. My Dad and uncle were already there, guarding the compound, dodging bullets, and watering down the flaming molotov cocktails. Until the rioting ceased, I slept on the roof of our building, wearing a military-issued helmet and bullet proof vest, along with the rest of my family.
This was the closest I had ever come to an emergency. I was surrounded by lawlessness and the city’s attempts at restoring order were futile. The California Army National Guardsmen even had to borrow supplies from my family.
I’m participating in Mayor Garcetti’s “Small Business Stakeholder Disaster Awareness” so the next time disaster strikes, I can be more of a solution than I was as a 12 year old kid. I’m also looking forward to touring the Emergency Operations Center (EOC)!