This morning I awake to two sounds in succession: my doorbell and the clatter of helicopters hovering somewhere over my house. In my not-quite-conscious state I assume the two are related: Someone is at the door to deliver tragic, criminal-related news. My three dogs are barking wildly, not at the helicopters but at the doorbell, which in their minds signal far more potential danger. They're used to helicopters, as well as the wail of ambulances and police cars. Emergencies in and around the neighborhood are commonplace, but people at the door are immediate and far more threatening. Maude, the shepherd mix who hates disorder and intrusion within fifty feet of the living room window, barks loudest.
It turns out to be my mechanic who lives around the corner. He's reporting no bad news, just a bad spark plug wire that needs replacing. We have to shout a little to be heard above the helicopters. As we talk I notice a dog wandering near the corner, a bulky but nice-looking Lab mix with a pink collar. I have a friend who lives a few blocks away across 108th Street who has a dog like this who wears a pink collar. Her name is Flower. Is this her? Could she have gotten out? I resolve to check it out.
The helicopters still clatter, and seem to have gotten louder, or closer. I look up and count five. The sky is pale and overcast, typical June gloom. I hurriedly feed my own dogs and decide to walk down to Crenshaw to see if I can find out what all the commotion is about. On the way, I pass a white stretch limousine parked in front of a neighbor's house. The neighbor's son is standing in standing somewhat stiffly in front of the limo in a three-piece white suit with greenish accents. Graduation day. Devon is maybe in fifth or sixth grade. His parents and relatives are standing on the porch taking pictures. To Devon's credit he looks chagrined, like he'd rather be skateboarding or playing ball, which he does most of the time. The scenario strikes me as very over-the-top, though at the same time I'm glad he's being made such a fuss over. He's a very nice kid.
There's a Hawthorne cop at Crenshaw and 111th Street diverting traffic off the boulevard and into my neighborhood. Several blocks south, close to the Hawthorne border with Inglewood, I see flashing lights on several more police cars. I don't see the lost Lab anywhere. I ask the cop what's going on. "We're chasing someone," he says. "That's all I can say." The helicopters are not police but the TV news, he says. I'm not surprised. Suspect and police car chases are TV's bread and butter. They spare no expense for stories like this. The big gray copters now look to me like giant vultures.
I walk back home. The limo has gone, whisking Devon and his family to their big day. The pursued man (or woman, I suppose) has no official face, name or color, but he or she is claiming an awful lot of attention this morning, too much attention. The spectacle of the limo's got nothing on this; I was the only one who saw that, while dozens of motorists are being caught up in the suspect chase, reluctant witnesses to chaos they'd prefer to have not known about at all. The helicopters still clatter and drone overhead, patient in an almost morbid way. It's been over an hour.
When I get back home I get in my car to drive to my friend's house across 108th to check on Flower. She comes to the gate bearing a tattered blanket in her mouth. She's a bit anxious and bored, but home and safe. I return home to pick up my routine with my own dogs, who are still barking, unsettled at this uncharacteristic coming and going. But I'm in for the morning, and they swiftly calm down. The helicopter din has receded a bit, but is far from gone. The day begins.
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.