It’s one of those things you don’t really think will ever happen. You don’t expect to see a crazy person with a gun. You hear about it on the news or read about it on Buzzfeed (“12 Ways Your Monday Could Be Worse!”) but it’s never one of those things you think “oh, ya, today’s the day when something weird that I never forget is gonna go down”.
Today was one of those days.
It’s a Friday, and I was proud of myself for being relatively productive, or at least getting up early enough to get enough done (which doesn’t equal productivity, but it *feels* productive, dangit).
I was still behind on work and trying to catch up, so I slipped into one of my favorite Starbucks, the one in Studio City. It’s the same one where I saw Jane Lynch walk in, use the bathroom, and smile at me as she walked out. That was a neat moment.
Also it’s convenient, quiet, relatively clean, and all the baristas are nice.
I was talking to a cute Armenian-Persian girl next to me. I was still upset I wasn’t being more productive, but what the heck, I thought, I’m gonna get up and pee and come back and try to refocus on work to meet a deadline.
Within the approximately 1 minute 30 seconds I was in the restroom (it would’ve been less but I dribbled a little on my shorts and I was desperately trying to dry it up) a crazy homeless-looking guy started firing bullets in the air across the street. I didn’t hear them or see them. I walked out of the bathroom and saw everyone standing and congregating near the windows.
It was a spectacle all right. Four LAPD cars trained towards the Union Bank building and approximately seven officers with their guns drawn and pointing. I asked a few questions of the people next to me, and noticed that people started ducking near the condiment bar and behind the pastry display case.
We’re all across the street and directly behind large police vehicles with armed cops. We’re not really in any danger. Even if the gunman shot directly at us, he’d probably hit the top of the glass. I mapped out the trajectory in my head and it didn’t seem plausible. But of course, guns, so everyone was freaking out.
I walked closer to the window and asked a guy at the window to point out the shooter. I heard commotion and orders from the outside, perhaps it was the cops yelling at the guy to drop the gun.
And I saw the gunman. Overweight, probably mid-50s, homeless and disheveled looking dude sitting there holding what looked like the shape of a gun under a piece of paper, pointed back towards the street.
As I peered at him, I heard two shots…BLAM! BLAM!
The gunman immediately fell back.
He was hit.
He was dead.
I’ve never seen someone get killed before, or even get shot. It was surreal, but it was as one would expect. The closest thing I could liken it to is a video I saw awhile back of a man in India who stood atop a train and touched a live electrical wire, and was killed instantly. The loud “POP” sounds and him falling back, lifeless, were exactly what I experienced today.
I felt an immediate sense of relief, even as the officers still drew their guns at the man. The cops did the right thing. This guy had a gun that he was waving around and shooting. He could’ve hit one of my friends walking to Starbucks in the neighborhood. He could’ve hit me, who was weighing walking across to Chipotle minutes earlier.
I don’t know what came over me, but at that moment I was Zen with everything going on. Logic, fear – everything fell into its appropriate slot. I knew a bullet probably wouldn’t cross the street diagonally, go through the glass, and hit us. Or even if it did, maybe it would hit me in the arm or the leg or something. It’s hard to describe, but I just…didn’t care. I knew I wasn’t going to die.
People started screaming, and ducked. Someone yelled to run away from the glass. I went back to my seat and started trying to focus on work again, while making sure the girls sitting around me were ok. There was no threat afterwards, the guy was dead and that was that.
Going to a gun range and learning how guns work while learning to hunt really helped me through this situation. The sound of gunfire isn’t unfamiliar to me, so I didn’t panic. I was equipped to understand the likelihood of getting shot having learned about angles and trajectories.
The barista, whose name I can’t recall but I’ll have to get at some point to include in here, went above and beyond in every sense of the word. She made sure the door was locked, kept people away from the glass, and comforted customers by offering to get them a drink. She also advised people to go when it was safe. Similarly, the cops who responded to the situation today acted appropriately. They made sure everyone was locked inside and safe in an intersection typically filled with pedestrians, families, and lots of traffic.
My number one regret is that I didn’t record the actual shooting. Of course, I didn’t know it was going to happen so it makes sense. I posted them on Twitter immediately, and I was inundated with requests from local stations like NBC and ABC to comment as a witness. I left the scene and spoke to NBC over the phone, then at NBC’s request, followed their news van to the far corner of Ventura because they wanted live reaction.
the thirst was, indeed, real
Then local radio. Then ABC, and CBS, and Reuters, and some NPR or something, and even Russia Today.
Here’s the LA Times article featuring yours truly and a man who appears to be Wilford Brimley and, from reports, ushered people indoors at Chipotle (who knew Liberty Medical could make you a superhero?)
The media questioning was more surreal than the shooting itself. There was one point where I had multiple microphones shoved in my face and giving multiple interviews at once.
It made me immediately appreciate the job celebrity and political handlers do at press conferences. Thankfully, the reporters were polite and accommodating, and I got the chance to chat with them and the crew in-between live breaks. Reporters seem to form a kind of brotherhood, joking around with each other about which station is going to buy dinner because they have more funding. Imagine the opposite of the Anchorman fight scene. I also do not envy reporters or camera crew. They have to perform in dark and heavy clothing in the 90 degree afternoon sun.
I crossed the street to give my info to the police, and spoke with some of the other witnesses. A couple of guys younger than me were in Chipotle right next to the scene when it all went down. The officers offered to purchase Chipotle for them since they didn’t even get their food when everything went down. I spoke to a couple more reporters, fielded some responses on Twitter and Snapchat, responded to some texts from friends, and then spoke to the police detective on my way out who thanked me for cooperating.
The scene was still unbelievable. 6PM on a Friday evening on Laurel Canyon, and the street is completely blocked off. An enormous thoroughfare that would usually be clogged with traffic was quiet and empty, a parking lot of police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, and news vans.
All in all, everyone perfectly performed their jobs. There aren’t many situations these days where I can say that. The cops responded quickly and neutralized the suspect. The baristas protected the customers and made sure they were taken care of. The reporters were courteous and did their best to get the story on the ground. And the detectives were professional and polite.
In retrospect, it seems like I was watching a movie the entire time. I was expecting some horrible dysfunction to happen at some point, because real life is fraught with horrible dysfunction. I remember it like a 3rd grader who remembers their weekend to share with the class – with great, specific, but completely rote detail.