It was 1991 and we were driving home from the opening of The
Silence of the Lambs. I was in my tux, my wife, Diane, in her
gown, and the white Porsche was pointed east, toward Hancock Park.
Well, not Hancock Park proper—the graceful home of old money,
steeply-pitched roofs, Consul Generals and protestant politics—but
Hancock Park adjacent, the almost-grand homes south of Wilshire, where
new-money TV writers could buy a renovated hacienda once owned by Louis
Gossett Jr. circa An Officer and a Gentleman. In the
'60s and '70s, when successful black families began buying
larger homes in Los Angeles, their friendly realtors somehow sensed
they'd be much more comfortable just south of the four lane Boulevard
than north. And so this very upper middle-class ethnically mixed enclave
was born, and everyone here got along quite well—proving that
class is as important a factor in L.A. as race.
None of this is or was ever spoken, you understand. No one in Hancock
Park proper or any other good neighborhood would admit to even the slightest
blush of racism or intolerance. In fact, the fine people of greater
L.A. get quite upset when anyone dares suggest that intolerance exists
as anything other than a loathsome aberration and historical anomaly.
That said, being white and newly privileged, I would gladly have bought
a home north of the divide without a second thought; we just couldn't
afford one. And as our sprawling Spanish home was five times the size
of our former North Hollywood bungalow, we had no complaints. It was
a great house. And if we hadn't stopped off at a video store that
night, we would never even have had to change the locks.
I can't recall whose idea it was, probably mine. Having an addictive
personality, I find if one movie is good, two can only be better—so
we parked on a side street and ran into our local Blockbuster in search
of a companion piece for Jonathan Demme and Ted Tally's terrifying
fable. As this was a ritual we practiced several times a week, the pickings
were thin and we finally chose what I remember to be a Norwegian or
perhaps Finnish film quite well reviewed by a less prominent mid-western
The Porsche was a convertible, with something akin to a picnic table
protruding from the rear engine compartment. A "whale tale"
is how enthusiasts describe it. Less enthusiastic people suggested it
would look better draped in a red and white checkered cloth. I was not
one of those people. It was my first expensive car; in truth, my first
new car since my dad bought me a 1974 Ford Ranchero. The Ranchero rusted
until replaced by a used Chevy Nova, which drove bravely until I adopted
a three-year-old Alpha Romeo. I loved my new Porsche.
So, all things considered, I would really rather not have given it
to the two young black men who approached us with guns, but their argument,
while simple, was compelling.
As I turned over the keys, they suggested Diane and I walk toward the
dark parking lot. I thought this ill-advised, so putting Diane in front
of me, we walked briskly toward the well-lit boulevard. "Stop,"
came the command. I froze—heard footsteps running up behind us—felt
the gun barrel pressed into my back—and watched helplessly as
he…snatched the video tape out of Diane's hand. The passenger
door slammed and my Porsche disappeared around the corner.
I almost started laughing.
The police arrived within moments. After describing the car and what
we remembered of our assailants, I then passed along my theory of the
crime. I believed, I said, that these two young men had come to the
store often, each time in search of that particular video, and it was
never in. This time they arrived only to see us leaving with it, and
it was just too much to bear. They grabbed the video and took the car
to make a getaway. Realizing I was most likely in shock, the officers
kindly nodded and drove us the three blocks to our home; which is when
we realized that the car thieves had our address and house keys. We
called a locksmith and paid them after-midnight rates to change all
Ten years later, I woke up at two in the morning wondering about those
young men. I'd thought about them before. Fear long ago gave way
to anger. Anger faded and became curiosity. Who were these guys? Did
they think of themselves as criminals? What did they care about, laugh
about? How had this incident affected their lives, if at all?
I began writing their story. Diane and I became fictional characters,
our midnight locksmith became a Hispanic kid with troubling tattoos,
and I let my fears and hopes and prejudices and dreams for a better
world run loose. Bobby Moresco and I wrote the script and I shot it
last year, staging the car jacking scene much like it happened. But,
upon viewing it in the editing room, I realized what I'd known
all along. The performances were good, but the act itself was so ridiculous
as to be unbelievable. So the genesis of the film ended up on the cutting
room floor. Well, they still steal the car, but no self-respecting car
thieves would stop to grab a Norwegian movie. Some things are better
left for real life.
It's an odd life we live in Los Angeles, a city that uses freeways
and wide boulevards to divide people by race and class. We spend most
of our time encased in metal and glass; in our homes, our cars, at work.
Unlike any real city, we only walk where "it's safe"—those
outdoor malls and ersatz city blocks we've created to feel like
we're still part of humanity, if only humanity could afford to
shop where we do. We no longer truly feel the touch of strangers as
we brush past them on the street.
Don Cheadle's character sums it up in the first moments of the
film. "I think we miss that touch so much," he says, "that
we crash into one another just to feel something." And it's
those moments, those slim yet defining moments, that often take us to
places we'd not seen coming, making us into who we are, for better
or for worse. My car, the one I'd worked so hard for, was taken
from me—but it was the young men who brushed against my life that
I never forgot. Fifteen years after the fact, I still feel their touch.