Sirens are blazing as I crouch in my car, breathing hard, hands shaking. I peek over the dash at the black sports car that just crashed into me during a high-speed pursuit with the police. The cops are swarming the vehicle, guns drawn, yelling orders at the suspect. The guns are aimed at him and therefore me. I realize I’m caught in the potential crossfire. I make eye contact with one of the officers. He motions his gun down slightly and I’ve seen enough movies to take the hint.
I hit the deck and try to remain still, try to stay calm. I glance at the passenger side window and see swarms of tourists with their phones out filming. I can see the questions in their eyes. Is this real? Is this a movie? I know all too well it isn’t make believe. I start to wonder, is this how it all ends? Do I die on a hot summer night in a shootout on the corner of Hollywood and Vine?
Four days earlier I’m standing on the sidewalk as vintage cars circle the block during the filming of a Hollywood movie. It’s a 1960s period piece starring Christian Bale as legendary race car driver Ken Miles.
My whole neighborhood has been converted into the decade of Kennedy and the Beatles, James Bond and Jane Fonda. They’ve restored the store fronts to their mid century former glory, replaced the street lamps, park benches and mailboxes with period accurate relics, and lined the streets with dozens of classic cars. Every anachronism has been removed to transport the neighborhood into the past. Hundreds of crew-members equipped with millions of dollars of equipment have taken over four square blocks to create this grand illusion, this epic testament to the suspension of disbelief.
But I’m not here to gawk or celeb stalk. I’m just trying to walk my dog Moneypenny over to the convenience store to get a bottle of Coke.
A PA armed with a walk-in talkie outstretches his hand before I cross the street.
“Can you hold? We’re about to do a take.”
“Sure,” I shrug as the dog paws at the PAs feet, “I wouldn’t want to disrupt the space time continuum.”
Another voice across the street yells “Rolling!” An army of crew repeat the order and then a disembodied voice calls out “ACTION!”
The street comes to life as a glossy facsimile of five decades ago. Extras in period garb cross the street. A huge metal bus lurches around a corner past the restored store front. A man in a beautiful white convertible zooms down the street. From the other side of the intersection, a pretty young lady with her hair up, eyes masked by turtle shell sunglasses, putt putts an old green Chevy with exaggerated fins down the block. I notice no one is smoking and I can’t help but laugh. Hollywood never get things exactly right.
After less than a minute, the word “CUT!” echoes down the street and the PA motions for me to continue my stroll. I lead the dog past the sign that reads “Businesses Open During Filming.” A week earlier this tiny strip mall was half empty and slightly dilapidated, a sad husk of mid century real estate. Some thrifty location scout had seen the potential in this building and nursed it back to health. The liquor store and laundromat have been repainted with period signage. I smile at the antiquated prices they advertise. The empty storefronts have been converted into movie sets. I notice one of them has a two liter plastic bottle of Shasta soda with modern labels. I chuckle again. Never exactly right.
The proprietor of the laundromat is in high spirits, standing in front of his store holding court as he watches the filming. He’s full of gossip, telling us that “Matt Damien” is going to be in the movie. He seems at home in the middle of the action, and announces that he’ll be running the dryers free of charge all week as compensation for the hassle to his customers.
The owner of the liquor store is less enthusiastic. The filming has scared off his usual clientele and the film crew is too well fed by craft services to give him any business. I repeat my joke about disrupting the space time continuum which fails to garner a smile. I pay for my bottle of Coke and lead the dog off the cool tile floor back into the sunshine of the 1960s.
Four days later I’m driving down Hollywood Boulevard toward’s Mann’s Chinese theater. I had just got my car back from the shop four days earlier after a fender-bender and am enjoying my first real drive in my newly-fixed auto. My wife is with my in-laws so I’m treating myself to a night at the movies. I remember the last time I was on the Boulevard. I saw Spiderman getting arrested. There’s always free entertainment in Tinseltown. At the corner of Hollywood and Vine I cruise into the left hand turn lane. As I yield I hear sirens approach. I spot a black sports car barreling down the opposite left hand turn lane. I assume he is planning to make a turn as well but he does not yield. It’s too late to do anything by the time I realize he isn’t stopping. I raise my hands in front of my face and brace for impact.
I’m sitting at the edge of the couch, a rum and Coke shaking in my hand. I can’t get the moment of the crash out of my mind. I close my eyes so hard I see spots. I have trouble breathing and put my hands in front of my face as though the car is still coming at me.
The force of the head-on collision sends my head thrashing backwards against the headrest. I lower my hands to get a better look at the person behind the wheel of the other car. The glass is tinted. I can’t make out the face of the individual. The car is the only face I see, a monster with a mangled bumper snarling at me. The invisible driver guns the engine, sending my car ten feet backwards in the intersection. He tries to reverse, but our bumpers are intertwined. Two beasts locked together in combat, defending their driver. Before he tries to drive forward again, I slam the car into park and yank the emergency break back as hard as I can.
THIS SONNOVABITCH ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE.
Two days later I’m standing in front of an X-Ray machine. The cops need to know how badly I’m injured. It could be the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony for the man who nearly killed me. The technician snaps the first image and tells me to turn to my right for the next. It feels like they’re taking a mugshot. For a second I put myself in the shoes of the guy responsible for it all. What was he doing that night? What was he running from?
I return from the doctor’s office in better spirits. My shoulders are throbbing, my neck aches and my back feels as crumpled as my bumper. But I’m happy to be all in one piece. I take Penny for a walk to the liquor store and the park. The place is swarming with crew and cars queued up for the next take. As Penny rolls contentedly in the grass, she attracts the attention of a couple of the background actors leaning against their vintage car enjoying a smoke and we strike up a conversation.
“So do you guys own these cars?” I ask, genuinely intrigued.
“Yep,” the man affirms proudly.
“So they put out a casting call for actors with vintage cars?”
“That’s what we do.”
It turns out this is a whole cottage industry in Hollywood. People who make a living driving old cars in period films.
“They want to make the films as accurate as possible,” he explains before leaning in conspiratorially, “although technically this scene takes place in 1963 and my car’s a ’65.”
Hollywood. They never quite get it exactly right. The guy tells me about some of the other pictures he’s worked on and complains that Quentin Tarantino doesn’t pay well.
“He’s doing a movie about the Sharon Tate murders. You know, Manson.”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” I nod.
I can see the crowd gathered around me on Hollywood Boulevard, holding their phones as they film the grizzly scene. A man in the apartment above gets the establishing shot. A man with a selfie-stick on the opposite corner gets some coverage. Eight police cars are visible, with more to arrive. At least a dozen police officers are taking cover behind open car doors with their guns aimed at the black sports car. The man filming above posts it on Instagram with the caption “One of the bonuses of living in Hollywood…you’re never short of free entertainment.” I’m pinned down in the car below, an unwilling extra in the free live show. I understand but resent the peering phones pointed at my position, filming me like a caged animal.
My phone follows the vintage station wagon drive down the street. Of all the fancy, rare cars that have been driving around our block the past week, this was the one I was compelled to shoot a video of. When my mom was a kid, her mom used to drive an old station wagon like that. I’ve seen plenty of sports cars in old movies but not grandma’s station wagon. Mom told me about the time they went to see 101 Dalmations at the drive in. Her and her little brother got in their pajamas and hopped in the back of the station wagon. But when they arrived, the movie was sold out.
My mom had a pretty happy childhood I think. There’s only three sad stories she ever tells me about the 1960s: The day she broke her front teeth on a skateboard, the day John Kennedy died and the night they had to turn that station wagon around without seeing the movie.
A voice calls out “CUT!” and the cars lurch to a stop. The woman driving the station wagon looks at me and I sheepishly put the phone away.
“Did you get it?” she asks.
“Can you send it to me?”
I open my wallet and pull out a business card, but she yells out her phone number instead. Anachronisms are allowed between takes I suppose. I type in the number and send the video. A PAs radio squawks that it’s time to setup the next shot. The woman in the station wagon yells “Thanks!” and drives back to her position. I cross the street and pull out the phone again. Might as well get a reverse angle. A police officer steps into the street to stop the oncoming traffic so the film crew can get their shot too.
Crouched in my wounded vehicle, I stare in disbelief as the officers charge down Hollywood Boulevard with their guns drawn, barking orders. From the show of force I assume my attacker is extremely dangerous. Is he armed? Would it matter? I think of all the young men gunned down for less if anything at all. So many guns. I’ve never seen so many guns. It looks like a damn movie. But it’s not. I’m in shock. Disbelief. I can only think of one thing. No one will ever believe this. So I scramble for my phone and start filming. As I lift the black object above the dashboard I hope no one thinks it’s a gun.
It’s twenty-four hours later and I’m watching the brief video over and over again. I inspect every detail like it’s the Zapruder film. I’m trying to figure out how many officers there were. How many guns were drawn. I switch back and forth between my footage and the footage of the guy in the apartment above. It’s not enough. There were so many people filming while this happened. Where hell did it all go? I scour social media trying to find just a second more video, find that angle that would help it all make sense. All those people with that video of me and I couldn’t access a frame of it.
It’s magic hour in Hollywood. The villain of the movie that’s become my life sticks his hands out of the car in a sign of surrender. The police officers continue to yell at him to get out of the car. I dare to peek a bit higher above the dashboard. He opens the door and slowly moves into the street. I see the officers follow his movements with their sidearms. I sigh breath of relief as I realize the weapons are no longer facing in my direction. The suspect lies down and the officers approach from his left in a practiced formation, stiff as tin soldiers. I open the driver’s side door and take cover behind it. A police officer appears to my left.
I nod and he escorts me to the sidewalk. I glance back and see the other officers handcuffing the suspect. I turn back to the sidewalk and am greeted by a firing squad of cameras and phones pointed at me. I look down to hide my face and see stars. The Hollywood Walk of Fame. I see the names of Kirk Douglas and Jimmy Stewart etched into the grimy sidewalk.
Three days later I’m watching Matt Damon’s stunt double belt Christian Bale’s in the face. Director James Mangold calls “CUT!” This is the disembodied voice I’ve heard all week. The real Matt Damon and Christian Bale emerge before the cameras. Bale looks like a nondescript middle aged man in good shape. I wouldn’t have recognized him from this far away. Damon’s face on the other hand is unmistakable. Mangold calls out “ACTION!” and I gawk as I finally get the answer to “who would win in a fight, Batman or Jason Bourne?” I won’t spoil it for you.
The suspect is being escorted to a squad car. An officer tells me to sit down. Are you kidding me? I’m not sitting down on Hollywood Boulevard. He asks me what happened and I give him a brief statement. I keep my cool, start laughing even, trying to shake it off like I’m some guy in a movie. I glance to the officers still in the street and quip, “that was actually pretty badass!” like I was some kid who just got off a roller coaster. Strangers crowd around me and I tell the story over and over again as they film me. I keep talking. It’s the only thing that keeps me calm. People offer me drinks and pat me on the back.
“You’re a hero dude!” one bystander says.
“You’re famous man!” his friend adds
“Technically you stopped that guy!” a lady comments. I laugh, technically she’s right. I did stop him.
The officers try to convince me to go to the hospital. I’m not going to sit in the back of an ambulance with a gray blanket wrapped around me like some pathetic victim. I act like one of the guys. I stand around the officers with my arms crossed, cracking wise and retelling the story.
“Of course it all happened on Hollywood in Vine,” I shake my head in disbelief.
“It’s Hollywood,” of the officers remarks. Helluva time for a Chinatown reference.
The sun has almost set but I keep my Ray-Ban aviators on like I’ve been deputized by the highway patrol. After all, I’m technically the guy who stopped the perp. The officers joke that they’ll tell my wife I tackled the suspect single-handedly and handcuffed himself.
I see her emerge onto the corner of Hollywood and Vine. She’s radiant. My leading lady. Penny’s at her side, our trusted sidekick. We all three embrace.
The tow trucks have arrived. Our vehicles are still locked in combat. The sports car is crumpled but my VW still looks like he’s still in fighting shape. German engineering. The tow truck tries to pull the sports car away from mine but they’re stuck together, like two boxers who refuse to give up. The officers have me get behind the wheel of my car and put it in reverse. No joy. The cars are fused together.
“Looks like they’ve bonded,” an officer jokes. I recognize him as the guy who motioned for me to get down in the car. One of the other cops has an idea.
“What if we have the two trucks pull them apart?”
“Draw and quarter them like an old Western?” I chuckle.
The officer nods. I smile. Only in Hollywood.
It’s magic hour in our little neighborhood. Penny and I stand outside our building as the film crew finishes their last shot. The rent-a-cop outside our building tells me to hold. The disembodied voice calls out “ACTION!” and the street comes to life as the 1960s once more. The old cars prowl the streets as the young actors stroll the sidewalks. I see an iPhone in the passenger seat of one of the cars. Hollywood. Never quite gets it right.
“CUT!” the action stops, “That’s a wrap!”
The cast of vintage drivers cheers. I can’t help but smile. The police officers open the street back up to traffic and I see my wife pulling into our block. My leading lady.
It’s twilight on Hollywood and Vine when the two cars are finally loaded up onto their respective tow trucks. The driver assigned to the sports car is a massive man and he pulls the bumper off my car with his bare hands and tosses it onto the other truck. The round “VW” insignia on the front of my car falls to the street. I pick up the reflective shield and wipe it off with my shirt. Not a single scratch. German engineering.
The next day I’m on the phone with LAPD. The driver was twenty-three. No insurance. Drunk as a skunk, blew twice the legal limit on a Breathalyzer. He wasn’t a bank robber or a murderer, just a stupid drunk kid who almost killed me in a Nissan Z with tacky decals. It’s just the same. I’m not the lawsuit type anyway. I’d feel greedy going after some rich old bastard. No use suing some dumb kid whose got nothing. There’s only one thing I want.
“I hope this kid turns his life around,” I tell the officer, “and I hope someday he has a chance to apologize to me.”
The stars in the sky mirror the ones in the pavement on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. The tow trucks are lurching off and the officers are starting to disperse. There’s some old guy in uniform telling the boys in blue what a good job they all did. Not a word of praise for me, the “hero” of the film. At least according to my adoring fans on the sidewalk. Hollywood. They never quite get it exactly right.
With my wife in arm and dog at my feet, I glance back at the corner of Hollywood and Vine one more time. Next to Jimmy and Kirk I notice a name I didn’t see on the walk of fame before. Edgar R. Murrow. I think of his catchphrase and smile as the black sports car is towed into the horizon.
“Good night and good luck,” I muse.