THE BIG DEAL IN GLENDALE
By Lela Michael
“8/17/2005 9:50 PM - LA Daily News GLENDALE - A gunman robbed the Glendale branch of the Bank of Orange County and fled Wednesday, prompting police to lock down a nearby elementary school as they searched for him.”
I spend a lot of time with a hard-boiled L.A. journalist who writes a daily blog, primarily about L.A. crime. R broke the school lockdown story shortly after the robbery went down.
R posted updates on his blog throughout the afternoon. We watched events unfold first-hand from the balcony of his Extended Stay Suite at the Glendale Day's Inn, located directly across the street from the elementary school. The intersections on both ends of Doran Avenue were blocked off by police. The nearby Pacific Avenue exit of the Ventura Freeway was closed in both directions. A police helicopter circled the area, sometimes joined by a second, but there were no news choppers anywhere, and nothing was on television.
CAN’T GO HOME NO MORE
Somewhere in the mid-afternoon, we heard a loud voice booming from the sky, “Come out and lay your weapons down!” As we tried to figure out which building the voice was speaking to, R and I could see that the numerous police in the area were standing around casually, without their guns drawn. An hour later, we noticed a huge group of parents waiting near the corner market on Doran to pick up their children from the school, which was still under lockdown.
Naturally, R wanted to get a closer look at the scene. We left his room headed for the corner market around 4:30 p.m. and came out with four bags of groceries. As we approached the hotel parking lot coming back, an officer told us very nicely that he couldn't let us back into the hotel. "You don't want to go in there," he added. R pressed for details and the officer told us the robbery suspect was in the hotel. "It's a big hotel," R said. "Are you doing a room to room search?" "We have a good idea where the suspect is," the officer replied confidently. "We have bloodhounds."
R and I set our groceries down in front of an adjacent apartment building and over the next two hours struck up conversations with other stranded hotel guests as they steadily collected near the hotel parking lot. Soon, some of the apartment residents came out and joined the friendly banter. One of them, a charming, gregarious girl named Rachel, loaned me a sweatshirt as cool shade began to replace the hot L.A. sunshine. I had gone to the market wearing a pair of shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt with a picture of Tinkerbell emblazoned on the front.
LELA MAKES A FRIEND
At 6:09 p.m., two SWAT teams in full body armor rolled past us into the parking lot and entered the Day's Inn. For Rachel and me, it was a glorious moment. The young men comprising these SWAT teams made Chippendale dancers seem like ugly toads. Ever the consummate journalist, R whipped out his pen and a scrap of paper. “What do you make of all this?” he asked Rachel. “Well,” Rachel responded eagerly, “my mom works for Glendale PD as a meter maid, so I know all the cops. That one,” she said tossing her head in the direction of Officer You Can’t Go Home Again, “is a rookie, I’m pretty sure.” I was beginning to like this young lady. “Now, when those SWAT trucks rolled by, that was a heart stopping moment.” R scribbled away, mumbling something about civic pride. Rachel clarified with a grin. “No, I mean, yeah, they’re great, but what I’m sayin’ is, they looked...fine.” She shot me a wink, eyes twinkling. “This one knows what I’m talkin’ about!” R emitted a nervous laugh and continued scribbling. Now I was certain I liked Rachel.
At 7:15 the officer whose entire task was to prevent anyone from entering the hotel told me it would be another three to four hours until the SWAT team had completed their job inside. "How are you doing?" the officer asked me curtly as I leaned against a wall. Rachel had gone back inside the apartment building, but not before I had collected her phone number so I could return her sweatshirt later. "Well, we've already been standing here three hours," I answered the officer politely. "We have a certain method that is being applied here," he responded in an official tone. "We have to follow the procedure.” He paused, and then added, “We don't want to be here, either."
In actuality, it was all over by 8:00. R and I, groceries in tow, had walked to Conrad's Bar & Grill around 7:30, where we spent $54 on dinner and some well-earned cocktails. We planted ourselves at the bar. R ordered a vodka martini on the rocks, olive included, and reviewed his copious notes. I peeled off Rachel’s sweatshirt and ordered a glass of white wine. "Man, I'm tired," R said, rubbing his care-worn face. "I have so much to write about. If I were young I'd guzzle coffee and write all night."
WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR
“Go for it, handsome,” I cooed to R. I leaned toward him until his glance settled on the cleavage hovering just above Tinkerbell’s wand. “Work all night. I’ll sit at your feet and keep you happy.” “Oh, man, hon,” he replied wearily, rubbing his face again. “Let me see how I feel, I’m exhausted.” I kicked into righteous female indignation mode. “Who isn’t? I’ll have you know I’m on my period, pal,” I huffed. “You may at least appreciate my attempt to spread a little levity in the midst of a stressful situation,”--R was wincing by now--“you know, a little flirting to lighten up our police state evening.” I would have continued, but R had begun poking me with his olive toothpick. “Stop it,” he muttered with each gentle poke. We finished our drinks in silence, R’s hand resting firmly on my knee, and left Conrad’s to go see how it had all turned out at the Day’s Inn.
We crossed Central Avenue and headed down Pioneer Drive lugging our groceries. “One thing’s for sure,” I stated in a much more subdued tone. “I am never again going to make a wish that you and I could go out to dinner just once.” We joined hands and plodded on toward the Day’s Inn. “No cop cars anywhere,” R said, his eagle eyes sweeping the neighborhood. “I better not get back there and find out the guy was never there to begin with.”
We entered the hotel lobby about 9:30 p.m. Not a single police officer was in sight. A handful of hotel staff and long-term hotel residents were gathered around in small groups, laughing with one other about the great wild goose chase at the Day’s Inn. Upon learning that the entire event had been based on a phone tip that maybe someone might have seen the robber run into the hotel, R growled “I’ve gotta get upstairs and update my blog.”
Well, that’s my take. Two helicopters, ten squad cars, six motorcycles, four SWAT teams, FBI agents, police dogs, voice from the sky, two city blocks cordoned off, freeway exit shut down, machine guns, citizens barred from entering their homes, school under lockdown. As I am writing these notes the morning after the big deal in Glendale, R is across the room in bed, tossing fitfully and grinding his teeth in his sleep. When he wakes up, he’ll have plenty to write about.