It was three o’clock in the morning. I figured it would be safe; my accomplices and I might get away with our caper.
I lay prone, propped up on my elbows, looking out the back of a 1970-something Ford station wagon, tailgate down, clutching a Nikon to my face while being driven fast through the Third Street tunnel underneath Bunker Hill in Downtown LA. Two battery-powered flash units gaffer-taped to the roof of the Ford and synced to my camera’s shutter shot short bursts of light like automatic weapons fire at the two shiny Chevys chasing us neck and neck, strobing them like disco dancers in the dark. Incandescent sparks flew from the backs of both cars as though they had Roman candles for exhaust pipes, each time their drivers lowered pneumatic steel plates under their chassis to scrape the street like the flints in a Zippo lighter. I further characterized an expression of the cars’ speed on film with a slower-than-stop-action, one-eighth-second shutter speed — “dragging” the shutter, remember? — in tandem with motion-freezing flash, which made the cars pop out in sharp contrast against the blacktop and the ambient light reflected off the tunnel’s grimy walls. Picture comic book superhero The Flash running at full tilt with a blur of color trailing behind him.
Well, that was fun — lights and siren!
The wail of a klaxon underground overpowered our double-digit decibel assault on peace and quiet, and a squad car pulled us over where the tunnel spat us out. Two wary cops got out. One was a woman. She approached the driver of the station wagon. He had the wheel, but I had the camera, so she pivoted toward me instead. As I crawled out the back of the station wagon, her partner kept his eyes on the other two cars.
“What the hell are you doing!?” she cried. But I could detect a soupçon of mirth in her voice, almost a twinkle in her eye. LA cops are used to all kinds of weird stuff going down; all of LA is Hollywood. The thing is, we didn’t have a filming permit. These two cops would’ve known that. They must have also deduced this was no lowrider sideshow; there was no audience. It was also the weariest, quietest hour before dawn, decades before anyone had either the means to video such a thing or social media to share it on. These two would also have…