Ode to LA’s Car Chases

From O.J. to everyday getaways, you can’t turn away from L.A.’s hot pursuit.



I tweet any time I’m watching the local news and they switch over to some poor fool trying to outrun the law. My Twitter followers know what’s next: As the pursuit unfolds, I chronicle in real time anything that crosses my mind — the make of the car, the history of the freeway on which the race takes place, local jokes about cities or streets. Followers retweet me; I return the favor. We stick with it until the end, offer our overall assessment, then bid each other adios until the next time. There’s always a next time.

And if I happen to miss a chase? My followers tell me, and even quote my stock response: “DAMNIT!”

Car chases happen all over the country, but Los Angeles is the hot-pursuit capital, thanks to a holy trinity of many freeways, many levels of law enforcement and a local TV news corps armed with enough helicopters to take on the Taliban. Pundits decry this obsession as the continued degradation of society, the glorification of criminals and the logical conclusion to our demented car culture.

To them, I say: You probably drive a Prius.

I’ve enjoyed car chases my entire life — I even wrote a term paper on the phenomenon as an undergrad at Chapman University (got an A, of course). They represent the Angeleno id at its most elemental. In an ever-squabbling world, in a famously fragmented metropolis, the chase is our church. It plugs into the wanderlust that brought everyone to Southern California. It recalls the wide-open spaces we jammed up long ago with buildings and traffic.

We don’t care about any of the consequences the chases create — the congestion, the thousands of dollars in wasted taxpayer resources, the many lives put in danger. We cheer on those who flee because we secretly want to be them: We also want to throw care out the window and let it get smushed on the 10.

The best drivers become modern-day folk heroes — we don’t remember their names, but forever recall how they sped off into immortality: The Army veteran who stole a tank in San Diego and ran over autos before getting stuck on a freeway median. The two millennials in a Mustang convertible who did donuts on Hollywood Boulevard before swinging down to South Central L.A. to take selfies with adoring fans. And the most famous car chase of them all: O.J.!

My favorite remains the guy who rumbled around downtown L.A. in a moving truck and drove his tires down to the rim, spraying sparks for a good half-hour. Or was it the time a motorcyclist drove into the fog in San Clemente, only to reappear hours later in San Diego?

It doesn’t matter: I love them all.

Every time I rent a U-Haul truck, I have to admit: I get that itch to take off. My lawyer is good; my record is clean. I can text and drive easily. How far can I go? The road is lovely, dark and deep … but I have to help my friend move his apartment. DAMNIT!

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