I went to Koo Koo Roo on Larchmont last night to grab dinner: half rotisserie chicken, cucumber salad, mixed veggies, to go.
While I was turning to go into the parking lot, I noticed a white SUV near the curb. It was bucking strangely. My first instinct was that the driver didn’t know how to use stick. Then I thought, maybe it was crazy custom low-rider shocks. But you really don’t see that on SUV’s, even on Pimp My Ride.
Then I saw that there was a man standing on the passenger side running board. It looked like he was strapping something down to the roof. That would explain why the car was shaking.
My curiosity satisfied, I parked.
When I came back around to the front of the restaurant, I noticed the SUV was still in roughly the same spot. The guy was still standing on the running board, but he wasn’t trying to attach anything. Rather, he had both hands on the roof rack, holding on tight while the SUV’s driver (a woman) tried to shake him off. That’s why the car was “bouncing” earlier.
I stood at the door of Koo Koo Roo for about 10 seconds, trying to figure out what the hell was going on — and what, if anything, I should do. Here’s roughly my thought process:
The woman’s on her cell phone. She’s in her late 20′s, maybe. It’s hard to see inside the car.
The man is maybe 40. Latino. He keeps knocking on the windows.
She seems upset, but not terrified. Almost more annoyed. She’s not crying.
I wonder who she’s talking to on the phone. A friend? The police?
He keeps saying (in English), “I need to talk to you.”
He seems really rational. But rational people don’t cling to moving vehicles.
She should drive to a police station. That’s what I’d do.
Where is the nearest police station? I have no idea.
I don’t know if he knows her. He’s not saying her name.
He’s wearing white. Maybe a uniform. Maybe a parking attendant.
She should keep driving down Larchmont. There’s a ton of people, so if she really does need help, she can get it.
I bet he’s a parking attendant, and she drove off without paying.
There’s only one other spectator watching. That guy at the bus stop.
He was there when I pulled in, so he must have seen more of this. He probably knows what’s going on.
If I got involved, maybe he’d back me up.
She’s trying to shake him off again.
The weirdest thing was how my perception of who was the “good guy” kept flipping back and forth, like one of those foreground-background optical illusions where you see either the Young Woman or the Old Crone but not both at the same time. Second by second, I thought, “she’s in danger” or “he’s in danger.”
He’d bang on the windows, so I’d decide he was a threat. Then she’d try to shake him off, and I was suddenly worried he’d fall to the pavement and get run over.
With both scenarios equally plausible, I decided I’d cautiously approach and ask the man what was going on. With the right tone of voice, it wouldn’t sound like a direct threat. If he gave a reasonable answer, I could talk to him like a reasonable person. If he gave me a Crazy Man answer, I’d know he was the problem, and…well, I didn’t know what I’d do, but at least I’d know he was the bad guy.
Just as I stepped forward to move from Spectator to Participant in this drama, the SUV pulled around the corner onto Beverly, picking up considerable speed. The man seemed unfazed. I realized that it’s surprisingly easy to cling to an SUV. No one would consider clinging to my little Toyota.
The SUV took the first right turn, then disappeared from sight. I looked over to the guy at the bus stop, hoping for some gesture or nod that would reassure me that everything was okay, that neither of the two parties would end up harmed tonight.
Bus Stop Guy gave me nothin’. He just turned back to the street, waiting for his ride.
At the Koo Koo Roo counter, John August Concerned Citizen slowly reverted into John August Screenwriter, as I tried to construct scenarios to explain what had just happened. The parking lot attendant theory made the most sense, because I’ve encountered some surprisingly zealous asphalt barons in Los Angeles. Would one really risk his life by clinging to the side of a car? Maybe.
But the other scenarios — Furious Boyfriend, Eerily Calm Stalker, Random Psycho — also seemed to fit.
After watching this scene unfold, I wasn’t even sure what “genre” it belonged in. If you put Will Ferrell in the guy’s role, clinging to the side of an SUV, then it’s a comedy. Hugh Grant, and it’s a romantic comedy. Sean Penn, and it’s a thriller. (Unless Sean Penn’s playing retarded, then it’s I Am Sam.)
As I was driving home a few minutes later, I kept mulling over the scene — though part of me was busier contemplating actors and their career choices. Sean Penn used to be funny, damn it. C’mon, Spicoli!
I drove past the intersection where the SUV had turned, and glanced up the street out of idle curiosity.
The SUV was stopped there. The man was on the roof.
He was hugging the top of it like every action movie cliche, ankles dangling off the edge. The SUV wasn’t moving, but the guy seemed braced for doing 60 on the freeway.
By the time I spotted them, it was too late to make the turn. Instead, I hung three rights to circle around the block. It seemed to take forever. These were quiet residential streets — exactly the place you shouldn’t go if there’s some random lunatic clinging onto your car. Also troubling: my stubborn parking lot attendant theory was making less sense by the moment. Whatever urban logic makes it reasonable for a guy making minimum wage to wrestle a car also dictates that at some point he gives up.
This guy wasn’t giving up.
As I turned the third right, I figured that the driver and I would now at least be adjacent. I could roll down my window and ask if she was okay, if she was in danger. I could do something. By now, it was obvious I should have done something back at Koo Koo Roo.
But when I got back to the corner, there was no SUV. While I was circling the block, she must have driven off, with the guy still presumably clinging to her roof-rack. They were gone, and I didn’t know which one to worry about.
Do you call the police in this situation? Do you just forget about it, and check the papers in the morning? I was left — I am left — with an unsettling lack of closure. Yes, I want to know that no one’s hurt, but even more, I want to know what the hell I saw.
Was it funny or scary? Young Woman or Old Crone? I don’t know. Real life sucks that way.