By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
"Let's pull the boat over, Steve."
"I am relaxed."
"Don't worry, the L.A. Weekly's battery of New York lawyers will spring us before we even have a chance to get gender-bent."
"If that kind of talk gets into print, it will set the L.A. River back 10 years!"
"Denis? I'm relaxed. Okay?"
And so on, as best I can remember it, since I put down my black minicassette-corder, not wanting it to be mistaken for a semiautomatic pistol from 100 yards up in the helicopter by an officer perhaps not as relaxed as I was. Since the water was only about 10 inches deep, though with lots of push, we climbed out of the boat, stood relatively still in the middle of the non-river river, and waited for a total of five officers to show up in squad cars, lights twirling, and interview us from over the lip of the flat-bottom vertical wall.
While all this had been coming down, the crack support team of Natkin and Winter had gotten its cell phone working, called 911 and been patched up to the helicopter pilot -- or the officer on the M-60 gun turret, I never learned for sure -- and everything was made copacetic, since, basically, everybody wants to be in a movie, and Natkin was holding a snaky-looking Canon-XL-1 digital camera (donated by my friend Jan Hartke at the U.S. Humane Society in Washington, D.C., the better to document environmental abuse or, as we might say in this case, "situations"). Also, the Swiftwater Rescue Squad had been wisely notified by Denis before we set out on our historic first descent. We had a permit, of sorts, the numbers of which Denis had splayed in black letters across a yellow placard lashed to the top of our smart-thing-to-have-onboard flotation safety bag so that anyone looking down from a police helicopter could read it: "E.I.D.C. PERMIT," EIDC standing for Entertainment Industry Development Corp. The only easy permit to acquire in a county of bureaucrats is the permit to film.
So we were completely legit. There would be no citation for Driving a Canoe Under the Influence of Laughter, or Operating a Flotation Device With Silly Paddles.
"Thank you, officers!"
They waved. We waved.
The Slot beckoned. In front of CBSStudios, it kicked in. Suddenly, the congenial flat-bottom box had a nasty groove â in the center only 4 feet wide, sunken, and 24 inches deep. All the force of the Mighty L.A. is channeled into this sluice. On the Zambezi, near the end of the Batoka Gorge, there is a similar funneling point, called Deep Throat, where supplies are lashed down as best they can be, and the rafts are "ghosted" or sent through un-manned.
We shoved the canoe into The Slot and piled in. It was like surfing a washing machine (albeit on delicate cycle). I was shouting and hollering and banging the narrow walls with the nail heads, but with a little technical whacking we managed to stay upright. Then came the first real white water of the journey (not counting Shopping Cart Rapids), an unavoidable bridge abutment in the center of the already narrow Slot.
Piece of cake!
We were plunging hard-on now toward Universal Studios -- you could almost feel the splash-over from the Jurassic Park ride -- coming up on DreamWorks, then Warner Bros., huge three-story painted images river-left of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Tweety and Batman. I wondered if Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks or Michael Klausman of CBS, both white-water enthusiasts, had ever attempted the swirl below their offices. But there was little time for social commentary; we were surfing -- big water! And then a miraculous occurrence, to my way of thinking: a hatch.
Thousands of tiny insects were rising off the water. Too small to be mayflies, too slow for caddis -- I should have packed a fly rod -- too late now. I captured several specimens between my teeth for identification. They were midges.
The exhilaration of The Slot did not last. Past the Smokehouse Restaurant it disappeared. The river had gathered force, but without the fast-track groove in the center, the water spread out across a widened channel -- half a football field across. We found we must get out and long-line the boat from the edges, the way river-runners on Himalayan rivers do when the run is too swift and the bank too high for portaging. Here, the problem was that the river was too shallow for floating.
Dusk began its descent. The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft a-gley, as they say on the Tweed. We were somewhere in the middle of Griffith Park. I imagined the lions locked in their cages at the zoo, and noted with dismay that Denis, our certified Swiftwater Rescue Guide, had no flashlight, no spare fleeces, no kayaker's strobe.
I had all these things, of course, and the arrogance that goes with being prepared. But Denis did happen to have an entire freezer Zip-Loc bag full of dark-chocolate Hershey squares, also a chilled Nalgene trail bottle filled with fresh-squeezed orange juice. We bonded.