"HAVE YOU CONTRIBUTED TO THE FIREMEN'S Fund?" The silver-haired rep for the Los Angeles Fire Department stood before several red trucks on display at the first annual Franklin Street Fair, a Sunday festival all about music, food and neighborly bonding.
"Well, no, I haven't," I told him. "But I really like you fire people."
Before I could take out my wallet, we both heard a blast of water and turned to see a 100-foot geyser gushing out of the ground right in front of the Mayfair Market.
"Pretty cool," I said. "You firemen really go all out." Then the geyser went boom! and colors flashed through its majesty. The rep from the Fire Department first looked a little irritated and then shook his head in disbelief. Maybe this wasn't planned after all. Boom! went the geyser again, and people got spooked and started to realize that this was no fireworks display. Boom! Something was wrong, and I started to wonder where my wife and kid were. Again boom! The fire trucks roared into action and darted toward the explosions. I frantically searched for my kid and tried to stay out of the way of the fire trucks. For some reason -- what was this, the Titanic? -- the band kept playing until someone shouted at them to stop.
It turned out that a guy in a Ford Explorer was going too fast, lost control, then took out a fire hydrant and an electrical pole like a couple of bowling pins. A year ago this spectacle would have been just that -- a spectacle -- and people would have simply laughed it off. But Sunday there was a definite feeling of panic, and most people wanted to leave before all the emergency vehicles and mayhem closed them in.
Maybe that's because this little festival resembled the types of places we're seeing with increasing regularity on television, crowded places that are targeted by suicide bombers, and we're just waiting for it to happen here. No matter how people try to maintain a normal existence, there is an underlying hysteria waiting to rear its pulsating head. I don't know, maybe I'm just being an alarmist, but there were certainly enough cops, firemen, city workers and helicopters quickly mustered, and they all seemed ready for something to happen. We LAliens are tough eggs, and we tend to become complacent rather quickly -- we're just not used to disasters that aren't natural. I'm a pretty calm person. I've been through enough fires, floods and earthquakes to qualify as a seasoned L.A. disaster veteran, but I don't mind saying it: Sometimes I feel like I'm freakin' out.