By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
We're standing in a cramped aisle of Apex Electronics, a hangar-size building stuffed to the rafters with electronic parts, gadgets, and surplus whatnots expelled from the bowels of the military-industrial complex. Hidden among the auto-parts salvage yards, taco stands and freeway ramps of Sun Valley, Apex is a not-so-well-kept secret: a technology graveyard haunted by ham-radio nuts, backyard electricians, tinkerers, studio prop masters, artists, metal sculptors, effects techs and other assorted spooks with an itch for cool junk.
Doc Brown and his ilk would feel right at home here. What looks to be a fresh stock of flux capacitors and enough components to send Marty McFly back to the future are strewn the length of each aisle. Next to a heap of digital-logic integrated circuits I unearth a pair of Art Deco drive-in theater speakers still in the original manufacturer's box. Another nearby shelf yields an assortment of similarly preserved vacuum tubes.
If some of the stuff looks as if it's been gathering dust here for years, that's because it has. Apex took over the building in 1953 as an outlet to sell off postwar surplus from manufacturers like Lockheed. Tons of industrial and electronic scrap still arrive every week, get sorted and sifted through by a small army of Spanish-speaking day workers, and eventually find a place among the acres of debris.
Checkout is equally serendipitous. A customer approaches a tiny counter near the entrance with an armload of goodies. Behind it, the young Russian-émigré clerk eyeballs the odds and ends, deftly judging its value. "Mmm . . . six dollars," he says between drags of Marlboro.
Out back, it's a scene from a post-apocalyptic yard sale: a labyrinth of small paths wind among tall stacks of twisted metal cabinets, rusting electronic test equipment, power transformers, oscilloscopes and other mad-scientist gotta-have-its. Like some indie-movie prop rat's dream, a polished aluminum radar dish sags against a group of sleek ballistic-missile bodies prickling with pointy Flash Gordon tail fins. I crawl through one of the storage trailers and find myself surrounded by control panels from some long-forsaken aerospace project bearing NASA logos and a phalanx of buttons marked "FIRE," "ARMED" and "EMERGENCY ABORT." Later, I pass by a fellow with a camera discreetly framing shots of a fashionably attired young woman against a glittering landscape of steel trusswork piled at crazy angles against the sky. Just then, the man with the ZZ Top whiskers wanders by clutching a blue airport-landing light.
"I don't have a clue what I'm gonna use it for," he says, "but I know I need it."
STATE OF EMERGENCY: Playing the Victim
"EARLY THIS MORNING, AT AN EMERGENCY meeting of the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and the L.A. Emergency Network, high-ranking officials were kidnapped, and some were murdered. At 8:35 a.m. an explosion rocked the Staples Center. The VA has been told to prepare for victims."
This is the scenario spelled out by Frank Estrada, manager of the Emergency Program at the Veterans Administration Hospital in West Los Angeles to a group of 30 aspiring victims. We are taking part in a simulated-disaster exercise.
"Here's where you guys come in," he tells us. "We don't know what explosives were used. We need ambulatory volunteers for decontamination." He warns that this will involve showers, which means we'll get â wet. Will our clothes be cut off? Will we have to get naked?
No nudity, assures Estrada, trim, in jeans and short-sleeved shirt, sunglasses perched on his shaved head.
With nine others, I choose the decontamination route. Paper pants and shirts are distributed. Then chaos ensues. Not the chaos of contamination, but the agony of pants that won't fit. "Excuse me, but not every victim is petite," proclaims one woman, pants stuck beneath her hips. Bigger sizes are located.
Hospital employees distribute green tags delineating our injuries. Those not garbed in blue have a full range of woes, from a bit of confusion to head injuries. I'm designated as contaminated, but I'm untagged and ambulatory. I figure I'll stroll right through this victim gig.
But then another coordinator shows up with tags for the contaminated. Mine reads, "Unconscious with bleeding from the nose and ears." I'm unhappy with my lack of control.
Once we are tagged, Estrada directs us outside to await our ambulances. I am standing in the sun with a group of strangers in blue pajamas. Green, blue and red tents line the lot to our left. Medical workers wander about. We've been told that many agencies are working together for the first time in this drill, but we are already feeling a bit out of it -- appropriate victim behavior. A small squad in blue hoods, gas masks, goggles and puffy blue boots stands near a huge Hazmat truck (for hazardous materials) parked in front of the blooming jacarandas. Above us, the Getty sits firmly on its hilltop. We know that crisp blue skies, sunlight and flowering trees can coexist with the most horrific events.
An ambulance pulls up. I'm led into it with two other volunteers and strapped onto the gurney, while the others, with less serious injuries, sit by my side. Sirens whir as we're driven around for a few minutes before returning to the tented area, yards from where we'd begun.