Driving Mad

“I don’t trust them!” the man erupts into the microphone. “They’re all a bunch of lying, thieving bastards!”

Well, I don’t trust them either. I have no idea who he’s talking about, but he sounds like he really means it, and everyone in this slightly depressing Van Nuys hotel conference room is murmuring approval. Whoever they are, they are not to be trusted. Those lying, thieving bastards.

“There’s no more negotiations!” the guy adds. “It’s time to take hostages!” And this time, instead of mumbling and a smattering of applause, the crowd of about 150 roars. In front of me, a tall man with a Lincolnesque beard, wearing a flannel shirt and a trucker’s cap, unfolds his arms and claps with furor and reverence as he stares toward the head table where the angry guy — no, two angry guys — hold forth with their microphones. When the cheering dies down, I lean forward.

“Which one is John,” I ask the bearded man, “and which one is Ken?” Bad move. I should know that already, judging from the scowl the man is now sending my way. A rather hefty woman sitting behind me bails me out.

“Silly, can’t you tell from their voices?” she asks. “That’s John on the right.” John Kobylt, that is, who has just called for taking hostages. To the left is Ken Chiampou, the other half of KFI AM 640’s extraordinarily successful afternoon drive-time program. They come on weekdays after Dr. Laura, who comes on after Rush.

We are at the Airtel Plaza hotel at the last show in John and Ken’s “Save California Tour,” a six-stop broadcast from restaurants and hotels that allows faithful listeners to meet their heroes and sign petitions for a ballot measure to kill Senate Bill 60. The Legislature — apparently, they are the “lying, thieving bastards” — has been talking about amending the law allowing the undocumented to get driver’s licenses, but John and Ken are having none of it. They say their tour already has netted 12,000 of the nearly 135,000 signatures campaign leader Mike Spence needs to erase SB 60 on the March 2 ballot.

These are the guys who likened a San Diego jury last year to broccoli for taking too long to convict David Westerfield of killing a 7-year-old girl — and then distributed broccoli at the courthouse to underscore their observation. They also camped out in front of an Orange County judge’s house to do four hours on whether he was a child molester. Later, they branded Gray Davis “Gumby” — something about the ex-governor’s hair — rallied their listeners to support the Davis recall, and steered them away from tossing their votes to state Senator Tom McClintock so they could instead unify behind Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Dismiss them as publicity-seeking pranksters if you like. Schwarzenegger knew better, and checked in with them frequently, on the air, during the campaign. And as you may have noticed, Schwarzenegger is now the governor.

Waiting for a scheduled call from Schwarzenegger, Ken reminds his audience that if Arnold leaves the state, Cruz Bustamante is in charge. “This will become Aztlán!” he warns. John adds that if the governor takes a vacation in Hawaii, “You know the next day California will become the northernmost province of Mexico!”

Outside, fans line up to sign the petitions and buy T-shirts (10 bucks apiece). James, a Chatsworth man in a business suit, was inside earlier listening to the talk-show hosts but says he came to Van Nuys expressly to sign the petitions. “Hopefully we can get it on the ballot,” he says. “This is something that’s going to protect my interests.”

It’s the third petition today for Greg, of Sherman Oaks. On the way into the parking lot he signed an outside group’s measure to repeal the mandatory health-insurance law, and now is in line for both the SB 60 repeal and a measure to eliminate, for all time, the vehicle-license fee, or car tax. That would be three laws signed by Davis in the last few months that would be scrapped by voters. The spirit of the recall lives.

Back inside, John and Ken are talking on the phone to the governor about the “socialists” in the Legislature, but Schwarzenegger replies, “I have gotten in fact a very good reception from these guys.” The duo seems a bit disappointed.

“When are you going to go to Washington and ask for help with illegal immigration?” Ken asks. The governor answers, but refers to the folks John and Ken call “illegals” as “undocumented immigrants.” The next row over from me, a man with a button reading “No amnesty for illegal aliens” grumbles. “They’ve already got to him,” he says.

In the back of the hall, eight or nine uniformed hotel workers serve up food from the buffet. An unscientific scan of the room suggests that they are the only Latinos here. I ask one of them what she thinks of the whole show, but she just smiles and directs me to a platter. “Want some crab salad?” she asks.

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