Twenty-four years ago, on some night around 10 p.m., three of us emerged from a Ford Pinto into the empty parking lot of El Rancho market in Pasadena. A market cart stood there in the darkness, lonely, forgotten after closing time, a stray cut off from the herd. It needed something. It needed to be stolen.
It fit, barely, into the back of the Pinto. We were high school seniors and we had half a tank of gas. Mayhem was our oyster. We gave the cart a random tour of the darkened neighborhood streets of the San Rafael area, windows down, talking too loud and laughing too much. After a while, this became dull, but we still had that cart. La Loma bridge loomed ahead, majestic arches spanning the Arroyo Seco, the perfect launching point. We unloaded, pushed the cart to the middle of the bridge and heaved it off.
Not exactly a Viking funeral, but it made a satisfying crunch when it hit the cement bed of the wash that was, and is, the dry vein of the Arroyo. I believe it bounced once, then came to rest upturned, right in the center of a weak trickle of water. So that was righteous.
Once again, all was quiet. We piled into the Pinto and drove off to our respective teenage prankster beds. About a week later on a Sunday afternoon, I was driving across that same bridge with a friend. Two or three people were gazing over the side. Odd — the bridge drew little foot traffic.
“Somebody probably jumped! A ha ha ha!” I remarked. (In high school, I was very funny.) We pulled over and craned our heads over the cement rail. There was a guy lying face-down in the wash. Back then when I was 17, he looked to be middle-aged. Now that I’m 42, I realize he was probably younger. He was wearing a dark corduroy jacket. A flow of blood meandered from his head. His left arm was twisted up at us, and rested against the market cart. There were no cops, no emergency units; things were quite still, as they mostly are on Pasadena Sunday afternoons in the Arroyo.
I don’t recall that we said much. Later I told my dad about it, and he said, “No kidding? The guy probably used that cart as a target.” Like me, Pops was hilarious. I later heard (or read in the Star-News, maybe) that the guy had been seen sitting on the ledge of the bridge for a while, and that his car was found blocks away with a note inside.
I left Pasadena shortly thereafter, moved back east for college and did a few things before life returned me to L.A. 16 years later, and to Highland “Pasadena-adjacent” Park. Now, sometimes I take walks, sometimes I stroll across La Loma Bridge and ponder existence and why people do certain things, and my own ups and downs. I think about how fast 24 years can pass, how quickly life goes by. And I can’t help but look over the side. The market cart is never there.