Los Angeles Vigilante Doles Out Justice To Red Light Runners
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
I thought you’d need a bigger gun, I said, as he pulled out a dulled and dinged .22 pistol. He had it in his dusty black backpack. The breeze was chilly, especially where we were, perched on a roof. I wished I’d brought an extra sweater.
“Bigger gun,” said Mr Kim, “means bigger attention.”
Ah yes, I said, you’re smarter than I am. You can’t lug an assault rifle to the top of your house without everybody noticing. We’re not in LA riot mode, yet, although, if the economy continues to sour, we might be. Then we’ll all need assault rifles to protect us from the roving mobs looking for food, water, and gasoline.
We were atop Mr Kim’s small home, which was on the corner of a busy Koreatown intersection. We’d waited for rush hour to climb up. Mr Kim clicked off the safety switch and readjusted his body. His boots scraped against the shingles as he pushed himself up a few inches.
I looked down the sloping roof. You think you can rip off a steady shot from here? I asked. It’s all about accuracy. It’s a dangerous task you’ve given yourself.
“That sunset,” Mr Kim said, shaking his head, “is just about the most gorgeous thing I’ve seen in awhile.”
I’ve met many strange, questionable people in Los Angeles, but not one with such a worthy goal…
I’d met Mr Kim at the local Argentinian market a few hours prior. I was talking on my cell phone to one of my friends back in Western North Dakota about how negligent drivers are in Los Angeles. Always blowing red lights, I said. Always pushing the tail end of the yellows. It’s a good way to kill somebody. I wish I could shoot out the tires of any car that endangers other lives like that, I’d said. I’d be careful not to shoot anybody, but these people need a startling wake up call. Maybe I’m the guy to do it.
A young Korean man with straight shoulder-length black hair stood beside me. Both of us, it seemed, were contemplating over the different packages of mate — which is a tea from South America that will give you a buzz unlike coffee, and unlike any buzz you’ve ever had. It will clear your head, focus your energy, and drive a powerful sense of motivation into your heart.
When I said goodbye to my friend, the Korean man told me he too felt the same way about careless drivers, and that he’d been planning to take action soon.
What kind of action? I asked.
“I’m Mr Kim,” he said, “and from here on, we should discuss this in private.” Mr Kim’s trousers seemed to be from another era. They looked like brown canvas squares, hastily cut from a ship’s sails and sewn into pants. The cuffs were too high on his ankles. I had a bad feeling about him, but then he smiled. Perfect white teeth. He seemed all right. Trustworthy enough to worry about maintaining a radiant smile.
You’ve always wanted adventure, anyway, I told myself, so just go along with this fellow, and if it gets too weird, then you find an escape. Otherwise, you’ll live your life in your little apartment writing political articles and never lead a truly fulfilling life, like Henry Kissinger or Phil Specter.
“My mother was killed by a driver who ran a red light,” Mr Kim was saying, “and smashed into her driver’s side door. Many years ago.” He said my conversation on the phone spiked his fury and disgust with not only bad drivers, but reckless people in general.
“Something must be done, and I’ve got a plan. I’ve always had a plan,” he said.
So we went to a local coffee joint and discussed it. I planned to meet at his house when the sun began to set. What should I call you? I asked him as we were saying goodbye. “Mr Kim,” he said, “and nothing else.”
Well, I’m Mr Luebke, I said, but you can call me anything you like. I’m not picky. I’m easy going. But intense.
Inches from instant death…you people are suicidal
From the rooftop, Mr Kim had a very clear shot. “It won’t be long now,” he said, “before I get a chance.”
|Not a big gun,
but a gun just the same
I watched the traffic, backed up, slowly moving when the light turned green. And then the other street, with its long line of creeping metal machines, buzz into action at the turning of its green light.
A black sedan, pricey-looking, scooted toward a yellow light. There, I shouted, he’s going to bust through the red.
Mr Kim steadied his cheap black pistol. The long nose of the gun, about as thin as a finger, shifted ever so slightly to keep up with the moving car. A yellow bug car behind the black sedan stopped promptly when the light turned red. The black sedan streaked through.
Clearly in violation, I said, and you didn’t take a shot. No cops around to stop him. We’ve got a red light runner, gone free, again. The sedan was out of sight, and my new friend still gripped his pistol.
What are you aiming at? I said. The other street’s cars roared into action. These cars were coming and going in our direction, which made Mr Kim’s plan too risky. He’d have to take a shot on the north and south bound lanes. There was no room for failure in an operation like that. I wouldn’t have wanted a stray bullet to end up through somebody’s windshield. Even if they were running a red and deserved punishment. I wondered about Mr Kim’s credentials. If he’d been in the Korean army. If he was a sharpshooter of shitty pistols. I should have asked to see his resume first.
I watched the traffic blowing through the intersection. A Range Rover. A tan Prius. Two more after that, red and blue. An old Caprice. A green taxi cab. An black SUV. Such helter skelter from up on the roof. Each vehicle, as it passed an oncoming vehicle, was inches from sudden death. Just inches from a head-on collision with a stranger. And how could you trust that stranger was an expert at handling his automobile?
Every driver in charge of his own speeding metal missile. Some drivers were surely drowsy after a long day of work. Some of them slowed from the effects of alcohol, or drugs. Some of them very old, feeble. Some of them too young and without experience. Some without a healthy dose of fear. Some doped up on prescription pills — perfectly legal, but dangerous when operating machinery heavier than a push lawnmower. Some thinking about sex. Others feeling a pressing urge to hurry home to use the bathroom. And some typing text messages into their phones as their cars careened forward, precariously drifting over the center line.
You people are suicidal, I said to myself, to be conducting your lives in such a manner. We must be a society bent on destroying ourselves. Somehow we’ve muffled the obvious jitters that should be experienced by hurtling our bodies 30 to 70 miles per hour in metal and glass cages. Somehow we’ve mollified the misgivings that should stir within when only one tiny mistake, of mere inches, could mean serious injury, paralysis, or death. (See also Anxious behavior in passengers before boarding a tin cigar that will hurtle them through space at 500 mph)
Pow! A sound, not exactly a ping or a crack, but sort of an inbred mixture of the two, split the air. Squealing tires was the next sound. I heard it through the ringing of my ears. A black sedan fishtailed and came to a stop at the side of the street. I hadn’t even been paying attention.
The car’s back right tire was torn to shreds. You nailed a Bentley, I said.
“That’ll teach him,” Mr Kim said, as the east and west bound traffic began rumbling, “to run a red light and risk the lives of other people.”
My hands were shaking. Yes, I said, you know, I had a similar experience at Broadway and Cesar Chavez last summer. A very old lady, hopped up on dozens of prescription pills, no doubt, ran a red light and took off the front of my car. She said she’d been on her way home from the theater. One second later, or even half a second, I might not have been here today. Her Civic would have crashed right through my lap.
Mr Kim’s jaw muscles, at least the left side of his face, which I could see, tensed and relaxed, over and over again. The driver of the sedan stepped out of his vehicle. He scratched his head and walked around to the other side of the car. When he spotted the tire, he raised a fist in the air. Not at us, but in a different direction. At the sky. Or God. Or maybe at Michelin. Or the universe and all its connections, which lined up just right, he thought, to put him through an insufferable situation, such as blowing a tire during rush hour, when he most wanted to be home.
Anyway, I said, trying to continue my story, if you’d been at the intersection that day, you would have noticed that speeding Honda and the thinning puff of white hair on the drowsy head lolling behind the wheel, and you might have squeezed off a round and prevented the whole thing from happening.
Doling out justice to reckless L.A. drivers: “I’ll do this as many times as I can…”
“We’d better get down from here now,” Mr Kim said. He’d placed the pistol back in his backpack.
Shoot, I said, I thought I would get to take a shot, too. Truly, I was only fronting. I did not want in on that crime, no matter how much pleasure and satisfaction it gave me.
“You’ll get your chance,” he said. “I’ll be setting up at various locations around Los Angeles and do this as many times as I can before I get caught.”
I’ll write up a news article to strike fear in the hearts of reckless drivers in this city, I told him. You run a red light, or even get close to doing so, you might just get your tire shot out. That’ll be the sub headline. It’ll be an article posing as objective journalism, however, there’ll be a coded warning woven within. I’ll get it published at a famous alternative news site.
We climbed down from the house and said our goodbyes. Aren’t you worried about the police checking into this? I asked. Or maybe somebody saw us up there?
Mr Kim shook his head. “Nobody heard that shot. Not with all the traffic and distractions. People are too busy and involved to hear the crack of a .22.” Which is why, again, he used such a small weapon. “You’d have a tough time blowing your head off with this thing,” he said. “That’s how weak this gun is.”
But it’s powerful enough to send a message to serial red light runners.
On the way home, I made sure to walk by the car with the blown tire. He was a sweaty, pig of a man who clearly worked in an office all day and couldn’t wait to get home to delve back into whatever form of escapism he lusted after.
He talked into a cell phone. Triple A, by the sound of it. When he saw me, he saw the sympathetic look on my face. The tire was torn apart and scattered along the road. I thought of grabbing one of the thin strips of rubber from the street, bending him over the hood of his luxury car, and whapping him across his soft ass ten times.
Don’t run red lights, you fool, I’d shout as I lashed him. There’s no reason to risk people’s safety that way.
As I walked by, the man looked at me and pointed at his wounded vehicle, as if to say, “Would you believe it? A blown tire, at a time like this?”
I shook my head in disbelief. That’s the shucks! I said. You just never know when you’ll need a tow.
Cars edged around the Bentley. Somebody honked their car horn for the inconvenience. The man shouted an obscenity. “I’ve blown a tire. Can’t you see that?” He almost threw his cell phone at the driver.
I continued home. Profound ethical questions about personally doling out justice were raised that day, but I tried especially hard not to think of them. Instead, I enjoyed a job well done.