Remembering the L.A. Riots and how they changed my life's direction

I was reminded yesterday and today that this was the 20 yr anniversary of the L.A. Riots.  While I didn't remember these were the dates of the beginnings of the riots, the L.A. Riots did serve as motivation that would soon change the direction of my life.

I was born in Northern California but from my earliest memory was raised in Southern California.  I went to college at UCLA and after (regretfully) expending minimal effort to graduate with the most mediocre of grade point averages, I remained in West Los Angeles sharing a small 1 bedroom apartment with two other roommates.    My first 'real' job, meaning one with career aspirations, was with Enterprise Rent A Car.  Back in 1991, Enterprise Rent A Car was still a relatively unknown car rental company despite having just passed the 100,000 cars in fleet mark.  Those were still the days of O.J. Simpson hurdling through airports and most people, if asked to name a car rental company,would've named either Hertz or Avis.  I was hired on as a 'management trainee', a position that even to this day, virtually all new Enterprise employees hold when first hired.  After a few months in a rental office, I was promoted/transferred to the regional administrative office where I would begin my new career in the insurance department.

The office was upstairs with a bank on the first floor.  The building was in the parking lot of what used to be called the Fox Hills Mall (now apparently redressed as the Westfield Culver City).  The bank was robbed fairly frequently, once at gunpoint where there was actually gunfire.  We never knew about the robberies until a police officer would come upstairs to ask if we were okay.   It wasn't the greatest part of town but it was what we knew, and with the exception of the occasional bank robberies, safe during the day.

Back in 1992, there wasn't any internet, so when the Rodney King verdicts were announced, we listened to the radio.  The verdicts came out near the end of the day so most of the rioting didn't start until we had gone home for the day.  However, watching the TV news that night made it quite clear there was some serious doo-doo going on.  Trying to remember 20 years ago, I can't remember if it was the Thursday or the Friday that we came to the office in casual attire (normal Enterprise dress code was a white shirt and tie) and huddled in the office as they tried to devise contingency plans.

Most of our offices were in areas unaffected by the rioting but one office, the La Cienega office, was right in the middle of some of the most widely publicized looting.  The entire inventory of a Fedco store was being looted right on TV.  Our office was across the street and the parking lot was full of nearly new rental cars.
This was across the street from an Enterprise Rent A Car office

It was decided that a team of volunteers led by our Regional Vice President would go down to the office, get the cars and drive them up to our Beverly Hills office where they would be safe.   As silly as it seems, we packed up in cars, armed with baseball bats and a bolt cutter, and drove down to our office to loot our own cars.  When we got to our location, the landlord that shared our property had already bailed out of town so we used the bolt cutters to cut the chain locking the gate.  There was a law enforcement officer in a car watching the remnants of the Fedco looters, but he didn't bat an eye at us.  I guess we didn't fit the profile of the rest of the looters.

It was pretty clear that we wouldn't have any trouble and the rest of the 'mission' was accomplished without excitement.  I'm pretty sure we were given the rest of the day off since it was almost the weekend anyways. While at home and under curfew, the reality of the situation hit me.  Martial law and the feeling of lawlessness was very unsettling.  At the time, I owned a number of pistols that I used for target shooting.  The L.A. Riots were the only time I ever slept with a loaded gun near my bed.  Even in West L.A., I did not feel safe.

After the riots had ended and the curfew had lifted, I realized I had changed.  Whereas I was once a SoCal lifer, I now had no particular desire to anchor myself to California.  It's not so much that I had felt betrayed by the cocoon-like security of the summery mono-climate and upper middle class lifestyle, it was more that 'home' was no longer perfect and as long as it wasn't, I might as well see what else was out there.  I made up my mind to be open to any job opportunities wherever they opened up.

Of course the last place I ever expected to go to was Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  But here I am, 19 years after I left L.A.

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