By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
What follows is a collection of random thoughts, of people, places and things. No rhyme or reason, just remembering…
I am a policeman working Metro with my regular partner, Frank Isbell. This night, we are working the streets, plain clothes patrol. We have seen a bulletin for a suspect wanted for multiple murder up north in what was then called a “hobo jungle.” He had killed a group of his fellow vagabonds and was believed headed to L.A., where he had, in the past, frequented the encampments under the bridges crossing the L.A. River.
We enlisted another Metro team, Paul Franey and Dave McGill, and we “worked” as many bridges as we could. We started in Glendale (north of L.A.). Working our way down river on opposite sides of the river after agreeing to stay abreast of each other for cover.
For those of you not familiar with the area, a major flood in 1938 brought the Army Corp of Engineers who cemented in the entire basin and turned the riverbed into a large bathtub-like structure with gently sloping sides and a flat drag-strip type center line.
The river—if you could call it that—was confined to a 6-foot-wide channel that for most of the year was only a few inches deep. Entry to the river was through one of several obscure tunnels.
Driving from bridge to bridge was on a smooth cement “roadway.” We would park under the bridge and climb up the slope to the underside. Once at the top and now truly under the bridge was a “shelf,” 10-12 feet wide allowing for ample living room. There was also enough head room for a 6-foot person to stand upright without stooping.
What surprised me was their separate world as it existed. I knew that people lived under some of the bridges but had no idea how many. There were only a few locations where we found only few cardboard boxes and blanket scraps. Almost every bridge, and (we checked probably 15-18) contained everything from small communes to complete villages. The items that found their way to the camps were impressive: rugs, bedsteads, mattresses, tables, chairs, couches, overstuffed arm chairs, camp stoves, lamps and lanterns, BBQ’s, dresser drawers, ice chests and at two locations, generators.
We showed the mug shot and talked to a lot of people and although I would love to tell you we captured him, no such luck. As I remember, he was caught up in Kern County.
What impressed me the most about the whole episode was the ingenuity of the people and their ability to survive. We estimated the population at several hundred living right under our noses without us having a clue.
Something else to consider: this was about 1960. Now fifty-seven years later the problem has multiplied and is in our faces.
A Little Street Music
Around the same time period Frank and I are on the streets, still working plain clothes patrol. As we drive up, we see the aforementioned Franey and McGill standing on a street corner talking to a group of four young men. Actually nobody is talking, the group of four is—singing!!
I am now at a stage in my life where nothing surprises me but I have to know what’s going on.
We ask Franey and McGill, “What’s up?”
Says they, “We spotted them cruising a side street, said they were a singing group looking for the address to their gig. We said, ‘prove it.’ So, now they are auditioning. Pretty darn good, aren’t they?”
Don’t anybody ever try to tell me that the job can’t be fun and as Hal Collier says, “They pay us, too.”
4 replies on “The Call Box: Daydreaming in Copland”
Your posts always bring back memories–mine about the LA river bed. I worked downtown and often rode home with a friend who sometimes took us via the L.A. River, driving up the sides was scary, but we got back to the Eagle Rock area a lot faster than driving on the surface streets–was before the many freeways there are now. Most of the time I rode the streetcar (red) back and forth to work. Must’ve been about 1953.
Funny he mentioned this. When I worked transportation to federal courts downtown we drove over a few river overpasses. One time it was on the eve of Thanksgiving, and as we passed the Soto Street overpass I looked down, and I saw a long table set up complete with paper plates, paper table cloths, and chairs! They were having Thanksgiving dinner under the bridge!!! What a sight!!!
Wow, John! A memorable turkey day for all!
It was a HUGE table. My partner & I laughed all the way into the Roybal
Courthouse! Hey, they’re out there!!!!