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Doing business in L.A., while it burns

LAfiresI’m in LA today. Uh-huh. That’s right. The air is a quiet, eerie yellow, and our entire office smells like nicely roasted marshmallows. Plumes of creepy smoke tower into the sky just a few miles from where I’m writing this right now. I have a meeting in about an hour. I plan to make it.

That’s how we function in this particular cornice of the world we call Business. On 9/11, I was with thousands of people in the streets as the world rearranged itself, and I watched the Twin Towers fall on the television in my office, surrounded by colleagues. Then we all went home for the day. And were back on 9/12, because, you know, we had meetings.

I was here for the riots, too. We were sitting in a ground-floor conference room at the Four Seasons Hotel on Doheny. A guy came in and whispered in our CEO’s ear. “We’ve got to clear out of here,” he announced shortly thereafter. “There are riots downtown, and they’re getting close.” We could already smell the burning rubber. “Hey,” said the President of Sales to me as I was collecting my stuff and preparing to head upstairs to relative safety. “A couple of us figure we can get nine holes in at Belair if we really hoof it. Wanna join us?” I declined, with thanks. I don’t play much golf even in the best of conditions. I went up to the roof instead and watched the city burn alongside Harvey Keitel. We didn’t speak. There was nothing much to say. The next day I flew out pretty much on schedule. There were citizens firing guns at departing aircraft, but I had to risk it. I had meetings in New York the following day.

Today kind of feels like that. I could get out of town, I suppose, but I have things to do here and there are no explicit instructions to abandon this area of Los Angeles. True, I’m having a little trouble breathing, and my eyes are smarting. But sometimes you have to suck it up to get the job done. And if I take off now, what next? Am I going to get out of Dodge every time there’s an earthquake, mudslide, flood, fire or man-made disaster?

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