Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Well, it wasn’t a quiet weekend in Lakewood, my home town.

(Actually, although the Lakewood Sheriff's station was very much involved, it was fairly quiet in Lakewood. Almost everything in this post happened elsewhere. But how else could I work in the punning popular culture reference?)

On Friday afternoon as often happens I was practicing in a local park. At one point the drones seemed to lose their tuning pretty drastically. I stopped to give them a look and there were helicopters overhead. (Bagpipe trivia point: the sound small planes and helicopters make is just a few clicks away from where the pipe drones tune. When they fly over you don’t really hear the sound of the engines, you hear drones going out of tune.)

The helicopters moved on and hovered over a location perhaps a mile or so away where they could still be seen and heard. And they stayed there for the evening. And squad cars were shooting past the park in both directions, with and without sirens. When I got back in the car the radio was reporting the murder of a sheriff’s deputy – about a mile or so from where I was. An assassination, really. Point blank in the face. The officer was checking i.d. and hadn’t drawn his gun. The murderer hadn’t been caught.

That Friday night was one of my assigned adoration hours from 11 to 12. When I got to the church, actually not in Lakewood but in Hawaiian Gardens, there were more helicopters, closer and louder. The murder had taken place only a few blocks away. Sometime during my hour they captured the murderer (excuse me: the “alleged” murderer). A great relief and the reason for the increased police activity. And the papers are full of it yet, as you’d expect.

On Saturday evening I played for a wedding. The bride was of Scottish descent and the groom a Mexican-American. He works for one of the more useful programmes in the Los Angeles area attempting to break the hold of the gangs. This one is run by a well-known local Jesuit so the wedding was in his parish in the heart of the Boyle Heights barrio. As I played the processional, the drones started going seriously out. I finished the processional and, whaddya know? Helicopters. This time, directly over the church, where they stayed for the entire service. I never heard a word of it. I eventually played the recessional and led the bridal party out and there on the street were more LAPD than you could shake a stick at, which at that point would not have been a good plan. Not even a very small stick. Don’t know what they thought about a kilted piper playing for a service in el barrio. Several of the nearby streets were blocked off, including the one with the parking lot. I and a couple of others by chance happened to be parked on one of the streets not barricaded and were able to leave – with a good bit of relief I don’t mind telling you – for the reception. Every one else waited a couple of hours.

What this last incident was about, I never found out. Someone was obviously Up To No Good but details were not forthcoming. One of the officers told a guest who enquired that he couldn’t get to his car until “the bomb-sniffing dogs get here”. Otherwise, mum was the word. Neither The Times nor the electronic media found it worthy of a mention. Too common in that area to be news? Or do the poor and Spanish-speaking buy too few newspapers to make it worth while?

At the reception a few miles and another world away in Pasadena, the bride and groom and I and couple of the more fortunately parked guests awaited the, uh, release of the rest of the guests. Meanwhile, a helicopter started circling the area. Now, I’m not the sort who’s inclined toward paranoia but I was beginning to long for the good old days when the proper kit of a highlander in formal attire included a dirk, a basket hilt sword and a brace of pistols.

Thanks be to God, whatever this latest helicopter was looking for it found in five minutes or so and moved on. The rest of the reception was quite nice and uneventful. Good food, good cerveza, good music and good company.

And on Sunday law enforcement rested. And after Mass and lunch, I had a short practice without helicopters.