The One Thing No One Tells You about Living in Los Angeles

Humor columnist Joe Donatelli writes about the one thing no one ever tells you about living in Los Angeles.

So, you’re thinking of moving to Los Angeles? Great. It’s a world-class city. You’ll find plenty of opportunities for work, lots of creative people, top-notch dining and entertainment and beautiful mountains, beaches, oceans and plenty of sun. Also, sometimes a helicopter will hover right over you apartment at 4 AM searching for a criminal police think is right outside your window.


This is one of those things no one tells you about living in Los Angeles. Unless you have a home in the hills or on the beach or in a gated community with the super-rich, criminals will use your side streets, driveways, alleys, yards and garages to hide from the police. This typically happens around 4 AM.

I’ll walk you through it. After a long day of work, Pilates and eating free-range animals that died (with dignity) of natural causes, you read a few pages of “The Artist’s Way” and drift off to sleep. You get up once to use the bathroom. Before falling back asleep, you always think, “Well, the middle of the night is when earthquakes happen.” You are so tired that you are able to ignore the fact that you live in an ancient, termite-infested apartment building that could collapse on you in your sleep and drift back off into slumber.

At 4 AM you wake up again because your windows are rattling and your bedroom is bathed in white light. Earthquake? No. Why would earthquakes cause white lights? Rapture? That’s a possibility. Raptures offer both an audio and visual experience. Terrorists? Why would terrorists attack a single apartment building filled with waiters, baristas and social media consultants?

Then you hear the unmistakable sound of a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter zooming by overhead as its spotlight trains on your bedroom, your car and your kale plants, which are actually kale plants, but how do you explain that to a helicopter?

Psychologists talk about a fight-or-flight syndrome. That’s not the case when an LAPD helicopter is looking for people who have done something evil enough to necessitate being chased by a helicopter. There are two actual responses.

You can pull the covers up and pretend that the window your landlord installed 35 years ago will protect you from a highly motivated lawbreaker.

Or you can take a look.

For the first few years you live in Los Angeles you will hide under the covers. But after years of waiting to have your home invaded by hordes of gang members and it never happening, you become emboldened and go to the window and slide one slat up while praying there is not a killer on the other side of your window looking at that same slat at that exact moment. If you’re really good, you peak outside while checking the @LAScanner Twitter feed on your phone.

You root for and against the spotlight.

Go to the neighbor’s building. Go to the neighbor’s building. Go to the neighbor’s building. I hope the bad guy is in there stealing my neighbor’s guitar. No, not my car! Don’t you dare go near my car! Oh, the bushes. They should put the spotlight on the bushes. If I was a bad guy I would hide in the bushes.

You point. The helicopter can’t see you, but that doesn’t matter. You point at the bushes. You’re helping.

Sometimes the police use the helicopter’s public speakers, but you can never tell if they’re saying, “This is the police! Come out with your hands up!” or “Make your peace with God! Your building is surrounded by arsonists!”

The scariest part, by far, is that at some point the helicopter just leaves. It roars off, and the building is once again completely silent. The police never get on the speakers and say, “Hey, everyone. We got him. Go back to sleep.” They just flee, leaving you to wonder…

Did they find him? Did he get away? Was he even here? Did another, bigger crime just happen that requires the police helicopter’s attention? Like terrorism? Or did the cops give up because the guy was too damn good?

You didn’t hear any sirens. You didn’t see any police. That means if he was nearby they didn’t get him. He’s still out there, probably perched below your window waiting for you to fall asleep so he can steal your car or break into your home or smoke your kale plants.

The next day you look in the newspaper, because when a police helicopter chase leads to your home, you expect it to be the top story on the front page. But there’s never a story. And you forget all about it until it happens again.

Anyways, if you’re thinking of moving to Los Angeles, don’t let a little thing like criminals possibly bursting into your home at 4 AM stop you. It’s a great town.

Joe Donatelli is a journalist in Los Angeles and the author of “Full Griswold: Stories from a Honeymoon in Italy.”

Photo by Jessica Branstetter