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


Author: Joe Donatelli

Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles. He publishes The Humor Columnist.

  • CSL

  • DaveH

    Funny and true. Except that people in the hills and on the beach also have to deal with helicopters and occasionally the spotlight ends up in their backyards. They are hardly exempt.

  • I lived in the hills for a few years, and near the beach, and it was not an issue in either place. But I did not live in ALL of the hills and near all of the beaches, so I will take your word for it, Dave. Thanks.

  • Hi, Sue. What does this mean?

  • brian o

    all of this is true except the pilates part. we’re all doing hot yoga nowadays. good stuff

  • Ha. I am so behind the times.

  • Gisele

    Actually, Joe, I also live in a house in the hills, and still have plenty of police helicopter activity. It’s true- it’s just part of life in L.A….

    As is Pilates, which I still do ;-)

  • Oooh, the Pilates – Hot Yoga war heats up! Thanks, Gisele.

  • So very true. For me there is one more fear keeping me under from lifting the curtain – that this particular helicopter is live-streaming to the wildly popular 4 o’clock news, and then re-broadcast every hour on the hour, after that. Then I will be *that* guy – the half-blind, half-naked hand waving his arms around at the helicopter.

  • RLPulliam

    Shucks! I thought that was a space ship..

  • Jared Meyer

    Nice work. Question for you: …”eating free-range animals that died (with dignity) of natural causes.” Is that really an option in LA? If so, where is it offered?

  • Brian Huntington

    Westwood here. No police helicopters but Medical choppers landing at UCLA all the time. I have to pause whatever I’m watching until they pass over.

  • Feel so sorry for you, Brian…

  • Hi, Jared. All animals served organically in Los Angeles restaurants died while reading Proust in a hammock in the Central Valley. For their whole lives they were fed nothing but grass, water, Chilean cabernet, and they received plenty of sun. The song “In The Arms of an Angel” is usually playing. Non-smart-ass answer: Fig & Olive (which is fancy) has a new farmer’s menu I hear is pretty good.

  • I know. It’s never a space ship.

  • There but for the grace of God go I…

  • Christiane Galle

    I left LA for Hawaii and I couldn’t help a smile, reading your article. I do think of LA fondly, lots of my wonderful friends are there.

  • Thanks, Christiane. Would gladly trade you our copters for your soothing rhythms of the lapping surf.

  • Jared Meyer

    You got me. Very funny. You’re good. Very good.

  • downshift

    Best part of LA is you don’t need an alarm clock. There’s a courtesy leaf blower at 6am, 7am, and 8am. Each cheerfully undoing the other’s work.

  • Ha. True. I like when the loudness of the garbage trucks duels with the loudness of the leaf blowers. For 10 minutes every week I feel like I live in NYC.

  • Brian Huntington

    Joe, I will DESTROY you.

  • Hellby

    The best was when the power went out in July ’06 because of the heat. It felt like it was 339 deg. F on the upper level of my apartment building. I fell asleep in front of my open door, only to be awakened by helicopters every two hours. It took about an hour and a half of praying I wouldn’t die because my blood was boiling to fall back asleep. But, again more helicopters. I almost threw myself onto the 101. I am glad I didn’t, because I love LA!

  • berangere altier

    That was great. Thank you! I myself lived in a tiny rotten shack of a studio with giant cracks on the ceiling. And I myself was awoken many times by helicopters and night police troops who would sometimes come about our home with their flashlights looking INSIDE our windows… I thought it was great, I was saving so much money. Then this weirdo came in at my door and tried to break in. Then someone stole our tiny little Christmas tree at our doorstep. Then another stole the front wheel of my bike. Maybe it was all the same person. I moved out, and maybe now you’ve taken on my studio :) I wish you much luck!

  • My wife had a front wheel stolen? Is there some lucrative black market for the front wheels of bikes none of us knows about?

  • We’ve all wanted to throw ourselves into the 101. Happens. Glad you didn’t.

  • RLPulliam


  • Jessie

    This just happened! People were scared for me all those years in New York, but that was nothing compared to the helicopter that I’m pretty sure was close to enough to find the dog toys under my bed…which then just zoomed away.

  • 655321

    Police helicopters have been annoying Angelenos for at least 35 years, germinating into the plot of the film “Blue Thunder”.

    From Wikipedia: “Co-writers Dan O’Bannon [co-writer of “Alien” and “Total Recall”] and Don Jakoby began developing the plot [of “Blue Thunder”] while living together in a Hollywood apartment in the late 1970s, where low-flying police helicopters awoke them on a regular basis.”

  • Nice find. Thanks for sharing.

  • Earthquake… Rapture… Terrorists… or an alien abduction. All possibilities in L.A.