Ignition Point: Carport

Gene Blevins/Reuters

I started to get to know Los Angeles last year, and once I had figured out it was a car town I had an angle. Detroit is a car town. And driving through Los Angeles at night could be just as pleasant, with wide, empty streets and a magnificent, sprawling city laid out in front of you.

From Repo Man to Drive, that car culture has perpetuated in film and television. In the past few days, though, someone’s been attacking LA’s cars.

“I can tell you this, we have dozens of detectives — from robbery to the homicide detectives — working every night to see if we can catch these guys,” Commander Smith said. “Every time he hits, we have a crime scene. They interrogate everyone around.”

They were doing it in Berlin earlier this year, and Paris before that. Torching cars at night. The m.o. in Berlin was firestarters placed underneath engines, or next to front tires. In LA it seems to be Molotovs, with American-style instant gratification for the arsonist. In Berlin, police pointed out the targets were luxury cars. No word of that in LA. That might be too frightening to bear.

I can’t see this going on much longer. There are too many cameras. And, in LA, it’s all too serious. Your car is a gleaming extension of your personality. This might as well be a serial killer.

Who will they catch? One of J.G. Ballard’s predominant themes was a disaffected suburban cadre, so numbed by modern life it called on increasingly risky behaviors for thrills.1 In High Rise, they formed warring tribes when the building’s electricity went out; Super-Cannes had its leather-clad squads of white-collar thugs; in Crash, its the car-crash set, probing the new avenues for an emerging sexuality opened by industrial collisions.

  1. It’s not enough that we’re already borrowing space plots from him. []