When vandals become entrepreneurs

ROB LONG is a contributing editor to Opinion and his weekly commentary, "Martini Shot," airs on KCRW-FM.

I LEARNED THREE things after reading the account of the 15-year-old boy who tagged a bus while Los Angeles’ mayor was on board. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with a busload of other officials, were at the Santee Education Complex in South L.A. to celebrate the successful relocation of a bus stop from two blocks away from the school to directly behind of the school complex.

So the first thing I learned was this: Moving a bus stop two blocks is so complicated a process, so thorny a political problem, that when it actually happens — when the steel pole with the Metro sign is dug up from one spot and planted a few hundred yards away in another spot — it’s time for everyone involved to celebrate the moment, get in a bus, drive down to the spot and congratulate themselves.

While doing so, the mayor and his party were surprised to notice that a sophomore at the school was celebrating in his own way, by tagging the bus, which, translated for our Brentwood and Pacific Palisades readers, means scrawling his nickname — “Zoner” — on the window. The snag: The mayor and his guests were inside the bus at the time.


Zoner, I guess, didn’t look before he tagged. One thing they don’t seem to offer at the Santee Learning Complex, apparently, is a class called Awareness of the World Around You.

And that’s the second thing I learned: Schools are no longer called things like Millard Fillmore Elementary, or Sally Ride Middle School, or even Jim Belushi Vocational School and Adult Learning Facility. Schools are now called things like Santee Education Complex, which is exactly what you’d call a school in a world where moving a bus stop a couple of blocks counts as a political and cultural triumph.

On the other hand, in the aftermath of the event, Zoner’s act doesn’t look like such a boneheaded move. The bad news is, the kid will probably have to do some kind of community service. The good news, though, is that Villaraigosa quickly realized that while Zoner is obviously a young man in trouble, he’s also got a certain reckless charm. So the mayor graciously offered to mentor him, help him make better choices, guide him to more productive activities. So Zoner goes from tagger to mayor’s new best friend. Not bad, mobility-wise.

In my business — screenwriting — this is what’s known as a “solid first act.” Every movie needs a brash, bold event to kick off the story, and this certainly fits. Kid vandalizes mayor’s bus. Mayor mentors kid. Kid goes on to become president of the United States. (I didn’t say it was going to be a good movie.)

The third thing I learned, then, is this: If you want to move up in the world, or get somebody’s attention, vandalism is probably the answer.

If, say, you’re an aspiring writer with a couple of solid action-picture pitches, my advice would be to find out where producer Jerry Bruckheimer parks his car, and then deface it. If you’re an actress baffled and crushed by pilot season, the best, wisest course of action would be to fill a paper bag with dog poop, light it on fire and fling it on Kevin Reilly’s front porch. While the NBC entertainment president is frantically trying to put out the flames, apologize and ask him to come to your showcase. A young banker might consider the option of covering Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s frontyard with toilet paper. Picture it: A yawning, sleepy Bernanke dashes out to get the morning paper, sees his front lawn, explodes, then offers to put in a call to Goldman Sachs.


As I write this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park. I’ve got a new Web venture — it’s sort of a video Craigslist — and I’m looking for investors. There are a lot of venture capital firms up here, and most of them are on Sand Hill Road, so my plan is to vandalize every expensive car I see until someone offers me great terms on a first round of financing.

Wish me luck.