Part of “discovering” a place is getting to know its opinion-makers and the issues they and the people in the community care about. With that in mind, I recently attended an event at the Los Angeles Times featuring a conversation with Times columnist Steve Lopez, known for his sharp reporting on people and issues affecting the city of Los Angeles.
For those who might not know, Steve Lopez is also the journalist whose chance encounter with a homeless musician living in the tunnels of Los Angeles’ Skid Row led to a series of columns and events that changed the man’s life. Lopez captured this story in a book that later became a Hollywood movie. I am talking about The Soloist, with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. It was a bonus to hear Lopez’s personal account of his encounter with Nathaniel Ayers and everything that happened after that, including their lasting friendship.
Lopez is a witty, engaging, and quite entertaining speaker. A real story-teller, he shared some of his most interesting journalistic experiences, from his earlier days as a reporter in Philadelphia covering the local mafia, to more recent ones in Los Angeles, including being invited by Los Angeles city attorney Carmen Trutanich to participate in a driving test while under the influence of marijuana as part of a study on the potential ramifications of California Proposition 19.
I also got a kick out of his definition of a “let’s-get-the-bastards” story, which he uses to describe his and his fellow L.A.Times journalists’ attitude as they go after misbehaving public officials, left and right. But he’ll have no problem helping city officials go after citizens who are breaking the law, as in his participation in a sting operation to crack down parking meter cheaters, for which he’s still getting some heat from readers.
An important issue that Lopez has been writing about, resulting from his experience with his ailing father, is that of end-of-life care and the need for patients to put their end-of-life wishes down on paper. In a column about his father’s illness, Lopez reminds us that with some 75 million baby boomers approaching old age, questions about the way we die will have to be dealt with.
Lopez’s talk, rich in information and stories from his many years in journalism, gave me some interesting information and insights into local issues and L.A.’s movers and shakers. But it also reminded me of how much I enjoy conversations with journalists and how some of the best times I’ve had were spent with journalist friends. Well, perhaps the fact that my father was a journalist and that I grew up around journalists has something to do with that too…