I'm sure many bitter tears were shed in Westwood this week when UCLA lost the NCAA finals to those damn Gators. As a former Bruin - or can such a thing exist? Just like once you're a Marine, you're always a Marine, maybe once you're a Bruin, you'll be writing checks to the UCLA alumni association for the rest of your life - I can empathize.
When I was but a young lass, way back before the internet age (true story: first time I heard about email from a college buddy, I couldn't figure out what the catch was. How is it that you can write letters free to anyone anywhere?), the men's basketball team at UCLA made to the finals...AND WON. My roommates and I had been hosting a viewing party that spilled outside once the results were in. At that point, I was living in an area known as "the apartments" in that wedge of land between the campus and Bel Air. Trust me when I say the residents of Bel Air made damn sure that none of the students spilled over into their territory, either. It was block after block of shitty high-rise apartments stuffed to the gills with UCLA students. So the whole area was in an uproar about the win.
Eventually, word passed around that there was a rally going on down in Westwood, which is minutes away by foot from the apartments. So we all duly trundled down there to celebrate. What we ended up seeing were a couple of hundred drunk college kids standing around, doing UCLA's cheer, the eight-clap. A few enterprising souls climbed up lightpoles to get a better view of events, but that was pretty much it.
Until the police in the riot gear arrived.
My friends and I weren't in the thick of things, but you could tell the atmosphere darkened drastically when the cops showed up. People started moving away from them and that's where the jostling started. The kids got nervous, which got the cops nervous, which got the kids even more nervous, and so forth. We decided to head back up the hill to our apartment, a sentiment echoed by many as there was a mass movement that direction. Soon, it snowballed into a bunch of people running up a hill and starting to panic, a situation that was not helped when the cops moved into the crowd that was left and started shooting rubber bullets to dispense it.
We got back to our apartment safe and sound and, being typical Angelenos, turned the TV on immediately to watch the news reports come rolling in. Even back then, Fox was spinning things wildly out of reason; "RIOTS IN WESTWOOD" screamed across their newscasts. It was my first lesson in the fundamental shakiness of the media and the volatility of large groups of people: both can get ugly very quickly.