Last stop: A death in Griffith Park

I was doing some snooping around the Newsbank archives and came across this amazing column my dad wrote for The Press-Enterprise in 1992. I had never seen it until now. I was three years old when it was written. I can’t find it anywhere else online, so I’m reposting here so others who don’t have Newsbank access can read it. It seems especially salient considering the current national discourse on gun violence.

By David Ogul

The Press-Enterprise

Sunday, October 18, 1992

When you’re named after an uncle who was slain in a Mafia hit in the height of the Los Angeles gangland wars of the 1940s and 1950s, maybe there’s less shock value to be found in today’s wanton slayings and seemingly borderline anarchy.

When you have to break the news to your mother that one of her dearest friends was killed while protecting two elderly Canadian tourists at San Diego’s Balboa Park, your skin only grows thicker.

When one of your best friends is later mercilessly stabbed to death while protecting his wife from a sexual assault in their El Cajon apartment less than a year after their marriage, you become almost immune to news stories that detail grisly deaths and innocent victims

And when, as recently as a month ago, your sister’s father-in-law is gunned down by a maniac with fully loaded Uzi during a robbery at his Culver City office, your hopelessness continues to grow.

But when I read about Stanley Diamond, I think I finally lost it.

Diamond, for those unfortunate enough to never have been to the miniature train rides for kids at Los Angeles’s Griffith Park, was something of a local legend. I never knew the man personally, but my two sons could probably recognize him in an instant. He was always working when I took them to see their grandmother in Los Angeles, ready to take them, for $1.25 each, on that seven-minute ride around the park’s southeast edge – a ride he would try to make more interesting by insisting it was a “trip” to such far away places as New York, San Francisco or Denver.

They say he never forgot a face. If so, he probably had dreams, or nightmares, of me and my kids. Trying to convince my eldest son to leave the Griffith Park Railroad was an exercise in intrigue.

Diamond, I read, loved his job, pestering operators of the ride for months before they finally relented and hired him. He’d return to work every day dressed in his oversized engineer’s cap and engineer’s overall’s, playing the part to a tee.

Hokey? Sure. But my kids loved it, and that’s all that mattered. Sometimes I wondered if Jeremy and Justin wanted to go to Los Angeles not so much to see their grandmother, but to see Diamond and ride his trains.

For me, the rides were therapeutic. I grew up in Los Angeles, a few blocks away from the miniature trains. I went there every chance I got. Some of my fondest memories of childhood were in Griffith Park, and many occurred while on my way to “San Francisco” or “New York.”

Nowadays when I’d ride in one of those miniature Pullman cars, I’d forget about my job covering the latest murders for one of the larger newspapers in California. When I’d look at my children’s faces, I could remember – if only briefly – what it was like to be a kid.

I was not alone. For the hundreds of thousands of parents and children who have toured the Griffith Park railroad over the past several decades, there seemed to be a covenant with the gangs, hookers, drug dealers and murderers that roam the city: This was to be a safe haven. A haven from the ills that led to this spring’s riots. A haven from the drugs and poverty that afflict a significant minority in the City of the Angels. A haven for the middle class, who need a break from the daily pressures of paying off the mortgage, putting food on the table and juggling the latest bills.

But Griffith Park has become a more violent place.

“Carjackings,” unheard of just a few years ago, are almost commonplace. Last year, someone fired several rounds during a robbery at the adjacent pony rides, another childhood haunt.

And last Sunday night, as Diamond was counting the receipts from the day’s excursions, a robber, wearing a motorcycle helmet to conceal his identity, shot and killed the Griffith Park icon after he showed the audacity to fight.

And so, parents are left to their instincts to tell their children why Diamond, known to many as Uncle Stan, could no longer drive the train to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo or San Diego.

They must tell them why, fearful that they may lose something even more precious than life itself, they may no longer even take their children to that magical place in the midst of a decadent, decaying, crime ridden, smog shrouded place called Los Angeles.

Should the children be told the truth, ending an innocence they will never know again? Or should the elders sugarcoat reality, and let their children sleep well, at least for another day.

I’m leaning against it. My kids are too young to understand. And I enjoy those innocent smiles on my son’s faces. They don’t need to learn about life’s harsh realities as early as their father did.

But maybe it’s time to tell them about the uncle their daddy was named after.