For answers to more of your burning questions, visit the Ask Chris archive.
Q: What’s the story behind that strange Scooby Doo van that’s always buzzing around L.A.?
A: Turns out there’s a bunch of old TV vehicles making the rounds, from Knight Rider’s KITT to Herbie the Love Bug, most of them created by avid superfans. Warner Bros. still owns a Scooby Doo van it occasionally rolls out for charity appearances, but the one you’re seeing is probably a lime-and-aqua replica created by Edmundo Alarcon, a former Disney tour guide from La Puente who retrofitted his 1981 Volkswagen in tribute to his favorite show. Notwithstanding occasional engine trouble, he now rents the van to an array of fellow Scooby aficionados through a website called Starcarcentral.com. Previous passengers include Tommy Chong, Cypress Hill, cartoon cosplayers, and “girls who want to take sexy Daphne and Velma pictures, like a cartoon fetish hentai thing, I guess,” says Alarcon.
Q: Is it true that L.A. built the first Vietnam memorial in America?
A: The monument at the entrance to the Montrose Shopping Park was dedicated to war dead in June 1968, seven years before the war ended and 14 years before the one in DC went up. Supporters, including Congressman David Dreier, claim it is America’s first Vietnam memorial, but a junked, 12-foot monolith in Santa Monica and Kaspaul Memorial Field in Malibu were dedicated in 1967. Both have since been decommissioned.
Q: I used to love that LAPD parrot who’d pop up in PSAs. Is he still on the force?
A: Michael Simonsen had just enrolled in the Los Angeles Police Department when he was assigned to teach safety to school kids in ’70s Hollywood. On a visit to Busch Gardens, he spotted a macaw and decided such a creature would make a perfect wingman. Simonsen then found his own bird, dressed him in a tiny uniform, and taught him to ride a bike, a skateboard, and a pint-sized patrol car. Needless to say, Officer Byrd soon became a local TV star, with PSAs that ran into the ’90s. (LAPD Chief Daryl Gates eventually made Byrd a full-fledged officer.) The buddy cops still live together in Riverside and occasionally make an appearance for Simonsen’s Officer Byrd Foundation, though the 45-year-old macaw’s tricks are now limited to photo ops.
Q: There’s a big steel door in the sidewalk on Main Street near Second downtown. Where does it lead?
A: The vaguely alien edifice you’re referring to caused a bit of confusion when it first materialized in front of the LAPD motor-pool building. It wasn’t a gangplank to a spacecraft, though it looked like one. We’re told it was actually the cover for an underground fiber-optic vault that synchronizes the streetlights, but it was initially installed upside down. The city fixed it after we called.