Two streetlights emit purple light and two streetlights emit yellow light at night.
A light trail of a vehicle makes its way through the Port of Long Beach after sunset as a blue hue lights the way in Long Beach Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Some news stories make you laugh, cry or throw things; others just make you go, “What the heck??” Here are a few of Long Beach’s biggest head-scratchers in 2023.

It was a weird year in transportation and road-related news, with not one but two ambulance thefts, someone perhaps hoping to fulfill Nascar fantasies as workers tore down the Grand Prix track, and the city deploying a new crack team of road workers to fill cracks in the roads.

Mysterious purple streetlights made a couple of parts of Long Beach appear rave-ready; the city somehow managed to tie Barbie and the “Twilight” saga into topics like beach safety and mosquitos; a TV production built a fake homeless camp (because apparently none of the real ones fit the bill); and a local heart surgeon capped off a lovely brunch overlooking the beach by saving a runner’s life.

Don’t try this at home

You know how car commercials include a disclaimer (“professional driver – do not attempt”) before showing the vehicle speeding along some scenic winding road? What happened as workers were tearing down the track after the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in April was the opposite of that.

A clearly non-professional (one might say unprofessional) driver in an SUV was seen tooling along Shoreline Drive – according to witnesses, laughing and having a grand old time – sending workers fleeing for safety as the vehicle swerved toward them.

A security guard records a car driving wildly while crews work to tear down the Grand Prix track.
A driver in a Kia SUV with Arizona license plates was driving erratically along Shoreline Drive as crews worked to tear down the Long Beach Grand Prix track Monday, April 17, 2023. The car was doing donuts and driving at high speed, nearly hitting stage hands, security and other workers. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Long Beach police said the Arizona woman behind the wheel was arrested on suspicion of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

And no one knows what sort of emergencies the drivers were racing to (or from), but stolen ambulances were a hot new transportation trend not once but twice this year.

In March, a man who was being treated at Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro Providence apparently couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital, so he absconded with a Long Beach Fire Department ambulance that was parked outside.

He only made it about two miles before Los Angeles police found him and took him into custody.

Just two months later, another man used the distraction of a building fire to swipe an ambulance from the scene, which was a few blocks from Poly High School.

His tenure behind the wheel only took him a half-mile, and he struck several other vehicles on the way before crashing the ambulance into a telephone pole and getting arrested by Long Beach police on suspicion of multiple felony charges.

(Slurry) Seal Team 6 called into action

The job wasn’t dangerous, but it was big – pavement across Long Beach riddled with car-damaging clefts and crevices.

Fortunately, city leaders knew who could handle it: the public works slurry seal team and their truck full of recycled rubber and asphalt emulsion.

A section of 52nd Street in North Long Beach is taped off on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, to allow the new slurry seal application to set and dry. Photo by Jake Gotta

From mid-May until November, workers traversed the city to pour the gooey slurry mixture onto cracked roads, smooth it out evenly with a spreading tool, and let it dry – hopefully filling the fissures and saving the streets from developing alignment-wrecking, axle-breaking potholes in the future.

The recycled rubber used to make the slurry saves thousands of tires from the landfill, and the sealing process may extend a street’s driveable lifespan by five years or longer, according to city officials.

Purple rays

It wasn’t a surprise tribute to the late musician Prince, or to Grimace of McDonald’s fame, that turned dozens of streetlights around Long Beach to purple.

While their psychedelic hue may have seemed exciting and new, it was actually due to a manufacturing defect that affected a small number of lights around the Port of Long Beach and near the 22 Freeway/Studebaker Road onramp.

Two streetlights emit purple light and two streetlights emit yellow light at night.
A light trail of a vehicle makes its way through the Port of Long Beach after sunset as a blue hue lights the way in Long Beach Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

For the last several years, the purple LED streetlights have been cropping up around the country, thanks to a problem with the coating on some of the light covers that caused their color to change over time.

The lights may look odd, but they’re not dangerous, and the company that made them has been working with cities and other purchasers to replace the defective ones.

Barbie says wear sunscreen

In what may have been a bid to show residents this isn’t a regular city, it’s a cool city, over the summer Long Beach officials put out new pop-culture public service announcements.

They riffed on RuPaul and the “Twilight” vampire franchise to remind people to dump stagnant water on their property so mosquitoes can’t breed there, and they brought in a Barbie-like, bathing-suited blonde to urge beachgoers to pack a water bottle and sun protection for safety.

Even better than the real thing?

In another instance of art (probably unnecessarily) imitating life, in April a TV film crew created a fake homeless encampment along the Los Angeles River near the Drake/Chavez soccer field – not far from where city and county officials had cleared a real-life encampment of the unhoused a few weeks earlier.

A film set shows a crowd of extras as unhoused people, with blue tents and tarps in a field just below an embankment of rocks alongside the LA River.
A film set of a homeless encampment included extras playing unhoused people. Photo by David Freeman.

The Hollywood-created camp, populated with extras posing as homeless people, was used to shoot footage for a forthcoming show produced by legendary and prolific “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf. According to a Long Beach Police Department spokesperson, the department provided some advice and information but wasn’t otherwise involved in the series, which follows a pair of officers on patrol in Long Beach.

One from the heart

And finally, to end the year on a high note, here’s a heart-reviving tale of a man who collapsed in October during the Long Beach Half Marathon and the cardiothoracic surgeon who helped save his life.

The runner, Tuan Pham, was close to finishing the race when several blocked arteries ended it for him. Fortunately, Dr. Ryan Chiu of Long Beach Memorial Hospital had just brunched at the Long Beach Museum of Art’s restaurant and was leaving when he saw Pham go down, determined he was in cardiac arrest and raced over to perform first aid.

Chiu followed Pham to the hospital and was later able to perform bypass surgery. It was a success, and Pham plans to run the race again in 2024.