May 31st, 2017
“Los Angeles is a bleached-out, soulless pit.” – Robert Sean Leonard
Let me start by saying that I know there are wonderful things in Los Angeles: museums, great restaurants, shows, and sports. It’s a world class metropolis. It’s place where a person can probably find and, with enough cash, buy anything. It even has Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom.
Unfortunately, most of my memories of the Los Angeles area are from driving a car. It had been over thirty years since the last time we challenged the freeways of L.A., and my muscle memory still puckered up at the prospect of doing it again. However, it needed to be done. We were meeting a friend near Santa Barbara, and the road to the coast from Barstow necessarily went through L.A. We had to run the gauntlet.
Traffic got heavy right after when we entered Victorville. This was already a bad sign. As I drove along, I once again noticed that those who shared the freeway with me displayed certain peculiar driving habits. Nobody used a turn signal, ever. Passing on the right was to be expected. Cars weaving in and out of traffic was apparently encouraged. Charles Darwin or Malthus could have best explained the interaction of motorists as we drove west. It was all survival of the fittest.
The GPS took us around the northern edge of the Los Angeles metro region. From I-40 we hit I-15. Then to I-210. The sky grew dim with smog by the time we were in Ontario. I could high tension wires fade away in the grey murk. The road heading west went from three lanes to four lanes to five lanes to whatever. No matter how wide the road, it was always full.
I wouldn’t have minded so much if traffic had continued to move along at a rapid pace. It didn’t. We were be hammering along through Pasadena, and the road made a sharp left curve. Once past the curve, all I saw was a wall of brake lights. Solid red. Everybody coming to a sudden halt.
The slowdown gave me time to think about things, like about the jackass who was trying to nudge his Acura between me and the Volvo in front of me. I also started to reconsider the wisdom of driving a stick shift in L.A. (the last time we drove here, we had the ’83 BMW 320i, which was also a stick). The whole experience tends to make a person mean. Patience wears thin. Empathy evaporates.
At least I saw what had caused the slowdown. Somebody was off on the left shoulder. His sports car had sustained some damage. The price of repair would probably equal that of a small bungalow in Milwaukee. He was one of those guys who had rolled the dice once too often. He had tried to slip in between two cars, and the space was not quite big enough.
Now, a person with a normal capacity for compassion would probably have said something like, ”Oh, my goodness! How terrible! I hope no one was hurt!”
My reaction was: “Serves the bastard right. I hope he has a high deductible.”
Somewhere in Glendale we decide to pull off the highway. We went to use the bathroom at a filling station. Of course, you need a quarter to do so. Pay to piss. I filled up the car, and I stood next to it while I waited for Karin. I looked at the flowers, the green trees, the neat houses. I felt the warm breeze.
I thought to myself, ”You know this really isn’t bad. I wouldn’t mind this at all if this was our final destination. BUT IT’S NOT! We have to go back on that freeway! We have to ride the beast! We have to get back on that thing!”
I groaned audibly. Karin came up to me and asked, ”Would you like me to drive for a while?”
God exists, and He is merciful.
“Yes. That would be fine. Go ahead.”
Karin took us the rest of the way. Even she, a veteran of the autobahn, found driving on US101 to be a bit tense. Things didn’t clear up until we were in Thousand Oaks. Hours of stress. Grey air and asphalt all the way.
I have to admit one thing. The freeways in L.A. have kickass medians. I mean really. The medians are full of flowering oleander bushes, cedars, eucalyptus trees. They are truly beautiful. Kudos.
Suddenly, on our left, there was a patch of deep blue. Yes! It was the Pacific Ocean! We made it! Laughter! Joy!