I was going to send him to his maker. There I was, happy, driving home to see the wife, and some fool cuts in front of me on the freeway, nearly sideswiping me in the process. His arrogant carelessness drove me into a blind rage: how dare he jump in front of me so recklessly? Where was he going that was worth endangering my life? I sped up to my assailant quickly, ready to give him a dirty look. If necessary, I was prepared to bash him off the side of the road like we were in bumper cars.
As I shot up to 80, I switched over a lane to get a good look at the punk, ready to take him out. To my surprise, the driver was an elderly Italian woman, so intent on peering at the road through her thick bifocals that she didn’t see my malicious frown melt into a smile.
In 28 years of life, I have experienced two events that reveal great truths about who I really am. The first was marriage. The second was my gut reaction to being cut off on the freeway. In Los Angeles -- where the traffic can turn even a trip to your neighborhood post office into a twenty-minute adventure -- we have endless opportunities for our patience to be tested by drivers, both senile and speedy.
I have seen some crazy things: I once watched two drivers repeatedly bump each other coming down Sepulveda Boulevard like they were nearing the final lap of the Indy 500. I have seen a driver reach into his cooler, grab a handful of ice, and chuck it directly at the guy next to him in a convertible. (This, of course, prompted the guy in the convertible to follow the aggressor right to his house.) I moved to Los Angeles wary of earthquakes and mudslides, but I am far more likely to be hit on the 605 by a criminal fleeing a cop chase at 90 miles an hour. And I am even more likely than that to be hit by some upstart teenager trying desperately to recreate a scene from The Fast and the Furious.
I am also more likely to die of boredom from crawling along the freeway at five miles an hour for extended periods of time. At least in New York, Chicago or San Francisco, one can catch a train and read a book or something during their cross town commute. (Not to mention get a girl’s phone number and pick a couple of pockets for good measure.) But in L.A., you’re driving, so the highest form of intellectual stimulation you can engage in is a spirited cell phone argument with your cousin about whether or not Off the Wall was a better album than Thriller.
A primary reason for road rage in Los Angeles, is, in fact, the roads themselves. It seems like the freeways here were built first, then developers scrambled to build a city around them. They seem to have been constructed in order to watch us do battle, forcing us all to rely upon the decision-making abilities of the same people who root for the Raiders more zealously now then they did when they were actually here.
Many of you may have heard of the notorious 405/101 interchange, recently voted as the country’s worst freeway connection. Well, your humble author crosses that wretched deathtrap twice a day, six times a week. The exchange wouldn’t be so horrible, except that for some strange reason, all the cars that are going to the 101 tend to hang in the far left lane of the 405 until the last possible second, then quickly jump over three or four lanes just before the 101 entrance closes. Meanwhile, all the cars behind them -- rapidly descending down a steep hill, I should add -- are all forced to slam on their brakes or, if that fails, try something (“Go, go Gadget Copter!”) to avoid a date with the jaws of life. The transition has become so familiar to me now that it looks choreographed, and it would actually be quite fascinating to watch if it weren’t so, well, deadly.
It takes a special type of lunatic to live in a city where a 25-mile drive habitually takes an hour. Yet despite my complaints, I’m still here, and, for now, I’ll gladly take my road battles over a -3° wind chill. But please pray for us. And if old people chugging along in ’78 Dodge Darts come up missing in waves anytime soon, you may consider this my confession.
Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.
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2.18.05 @ 1:00p
This gets me to thinking: Whatever happened to the big telecommuting revolution? Imagine how much more productive our nation would be with everyone who COULD work at home... working at home! Less traffic means less stress, less time lost to commuting, to say nothing of less wear and tear on the nation's infrastructure, less wear and tear on cars, fewer accidents (in turn leading to lower auto and health insurance premiums, fewer accident-related lawsuits, etc.), less dependence on foreign oil and therefore fewer instances of American involvement in oil-producing nations, and on and on and on. Companies wouldn't have to spend as much on overhead, workers wouldn't have to spend as much on gas and car upkeep or business attire. Office parks could be replaced with...parks.
2.18.05 @ 1:37p
As one of those "special kind of lunatics," who is also a SoCal native, I'm amazed at how much traffic has increased here even in the last 10 years.
I drove to work this morning in, God forbid, heavy rain. If you add rain (not ice; not snow), to our already stressed freeways, either the bumper cars turn into demolition derby cars or the traffic simply grinds to a total stop.
My current fear is being rear ended or sideswiped by a spoiled post-adolescent female driving a hummer or other heavyweight SUV. I can't afford a hummer, so I can only assume that these young ladies' daddies have given them hummers for protection on the city streets rather than providing them with side arms.
2.18.05 @ 2:00p
Audio books were my salvation when I had a 40 minute, one-way commute.
I am a very stragetic (read: totally insane) driver - I'm always looking for the next space (not in a "I will SQEEEEEEZE into THIS space JUST to be here!" kind of way, but more from a traffic flow viewpoint - there's no need to bottleneck, people! If you see a merge sign up ahead, MOVE NOW instead of at the sign!
You know, that type of thing.
I think automakers put the noose on both telecommuting and efficient public transportation.
On a completely different note, while innovative, Off the Wall is much more disco, while Thriller has PYT, and that's worth the price of the album right there.
2.18.05 @ 2:15p
Yeah, but Off the Wall has Rock With You, which is worth the price of that album. It's a legitimate argument, but I always go with Thriller. How can you go against an album with Lady in My Life?
I tried the audio book thing, until one almost put me to sleep.
Lucy, I see you drove to work in the same downpouring that I did. It took me three hours to get home last night. I'm from Toledo. If you leave work there and drive for three hours, headed south, you'll be near Cincinnati. The tragedy is that, without traffic, my commute home from work would be 40 minutes, tops.
2.18.05 @ 2:19p
Heh. PYT. We should have known.
2.18.05 @ 2:43p
I'm always looking for the next space
Tracey: Space? What space? You must be in Iowa!
Jason, when I lived in Iowa you could be across half the state in the time it takes most of us to commute to work here.
2.18.05 @ 3:16p
Oh, and don't get me started with drivers merging onto the freeway from the on-ramp. What exactly are you thinking about, driving at a mere 15mph when trying to merge into 80mph traffic?
2.18.05 @ 3:46p
I heard on the weather channel this morning that LA has gotten more rain this year than Seattle.
Damn, given how LA drivers slow to a crawl even in a drizzle, that must be hell.
2.18.05 @ 4:18p
Normal rainfall in a year here is between 10 and 16 inches. This year downtown LA has already received over 25 inches of rain, and the weather pundits are telling us that we should expect another 8 - 10 inches in the lowlands, more in the hillside and mountain areas before the weekend is over. Of course, it is in the hillsides that houses are already slipping off their foundations. Normally, we complain of dry skin in our windy, desert winters; now everyone is mildewing.
"Hell" is an appropriate description for a car trip of any length in the rain in the Greater LA area.
2.18.05 @ 4:45p
Hey Jason, ya boy from Toledo here... You know I recently moved back from Atlanta, another bad traffic conurbation. It just hit me when reading this vent session of yours that I have elimiated that stress from my life coming back here. I used to get pissed everyday and make a 70 minute commute that would take 20 minutes here at the crib in the "-3 degree windchill". I don't know man, I think I'd rather deal with the cold for a few months. You said it takes you 3 hours? Damn, I could drive from work to the airport and be in Miami by then, I'll let you all have LA fam, but can I get some Laker tickets? ; )
2.18.05 @ 4:49p
Well, it took me three hours last night, which has never happened before. On the average it takes between an hour & 90 minutes. I miss Toledo's commutes something terrible, though. I'll make you a deal: if you get me some Pistons tickets, I'll get you some Laker tickets.
2.18.05 @ 6:05p
When I worked in West LA (near UCLA) and lived in Simi Valley (east Ventura County), my 30 mile trip could take 2-3 hours if it rained. On nights when it was raining, I'd go to dinner and a movie before heading home. At least the West LA area has all of the first run movies and good restaurants. Heaven help you if you are working in one of the more industrial or suburban sections of town!
2.18.05 @ 11:13p
They caught some nitwit medical resident doing 151 mph on PA Rt.222 this week. His excuse? "I just had the car worked on and decided to floor it to see how it ran."
And this man is allowed to make life-or-death decisions regarding patients. Go figure.
2.19.05 @ 2:45p
Medical degrees don't guarantee common sense. It was a psychiatrist friend who took me for a ride on back roads in Iowa to see how fast his new Porsche could go.
2.20.05 @ 9:29a
Ellen, that is so true. I actually had a herdsman at graduate school tell me he hoped I didn't develop PhD-itis when he found out I was going to go for my doctorate. PhD-itis is the term for PhD's who lose their common sense in the process of acquiring their degree.
Fortunately, I think I avoided that particular malady. Sadly, it is not uncommon for people with advanced degrees to lose their common sense permanently (assuming they had any to begin with) as they become more educated. Maybe it's connected to never leaving the world of academia. I did, and am better off for it. Then again, I adore logic. Maybe that made me immune.