Los Angeles…..land of the big free…….Jay Leno, Rappers, South Central, the Lakers, Cops, OJ, movie making in the streets………… What a place! But the phenomena that really defines LA is…….FREEWAYS!!!! I can assure all of you out-of-towners that there is NO WHERE in the world remotely like the freeway system in LA and I’m here to give you some personal experience.
All my work was done as of Tuesday night and the plane back home didn’t leave till 1:30 PM Wednesday so I decided to drive up to Apple Valley in the High Desert Wednesday morning to see my friend Victor Mason of Mason Electronics and Plexi Palace. Victor has the biggest collection of vintage British tube guitar amps in the country, sells and services ’em and when guys like me show up, jams with ’em too. 60’s vintage Marshalls, Vox and other awesome tones. But to get there, one must navigate the freeway system out of LA for about an hour and a half, and thereby hangs a tale.
The rental car person planned the trip like a safari through deepest, darkest Africa. First of all, you better get on the freeway pretty damned early because rush hour starts about 0600. THEN, how far you get depends completely on how many accidents and natural disasters occur between here and there. Earlier in the week I got stuck as a brush fire licked the sides of the 405 and traffic came to a screeching halt as rubberneckers slowed to insure they could clearly see the helicopters dumping skin diver laden sea water. High speed chases are not even close to being unusual, and some slow speed chases as well, with their own cheering sections a ‘la OJ. From what I could see, car accidents (always blocking traffic) occur at least once an hour on each segment of road.
The “Car pool lane” (two occupants or more) is virtually devoid of traffic. EVERY car in LA has only one occupant in it and they’re are all trying to get to the same place at the same time. But if the cops catch a car with one occupant in the car pool lane it’s an instant US$271.00 fine on the spot, and they seem to have an uncanny radar to spot scofflaws sporting stuffed dummies and super dark windows.
So, entering the freeway occurs from a traffic light letting only one car through the feeders at a time and you better get your ass out there too or you’ll be trying to enter a lane with people traveling 80 mph behind you. Once on the freeway, there is usually 8 lanes with a gradation of speeds getting faster and faster the more left you proceed. Finally, in the extreme left lane, you have people doing well over 100 mph in Big Mercedes, Beemers and such and they don’t slow down for anything, just like the Autobahn. But even in the right lanes, the average speed is well over 75 mph and everyone is weaving in and out at incredible speeds trying to jockey for a better position. If you have a little rental car, you are pretty much flat out trying to keep up, and it’s like being strapped to a very fast and intricate video game. Your eyes are wide open and you’re reacting very rapidly to situations where small mistakes put you in big jeopardy.
Then about the time you start thinking you might be getting the hang of it, everyone slams on their brakes. Either an accident or a natural disaster ahead. Then the Desert Foxes go into action. Nimble fingers twirl dials on the radio to find out where the accident is (usually reported in minutes) and what alternatives there are to get around it. Just like little urban Rommels, maps come, fingers are pointed into the desert swirl and alternate routes are analyzed and implemented at computer speed. And accidents occur with incredible regularity There were TWO accidents on my way to Apple Valley each caused a delay followed by frenetic, creative maneuvers to get around, including impromptu desert excursions.
When I returned, I was physically exhausted and every nerve ending was raw. And on the way OUT of LA at 0700 on the 105 and 60 East which was plenty congested, I noticed FULLY FORTY MILES of bumper to bumper traffic in the other lane trying to get INTO LA. I have no idea if they are all still sitting there. People have to move further and further out of LA to find decent living accommodations and commutes of three hours one way twice a day are NOT unusual!!!!
Do I love LA? Nice place to visit, but I like the leisurely 15 minute trip to work in the morning.