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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A Rant Six Months In The Making...

...about traffic in Los Angeles, of course. L.A. is well-known for its traffic problems. I considered it a novelty at first when I moved out here. When I drove into L.A. for the first time with my dad, we even filmed it. "The famous L.A. traffic," we said, or something like that, just like you'd say, "Oh, there's the Hollywood sign." In under a week I learned to loathe it, after I left my apartment at 5:45 for a Dodgers game that started at 7:05 and missed the top of the first. I live less than 15 miles from Chavez Ravine.

I should have realized something was seriously wrong when I went to the DMV to get my California driver's license. I had to take a 36-question test, the same test that drivers take to get their permits here. My preparation for the test was 20 minutes spent taking the practice tests on the DMV's website. I got 100 percent of the questions right (it's magneted to my refrigerator). The guy who handed his test in before me got 24 right. Now, perfection isn't likely - I was surprised that I got all of them right - but seriously, 90 percent of the test is common sense. Road signs are fairly logical. Fortunately, the test administrator told the guy that he didn't pass the test, although he could just try again in two weeks.

More disturbing about the DMV was the fact that during the time I was there (about an hour), not one, but two people were caught cheating on the test. On the freaking driver's test! If two people are caught cheating every hour, how many cheat and go undetected? Do you have any idea what that means? Probably a full fifth of drivers in California do not know the rules by which they are supposed to drive!

As a result, the drivers here are flat-out bad. I used to think that drivers on the East Coast, in Jersey, Long Island, and Massachusetts, were bad drivers. I was wrong. Drivers on the East Coast aren't bad. They're just crazy. Let me illustrate the difference. If I'm driving on the Mass Pike and a Masshole cuts me off, it's not because he's a bad driver. It's because he either knew I was going to slow down and let him in, or he knew he had just enough room between cars to shoot the gap. If I'm driving on the 405 and someone cuts me off, it has nothing to do with confidence and arrogance on the road. The L.A. driver cut me off because he didn't realize I was there.

Another problem with drivers here is a complete failure to use their lights. If it wasn't for the fact that some cars' headlights turn on automatically, I really think a solid 75 percent cars wouldn't turn on their headlights until 10 p.m. Some wouldn't even bother then.

Blinkers, too, are optional to an L.A. driver. I think at some point in the recent past, some sort of specialized electromagnetic pulse went off that only destroyed the circuitry that controls blinkers in the city. I could be wrong on this, though, because often, after a driver has already pulled halfway into the lane, he'll then put on his blinker. My EMP theory might also be disproved by the fact that some cars like to put their blinkers on when they have no intent to turn or change lanes, only to make the drivers behind them hesitate before passing.

The lack of general local driving ability combined with the enormous concentration of cars makes for hellacious traffic jams. There have been plenty of times when I have driven several miles slower than I could have run them. Many of these jams are caused by backups at highway interchanges. Here, interchanges are named after people. Usually they're named after policemen or soldiers (although the one where the 134 meets the 5 is named after Gene Autry). This is the last way I would ever want to be memorialized. Seriously, think about it. Would you want to have one of mankind's most frustrating creations dedicated to your memory? All day long, people sit at the Sadao S. Munemori Memorial Freeway Interchange and get pissed off. It's like having an airport security checkpoint named after you.

One night, I moved about five miles in four hours. On the shoulder, people were skateboarding, having a catch, and walking dogs to pass the time. This was in the mountains just north of L.A. A five-lane highway was reduced to one lane thanks to construction. It might have had to do with the mudslides from the recent rains, although I don't think this was the case, since the backup hadn't been there in the opposite direction and it didn't rain while I was gone for the weekend.

Actually, that's been the number one problem with traffic this winter: the rain. I was assured that it would only rain about four days out of the year in Southern California. Instead, I had the following conversation today with a friend who had spent the afternoon indoors:

Paul: When did it start raining?
Me: December.

Nobody is prepared for rain here. The storm drains, I've decided, are probably props for when Hollywood shoots a movie that's set somewhere other than Los Angeles. I don't think they actually lead anywhere. If the water weren't so disgusting, there would probably be snorkelers in the puddle that forms under the 405 overpass on Wilshire whenever it even drizzles.

The rain causes the already bad L.A. drivers to drive as though they are shy a chromosome or two. When it rains, drivers fall into one of two categories: those who drive as though they can't see five feet past their hood ornament and those who drive as though it was a perfectly sunny day. The concept of slowing down slightly is beyond drivers here. Of course, this leads to either having That Guy driving up your exhaust pipe when you're in the left lane during a rain or being That Guy when you're in the right lane.

It's a good thing I'm not prone to violence, because driving around here certainly makes me prone to road rage. A 15-minute drive with me on the freeways here would probably be rated R. Actually, I take that back. If I ever made it anywhere on the freeways here in 15 minutes between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., I'd be a happy camper.

I just have to make one more semi-related point about traffic here. Jaywalking, as you may know, is illegal in California. People have told me that they have actually received tickets. This has not stopped me from jaywalking. I cross two streets at lights on my way to class, and you can tell who the out-of-staters are at these intersections. There will be a group of 10 or so people standing at a red light with no cars approaching. The Californians will stand on the sidewalk. The out-of-staters will look both ways, and if no cars are coming, they'll cross against the light in an unbroken stride filled with confidence and purpose. Half of the Californians remaining will stay on the sidewalk, probably wishing that either jaywalking wasn't illegal or that they had the guts to break this nefarious law. The other half will follow the lead of the out-of-staters, but they'll hustle quickly and furtively across the street, all the while shooting panicked looks in every direction in case a police helicopter is about to land and bust them for jaywalking.


Final note: Apparently, the new design of the site is unappealing to at least one reader. Any other thoughts, either positive or negative, on the redesign? What do you, dear reader, think of the layout and color scheme? Should I keep it? Go back to the old design? Or try something different altogether? Bring on the feedback.


  • At Thursday, March 03, 2005 8:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bring back the old design! Seriously!
    As for the traffic in L.A.: I can't complain much.... with my driving, I fit right in. Besides, I am averaging one book on tape per week. M.B. (again)


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