A Few Reasons Why I Love to Hate the 405
It is Thursday afternoon about 3:00 p.m. I don’t need a calendar to tell me. I just know. Do I have some kind of magical biological internal clock that keeps me in tune with Universal time? Well, sort of. I’m driving on the northbound 405. It’s not exactly like that polar vector has special significance. The southbound lanes are identically and hopelessly jammed. It is mile upon mile of bumper to bumper motorized humanity stretching beyond the each of the horizons ahead and behind. The pace is an agonizing, horrific, endless crawl with no hope of abatement. Yep, it’s Thursday. No accidents. No Holiday. Just Thursday’s hoard of Angelenos who, for some unfathomable reason, all descend on this miserable patch of “freeway” at the exact same time, on the exact same day, Thursday. It never fails. I know this from personal experience. I spend a great deal of “quality time” on the 405 during the full range of days, dates, and times. It’s almost always bad but Thursday afternoons are without question, the worst. If Dante’ were alive today, Thursday afternoon on the 405 would be a major level in Purgatory.
To be sure, many other major cities have traffic issues. I’ve driven the I-80 commute into San Francisco. I’ve also driven the worst they’ve had to offer in Phoenix, Denver, Detroit, Chicago, Washington DC, Seattle, the Las Vegas Strip, even downtown Branson Missouri during the height of the tourist season. None of them begin to compare to my Thursday afternoon adventures on the 405.
We all know the drill. Traffic is pretty much stopped, crawling at a snail’s pace with just enough momentum to keep you in that mental place between listening to a LAUSD school board meeting and sleep except you can’t close your eyes. And then Vraaappp!! Vraaapp!! Some idiot on his chopped Harley “signals” his intention to pass on the right, in that teeny tiny gap between vehicles startling the living crap out of you. This happens every few minutes. Mind you, I have nothing against motorcycles. In my younger days I owned one, a speedy little Honda 350. Ok it wasn’t a real bike. But I would not own one here. No way here. I don’t understand California’s Darwinesque traffic law that allows a vulnerable two wheeled vehicle to pass between two cars, moving or not. This is paramount to state sanctioned suicide, in a state that prohibits doctors from assisting the terminally ill end their lives. Go figure. Between that and the tailgater behind a foul simmering mood begins to take hold. Then someone cuts you off. The temptation to honk and flip off the perpetrator is unbearable but the possibility of a violent freeway confrontation has become very real recently. So you don’t. After a couple of hours you are very grateful that you skipped that extra cup of coffee because you are not wearing your TENA undergarment.
Then a news flash! Sig Alert! There’s a jumper at the Sunset Blvd overpass. Why is it that people think they have to impose their own personal misery on commuters? I think the LAPD should be able to use the same methods that animal control has at their disposal. None of this talk, talk, talk, with the nut squad. Use the tranquilizer gun for God’s sake! In the end everybody wins and nobody gets hurt.
Is there a reason why no matter what lane you’re in, it’s always the one next to the big rig? What was a moment ago a cool breeze through your window is now a roaring, belching, smoking, stinking, blast. Up goes the window. On goes the air conditioner, consuming what’s left of the remaining fuel economy.
I think it should be legal for truckers to run over the graffiti artists. Once in a while a pretty good mural presents itself but most is just graphic gibberish marking the mind numbing desire of a local gangster to mark a sign post as “territory”. This is collective idiocy. I’d much rather see the “art” right smack there on the pavement, on the center stripe. It could aid in the average motorist’s navigation process, and maybe even be added to their GPS software. Better still it would provide an opportunity for the truckers. Just imagine a real life freeway version of “frogger”. This is a win-win-win-win situation. The travelling public gets free entertainment, the city gets a break on graffiti cleanup costs, the truckers can channel their road rage, and assuming that the taggers aren’t using lead based paint, the vultures get fed. Mother Nature is served and Darwin gets his due.
Back at the alert the jumper finally decides that having a few pimples isn’t the end of the world and traffic finally begins to move again, 45, 50, 65 mph. Then, sure as hell, in the fast lane ahead plods an old Mazda mightily testing all of its 28 horsepower! It’s in your lane and you can’t move. Stuck behind the clunker, car after car passes you by until finally you break free. But then….
What is it about the top of a hill that makes people want to come to a complete and unnecessary stop? Fear of the unknown? People! Wake up!! The world is not flat. You will not fall off the edge. Lord have mercy.
Humans are remarkable, adaptable creatures. Evolution has provided each of us with coping mechanisms that enable us to endure pain, stress, drought, famine, and sleep deprivation. Mother Nature has failed however to provide us with the tools of compassion necessary to deal with our fellow motorists while attempting to share our limited space with them on the 405. Perhaps it is our inherent territorial nature. Perhaps it is the fiercely competitive complexion of life in Los Angeles. Perhaps it is simply because once we get behind the wheel of a car we all immediately seem to emulate the business end of the large intestine.
The 405 provides an opportunity to seek out our inner child, to extract that calm, innocent, essence that enables us all to coexist peacefully. But on Thursday afternoons my inner child is an angry pit bull just castrated without an anesthetic. So, in the interest of public safety on Thursdays I chain my inner child to the bedpost and leave him home. Please don’t tell Child Protective Services.
My failure to reach deep within myself and pull out the calm, submissive, inner child has left me with a dilemma. I need to survive the 405, but evolution hasn’t quite gotten me to the year 2008 to provide me with the coping instincts I desperately need. Or has it? Come to think of it, sheer boredom is probably the nexus between the misery and the drive itself. Is it possible to delink this nexus and thus turn Thursdays on the 405 into an entertaining experience? Probably not, but given a reasonable number of diversions along with a sufficiently warped mind, a case could be made that making simple observations might just do the trick.
Don’t bother with talk radio, music, or audio lessons. These venues are like taking Tylenol for hemorrhoids. It dulls the pain but doesn’t solve the problem. Worse, even with the huge decline in mortgage advertisements, listening to endless radio commercials will put your mind into that trance like state of your formative years of leaving a bar at 2:00 a.m. and waking up 50 miles down the road with no clue how you got there. Very dangerous. This is the mind’s free corollary to hand’s free driving.
Believe me there are plenty of hours of opportunities for you to observe your surroundings and make the ride so much more fulfilling. For example:
Have you ever noticed how many people pick their nose while driving? The number is substantial. It’s not like the window glass masks the deed. I’m not sure how California’s new “hands free” law affects the mining operation but have you ever noticed what they do with the prize? I have. Finger flicking out the window is a distant second.
Speaking of hands free, it can be fun to see how many ways people try to hide their phone while they talk to avoid that $20 fine. Ok maybe not fun.
I’m always amazed at the number of beauty queens applying eyeliner, mascara, or lipstick to their tired little faces. There are a number of reasons homes have bathrooms but makeup application isn’t one of them for a significant portion of the driving population. Despite the personal eye safety issues the mascara demolition derby continues. I’d love to see the local statistics on the resultant eye injuries to our valley girls compared with the rest of the nation. I vote for more speed bumps.
Count the blue haired ladies. There are whole sections of road where you will be vastly outnumbered. Just don’t follow too closely. Even at 3 mph danger lurks.
Learn to enjoy rap music. You can’t avoid it with offending vehicles in such close quarters. Try rolling down your window and ask Whoizzat? Remember, no scowling, you are at close range.
If you absolutely must listen to the radio, make up a few fake traffic reports and call them in. See how many times they fall for it.
Count the number of ugly people. They are quite plentiful and frankly it’s more fun than counting the “beautiful” ones. Keep a mental log of the day’s winner.
Help with California’s budget crisis. Count and record the expired license plates you see. Text the results to the DMV.
Learn to appreciate the entertainment value of the temper tantrums of others and their acts of road rage you’ll see every day. Just try not to cause one.
Become a graffiti translator. Many municipalities are looking for help indentifying taggers.
If that sounds like too much just settle for graffiti critic. You’ll have plenty of material.
Help prevent global warming. Observe your road mate’s tire inflation and tread wear. Roll down your window and kindly pass on your observations.
If you’re feeling frisky roll down your window and tell him he has a tire going real flat and then watch him try to get off the road.
Put a stopwatch on the electronic traffic status boards. Use your cell phone to text message CALTRANS to report time discrepancies.
Keep a catalog of the road debris you see. Record how long it remains and then send a reminder to the organization claiming to have cleaned up “this stretch of highway”. While the organization might occasionally be cleaning the road, the sign was installed at great public expense. As such a dirty roadway has implications of false advertising and fraud.
Here is another budget saver for California. Record the license plate numbers of the car pool cheats. Don’t forget to use your cell phone to text it in.
Count the number of time the road has been re-striped.
Learn to read lips. It can be very enlightening. Most of the sign language is self evident.
Police statistics say 1 in 10 drivers is driving under the influence. Follow the official lead and do what the sign says, “report drunk drivers – call 911”. Simply pick 1 of 10 cars at random, phone their plates in and watch the fun begin. Statistically at least you are doing a great public service. Who know how many lives will be saved?
Count the number of low riders with tiny wheels.
Roll down you window and ask if your lane mate has GEICO insurance since he has a cute lizard on his roof.
Try and guess the status of your road mates’ citizenship.
Get behind the Caltrans sweeper train and honk at it for going too slow.
Practice saying the alphabet backwards. This might prove helpful to you at the next DUI checkpoint.
Put your turn signal on and watch the cars in the adjacent lane creep up to cut you off. Count the number of courteous drivers. (You won’t count many)
Play “Rock-Paper-Scissors” with yourself each time you have to stop. It’s not hands free but you may just provide some amusement to somebody else who is observing their surroundings just like you are.
While this is certainly an incomplete list, I hope it has provided some new tools for your commuting toolbox. I am confident that with a little thought you can add even more entertainment value to the daily grind. Feel free to pass them on to me.
Your Fellow Commuter.