What you see here is a white person problem.
When I was back home in Portland in late December, my friend Josh and I were driving out to meet some friends – Josh in the driver’s seat because it was his car, and me in the passenger seat obsessively fiddling with the heater because life in Southern California had rendered me completely unprepared for the harsh Oregon winter.
We were behind a Hummer at an intersection when the light turned and the cars around us began to move. However, the Hummer remained stationary. I could see that the driver’s head was bowed, so he was either sending a text message full of atrocious grammar and emoticons or just praying for Ed Hardy to release a new line of Jersey Shore themed apparel, because those are obviously things that Hummer owners do on the regular.
The rest of the cars moved on and it was just us – the Hummer idling in front of the green light and us trapped behind it.
“Huh.” Josh said, after a couple of seconds. “Why isn’t he moving?”
I was silent, doing my best not to be a passenger seat driver. A few more seconds went by.
“What the hell is this guy’s problem?” Josh asked, exasperated now. “Does he just not see the light?”
Another two immobile seconds passed.
Josh threw up his hands. “I mean, why wouldn’t-”
I gave up on decorum. “Honk your horn! Honk at him! Push the center of your steering wheel! Why have you not been honking this entire time!?!”
Perhaps shocked by the outburst, Josh tentatively laid a hand on the horn, his car emitting a cautious, half-assed ‘beep!’ The Hummer owner jerked up out of his Axe-fueled coma and sped away, and we just barely squeaked through the intersection on a yellow.
This, I think more than anything, shows how the LA freeway system has changed me. (It also shows my friend Josh’s capacity for politeness – although he is admittedly from a very small town that I’m pretty sure doesn’t even have traffic lights, so he might’ve just been unfamiliar with the process.)
My daily commute to work, one way, is 20 miles across three different freeways and a mountain pass, during the course of which I have to merge across four lanes of dense LA traffic twice. This can take up to an hour in each direction, and to pass the time while sitting alone in my car I’ve almost unconsciously started talking to myself – kind of like Tom Hanks in Castaway, only somehow sadder because there’s not even a volleyball for companionship.
Most of what I say is running color commentary on the driving habits of the Angelinos around me, which usually takes the form of Michael Cera-style stammering, impotent rage.
”Oh, uh, oh, okay, you’re just going to pass me in the right breakdown lane and Tokyo drift into the space ahead of me? Okay, yeah, that’s totally safe. That’s, like, that’s super safe. I hope you have fun, y’know, being where you’re going before me. Yeah, that’s right, I did honk at you. Maybe you, uh, weren’t expecting that because of my Oregon pla- Oh, okay, there’s your third finger. That’s mature.”
I’ve never particularly liked driving, but I took it for granted as something I was going to have to do when I moved to Los Angeles. It comes with the territory – we get good weather, but in exchange we live in our cars. In New York you’re at the center of world culture, but you’re surrounded by filth and legions of starry eyed musical theater hopefuls.
Recently, though, I’ve been offered a way out of this mess in the form of an incredibly expensive and long overdue extension of the LA Metro system to Culver City, only a mile or two from my apartment.
I know what you’re thinking* – “What!? There’s a metro system in Los Angeles?” As it turns out, there is; up until now, though, it was so small that it was really only effective if you wanted to go from downtown to a few miles outside of downtown, which is great if you’re a rich person looking to buy meth but pretty damn inconvenient otherwise.
*God, how presumptuous is it for me to assume I know what you’re thinking? For all I know you could be an expert on public transportation. Forget I said anything.
With the Metro newly arrived in my neck of the woods, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks ankle deep in train and bus schedules, trying to figure out how long it would take me to get from Culver City to Burbank without using my car. The results, so far, are inconclusive, seeing as a lot of the new schedules aren’t online yet, but in my fantasies it takes roughly the same amount of time or less.
Yes, that’s right – in my public transportation fantasies. Those are things that exist, and I have found myself having them recently.
It doesn’t make any sense, because we all know that if there’s one thing I hate, it’s small spaces jammed with people, any number of whom could be touching me. But in London I fell in love with the Underground and its ability to take me pretty much anywhere in the city or suburbs, and I like to think that I could maybe rekindle some of those affections with the system here in LA.
In my fantasies, I wake up slightly later than I do now, shower, and head down to the local Metro station, which is 100% hobo free. The train, which is always on time and is built out of a special type of metal that never smells like pee no matter what happens, arrives, and I get on, find a seat, and read the whole way to Union Station downtown. There, I quickly and easily transfer trains in a once again completely hobo-free environment and read the whole way to North Hollywood, where I jump off the train and catch a similarly hygienic bus to take me the three miles from the station to my office, where someone has brought bagels.
The same thing happens but in reverse on the way back, with the only difference being that I give up my seat for Christina Hendricks, who finds my chivalry adorable and strikes up a conversation with me when she notices that we’re both reading the same book, etc, the next morning we walk to the Metro from my place together, fade to black, credits, ELO song.
Of course, this dream is impossible, because it relies on Los Angeles’ public infrastructure to be clean, efficient, and hobo free, characteristics which are not among the city’s strong points.* There’s a reason that people who use public transportation here are looked on with a sort of bemused fascination by the rest of the citizens: They can’t be sure if you’re joking, poor, or just have some sort of genetic mutation that makes you incredibly patient like the most boring X-Man ever.
*However, LA is knocking it out of the park in the ‘number of palm trees’ and ‘girls with daddy issues who cancel plans at the last minute’ departments, so it’s not all bad.
What it comes down to is that I live in a part of town that I really love and I work at a job that I really love that unfortunately happens to be on the other side of a gigantic city, and whether I’m driving or taking the Metro some aspect of getting from one of those places to the other is going to drive me up the wall.
I just need to come to terms with the fact that most things drive me up the wall – if they didn’t, I’d take surfing lessons or join an intramural kickball league or do whatever people who don’t have blogs do.
Truman Capps is waiting for somebody to come up with a private door-to-door helicopter service that fits within his price range, which is probably about as likely as his Christina Hendricks scenario.