Thursday, November 4, 2010

Born To Stop or A User’s Guide To L.A. Traffic

                I hate traffic.
                Let me repeat that, because psychiatrists feel you should always repeat things you feel passionately about (or so I’ve been told):  I. HATE. TRAFFIC.
                So why do I have a job that’s 50 miles from my home?  Because I’m an idiot?  Because I have some deep seeded need to inflict pain upon myself?  Yes and yes, but that’s neither the point nor the explanation.  When I took the job, I was 3 months into being laid off and was offered a gig with a 15% raise.  That’s hard to turn down.  Now its 8 years burning down the road and I’m still schlepping my cookies back and forth each day across the expansive reach of greater Los Angeles.  I do it because…well have you read about the current economic climate in California?  We’re deeper in debt than the combined worldwide grosses of Batman, Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, James Bond, and Captain Jack Sparrow.   We’re the Pictionary definition of the guy from Monopoly with his shoulders shrugged and his pockets turned out.  When your home state is in that kind of dire straits you stick with the devil you know.
                Now traffic is not to be confused with driving.  I actually don’t mind driving.  There’s something liberating about jumping in a car, cruising down the highway, and allowing a multitude of thoughts to roam free until they organically meld into the formation of ideas that clarify life, jokes, and blog topics.  Traffic is altogether different.  Traffic is a soul crushing excursion that seeps the life out of you in a manner reminiscent of a colon cleanse performed by Harry Potter’s Dementors.  If you combine John McCain’s sadness upon realizing what he was in for by choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate with Dirk Diggler’s desperation during the Church Parking Lot sequence in Boogie Nights, you have a starting point for what sitting in Los Angeles traffic feels like.
                The first thing that occurs when I hit traffic is the grinding of my teeth.  It started as a subtle tick that I didn’t notice and grew to a point that I began to file down my teeth.  This perpetuated a trip to a dentist, who fit me for a form fitting mouth guard that cost 500 bucks out of pocket and lasted a whole month before I unintentionally snapped it.  Now I just incessantly chew gum like Violet in Willy Wonka.  It works most of the time, is much cheaper, and I have yet to turn into a blueberry.
                Now the dull discomfort of the left knee begins.  This is a recent occurrence stemming from years of the appendage being stuck in the same bent position, day in and day out.  It’s always followed by attempts to stretch the left leg back and forth to get blood circulating again.  They’re not terribly successful, probably because I’m attempting to perform the task in the contained space of a car.  All it really winds up doing is causing the knee to crack with the repetition of Chinese water torture.   The right knee never has this issue as it’s too busy performing the vehicular equivalent of dancing’s 1-2-3: Brake-Gas-Brake. 
                On occasion, the cracking knee and grinding teeth are capable of symmetrically combining to transform me into a virtual one man band of rhythmic harmony.  In these moments of self created docile tones, I take it upon myself to catch up on some kegel exercises.  Don’t be surprised.  Any man worth his salt performs these non pharmaceutical performance enhancers with regularity, especially if you’re a guy on the cusp of putting the 30’s in your rear view mirror.  For all you know, I may have just ripped off a set of 50 while typing this paragraph…I’m just saying.
                While this internal whirlwind of activity occurs, I’m alert to keep a keen eye on the vehicle operators around me.  There are many types of drivers that come into view during my trek and when you’ve been doing it as long as I have, you can capture everything via the subtlety of your peripheral vision.  Here are a few examples of what’s out there:
The Guy With The 500 Yard Stare - He’s most likely to either break out a gun and retrigger the freeway shooting craze in L.A. or break into hysterical tears as if watching Field Of Dreams for the first time on the day his father died.
The Singers – They are blessed with all the passion of I Will Always Love You Whitney but possess the driving skills of Crack Is Whack Whitney
The Cell Phone Users – Those drops in the bucket fines only serve to raise these peoples crank factor, considering 99.9% of all cell phone users seem to be pissed off at whoever they’re talking to.  (Seriously, when is the last time you saw someone on a cell phone in a car happy?)  If they hit a dead zone, they seem to believe bringing your cars together can provide uber coverage.
The Self Converser – Unlike cell phone users, these people are talking to nobody. Loudly.  Their wrath generally seems to focus on spouses, co-workers, or God for blessing them with the ability to procreate.   They will complete their thought across as many lanes as necessary and, much like DeNiro told Pacino in Heat, you will not get in their way.  Not for one second.
                Of course, there is a group of people who need their own delineation: The Motorcyclists.  You know, those people piloting two wheels of fury who must announce their presence with the rev of an engine so pervasive that it could wake the dead…in Japan…who died in Samurai times.  Now in the name of fairness there are some motorcyclists who will give you a wave of thanks if you move over to give them an easier path to pass.  Most of them however prefer to whiz from side to side, passing cars with the expediency of a pinball and doing so through a space that could fit anorexic Siamese twins…if they were on a diet.  There’s far too many of them who still think they’re too sexy for their helmets and it’s always a 50/50 proposition that your side mirrors will escape unscathed.
                But if I survive this living Donkey Kong screen known as the L.A. freeway system, I pull into a parking spot at my place of business and breathe deeply.  Of course, it’s right about the time I finish exhaling that I realize in just 9 short hours, I’ll be out there again.

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  1. oh my goodness! i know exactly what you are talkinga about. i love watching the people who seem to be performing a concert in their car...

    goodness gracious 50 miles? you're insane but i do what you have to do sometimes.

  2. Yes, traffic is one of the top reasons why I hope to avoid living in Los Angeles at all costs. For me, it's not the crowded freeways that concern me. Sure I hate having to sit on the 405 or I-5 for several hours every time I need to pass through LA. However I can pass the time by listening to the radio. It's actually the streets of LA I can't stand, especially in Beverly Hills. With so many strange turns, one-way streets, diagonal pedestrian crossing lights, and six-point intersections that seem to lead to nowhere.... I'm scared every time I drive through.