Friday, February 20, 2009

Where Things Happen

Getting on a Los Angeles freeway during rush hour is very much like joining a protoplasmic inter-cellular migration of some sort. Things happen beyond our vision and our understanding. Traffic suddenly stops and then after some time begins again and those of us stuck in our cars never know quite why.
Things happen. That's all.
For example, there are the Highway Patrol folk who do traffic breaks. All of a sudden a patrol car on a busy, fast moving freeway begins weaving back and forth across the lanes behaving for all the world like a random drunk driver. Cars slow. None dares to pass the erratically driving law enforcement officer. Traffic stops completely often just feet before an accident or a traffic hazard but sometimes just because members of the Highway Patrol need to practice these seemingly reckless out of control maneuvers somewhere and sometime. Once law enforcement gets into motion again so, too, do the dozens or sometimes hundreds of vehicles stopped by the traffic break.
Author Joan Didion in Play It As It Lays uses the Los Angeles freeways as methods of 'getting somewhere' and juxtaposes them against the notion that the only destination Maria seeks is 'nowhere'. Didion speaks of the sedated rhythm of freeways. In the desert, Maria has trouble following road signs. The gravity of the road doesn’t allow her the carefree motion madness of a freeway, although her travels are equally aimless whether they be via freeway or desert road.
The Pasadena Freeway (or the Arroyo Seco Parkway) was the first freeway in the Los Angeles freeway system. Getting on the Arroyo Seco is heart stopping and terrifying. The entrance ramps allow for about ten feet in which to go from entrance speed to freeway speed. In 1940, when that freeway opened, no one expected cars to go as fast as they do now. What was bucolic then is death defying now.
And still, every day, that freeway and all other Los Angeles freeways are clogged with drivers hoping for the best and knowing all the while that things happen.
Maybe that's why we Angelenos are so taken with the freeways.
Lots of things happen on them even when we're sitting still.

1 comment:

Marnie said...

When top speed on freeways get too fast, the Highway Patrol performs their back and forth routine - I've seen it a number of times. As far as on-ramps, people do not know how to get on the freeway. The ramps are for accelerating the speed of traffic of the freeway thereby allowing your vehicle to mix well with the traveling vehicles and hopefully not causing too much disturbance in the flow of traffic - but - these ramps are hardly ever used properly. I say back to driving school for almost every driver.