I lost my way, that’s what she said, back to the 101 – Albert Hammond, Jr.
The intersection where the 101 meets the 405 is the most congested intersection in the United States. I drive through the bottleneck traffic jam everyday to get to work. A sixteen mile commute from my apartment in Hollywood to the Warner Center in Woodland Hills, can take as short as twenty-five minutes, and as long as an hour and ten minutes. When driving on the freeways in Los Angeles, one has to resign themselves to the fact that their commute could take double – or even triple – the time they expected.
When traffic is moving and the sunshine beats down on the palm trees and rolling hills in the distance, the 101 feels like a road leading you to paradise. When traffic is at a standstill and the freeway becomes a parking lot, the 101 feels like hell at a stand still. My commute in Philly consisted of me taking the 34 trolley to work every day. Even when a trolley broke down or I had to jump over vomit on the steps leading up to the seats, it was a shared experience. We’d all grumble together and blame SEPTA. Their “We’re trying” motto on the subway billboards was an acknowledgement that even they knew they were sub par. When you’re stuck in traffic in your car, you place the blame internally, “Should I have taken Ventura Blvd?” “Why didn’t I check Sigalert before I left the house this morning?”
Just because you’re alone, doesn’t mean you’re not provided with prime people watching opportunities. Women apply makeup in the mirror above their driver’s seat and men brush their teeth as motorcycles split lanes and whiz by – a practice completely legal in California, which still manages to startle me even when I see them coming in the rear view mirror. The 101 is the main artery into the San Fernando Valley and whether its clogged or the traffic is coursing heartily through its veins, on a weekly basis I see bits of tire, detached bumpers on the side of the road, or a totaled car. A sober reminder, that according to the National Highway Safety Administration, there are at least 30,000 fatal deaths from car crashes each year.
In LA, a city that feels like it has never lost the buzz and excitement of the gold rush, where “making it” seems just one phone call away, and the odds of fame and fortune seem stacked in your favor, the car crashes are a visual reminder that some people don’t make it. I’ve been haunted recently by talk of people leaving LA because “things weren’t working out for them.” When I hear this news, the same thought enters my mind when I see a car crash, “That could’ve been me.” Yet, it’s not me – I feel optimistic about the future and while it may be naivete, I feel that taking small risks, like driving a car, or large risks, like moving across country to pursue a dream, is better than a life of regret.
I try to remind myself of these things when I’m stuck in gridlock traffic on the 101 watching someone floss their teeth in a Prius.