At first I was petrified. After driving with my family across the country, I could not bring myself to put my car in gear in LA.
Here was this vast and dense rush of traffic, surrounded by and interspersed with voluminous ribbons of freeway stretching around, above, and beneath the surface streets. Freeway, I thought? Anything but. There could be no freedom on an LA freeway. Only mind-bending terror. Who would choose to drive on an LA freeway if he/she could do otherwise?
And so, for a long time, I did otherwise. I flexed my driving muscles on the surface streets of LA, accompanied by my TomTom, the thoughtful gift of a kind relative, who perhaps considered it a necessary tool for getting across country when, in fact, driving across country is simplicity itself compared to driving in LA. It’s almost impossible to get lost on Interstate highways 40 or 44 – while getting around LA without a GPS system is courting sure disaster.
LA goes on. And on. And on. There is seemingly no end to LA. I kept thinking that if I went far enough ‘out’ from the center, I would leave the city behind – as one does in the Midwest. But there is no getting ‘out’ of LA. It just transitions into another community, equally dense and populated, reproducing itself endlessly.
And then there’s the ultimate LA commute – to LAX. I have been transported there and back many times, but when it came to be my turn to make the dreaded journey, I took the time rather than the freeway: I traveled both ways on surface streets.
When I finally gathered up my courage and merged into the ongoing stampede that is the LA freeway system, my heart racing, my foot accelerating and braking rhythmically, I found I could survive but not in any composed and thriving state of being. I drove too fast – and was in the wrong lane when my exit shot past. I drove too slow – motorists behind me barked their displeasure. I now drive at the going speed – and pray for guidance, and luck.
So far my luck has held out. I am quite comfortable on LA surface streets, and can thrust myself onto the freeway if required. But my TomTom has a permanent setting when directing me to my next destination: ‘Avoid freeways, if possible.’