12 July 2011


To read the papers, to listen to the radio or watch the TV news, to see the electric signs along the freeways is enough to convince you that the end of Los Angeles as we know it will commence at about midnight this coming Friday, July 15.

Ten miles of the 405 – one of the world’s most congested freeways (“free” only in the sense that you don’t pay a toll to drive on it, otherwise the word is ironic) will be shut down until about six am the following Monday morning in order to tear down a bridge. According to nearly everyone the result is going to be CARMAGEDDON – THE TRAFFIC OF DOOM.

Oh get over it.

First off, the main part of the city it is going to affect is the Westside. And who wants to go over there anyhow, especially on a weekend? (I suppose beach lovers want to go there on weekends but I’m not one of them so I don’t care.) The Westside is Los Angeles-lite at best, the least interesting, least diverse, deathly-dullest part of the urban area.

Secondly, it’s the 405 folks! Sure it’s going to slow to an average speed of zero miles per hour. That’s down, I guess, from its usual average of something like twelve miles per hour or less. Not much of a drop in speed really.

When the 2 or the 210 or the 134 or the 10 east of downtown or the 5 north or the 60 east or the 110 south most of the time or the 101 north most of the time (we are blessed with many freeways on this side of town, unlike the deprived westsiders) – the freeways I take way more often than any others – drop from 65 or 70 to 30 or 40 mph, something they do once in a while – I and everybody else on them simply crank up our radios, suck it up and get where we’re going without too much additional fuss.

Thirdly – traffic? We spoiled Americans, we don’t know traffic.

Last August, on the outskirts of Beijing there was a nine-day, 100 kilometer traffic jam. And when I say “nine-day” I mean that’s how long you would have sat in your car listening to the same stupid blather on CNN or Fox radio (or their Chinese equivalents), or the latest crappy Top-40 playlist over and over and over again while waiting to get where you were going.

When I was in Bangkok for business in the spring of 1991, I got out of my last meeting of the day at a little after seven pm. It was raining and about 98 degrees F (about 37 C.) I got into a taxi and four-and-a-half-hours later I got out at my hotel – a distance of slightly more than three miles (4.828 km.)

The Bangkok correspondent for the magazine I worked for had a desk in the back of a van. While his brother-in-law drove the four to five hours average round trip – about five miles (8.04 km) – to the office, he’d put in office hours on the road.

One enterprising massage parlor bought deluxe vans, put beds in the back of them and offered pick up service from the Bangkok airport. Problem was that it got pretty expensive to spend as many as three hours with a “masseuse” on the way into town – rather than the hour that most customers indulged in at the parlor itself.

Every day is Carmageddon in a lot of places, but I guess we need something to make us feel special, or that we can complain about, or to distract us from the possible real life disasters that are waiting for us just around the corner.

Anyone shorting their U.S. T-notes yet?

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