Monday, February 3, 2014

Rolling Over Los Angeles

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As I was driving down the 405 today, I noted the extent of work that they are doing with widening the Sepulveda pass freeway and how much congestion there typically is.  It took a good 15 minutes longer in my estimation to get over the hill and back than it should have, and it’s been that way for months.  It’s always a lot of fun, right?  Braking, starting, stopping, going, a driver decides to shoot into your lane in front of you thinking he’s going to get ahead of things.  It’s just very busy these days on our roads.

I have seen archival photos of the Sepulveda pass being cut through the hillside, and also photos of the freeway newly opened with just a few cars passing through.  And, not to linger in the past, but it gets me thinking from time to time how incredibly beautiful the greater city of Los Angeles likely was back in the day when the Arroyo Seco Parkway was the only real highway in the area, and when one could drive at a speed that allowed viewing of the surrounding mountains and areas without having to have laser-like focus of what’s in front of one to not miss that nanosecond when a collision could occur.  It’s exciting to have a vibrant, thriving, and most often, chaotic city, and I think I were living in a quiet town in the mid west I would miss the variety of options there are for activities and meeting different people.  And yet, from a pure transportation point of view, it sure would be nice to be able to gander at the rolling hills and the open vistas from parts of the city such as if there were just a few people on the roads at any point in time. 

I remember that I got lucky one Saturday about ten years ago.  I was driving eastbound on the Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10) just around the Washington and La Cienega overpasses, and for some reason at about 10:30am that morning there was almost nobody in any of the lanes in my vicinity.  It had rained just the night before and the sun was peeking in and out of the puffy clouds rolling low over the L.A. area, and the wind had swept out all of the smog making for an extremely crisp, clear day.  The city had a rather blue tint to it, such as that of a cold mountain environment.  This weather gave me the opportunity to look around side to side in my car and fully appreciate all of the folds and variants in the landscape around me for a good ten miles.  

I could see the different levels on which the houses sat radiating out towards Beverly Hills and Hollywood as I looked northward out of my driver’s side window.  And as I looked out of the passenger side, Baldwin Hills seemed to be sitting just off of the freeway by a few feet.  I could also see the buildings on Wilshire’s Miracle Mile standing at attention in a sea of busy, swirling neighborhoods street alignments that hugged the uneven topography. The Santa Monica Mountains (and it’s subsection of the Hollywood Hills) aren’t the only hills in the Los Angeles basin, though they often seem so because they are so obviously perched between the city side and the valley side.  With the clarity that I had that morning, it was more akin to being in a low flying helicopter and having a three dimensional perspective of the land at differing depths as I moved eastward. 

Those few moments have lasted a long time for me.  It may sound silly, but they have gotten me through the frustration of being on the Hollywood Freeway northbound and being clogged in the Highland/Hollywood Bowl traffic of the Cahuenga pass, or of being on the 405 northbound and just sitting stuck around Sunset Blvd.  During those moments, several things come to mind.  

I think of pretty much anyone who is visiting our town from out of state and wondering, “How in hell could anyone put up with this kind of congestion and overpopulation all of the time.”  And I’ve also heard, “People are so caught up in their own world and guarded out here in L.A.  It’s all about who you know and the business.” I have a deeply empathetic understanding of that viewpoint having been born here and knowing how the culture has changed.  However, because of that experience I had that ten or so years ago, I am able to often get myself past the temporary discomfort of the traffic and the craziness that happens in some places and say to myself, “Yeah, but do you know what and interesting and diverse city I live in?  There are so many people from different parts of the world here, and there are so many different types of terrain in just a few square miles.”  I realize I sound jingoistic on a state level, but California really is an amazing state in it’s resources and in it’s people. 

You could buy a house up in the hills and be nestled in a quiet, hard to discover neighborhood.  Or you could live at the beach and take strolls on the boardwalks of southern California beaches, or you could live in the desert or the mountains within an hour of the city.  The best thing for me is that since I love diversity in the things that I do, it’s all here for me.  On one Saturday, my girlfriend and I could look for starfish in a Malibu lagoon, or we could go for a hike in one of the myriad of the hill trails that are around the city, or drive to the snow or to the desert.  And the real point is, if we got up early enough, we could easily do those four things in one day AND see a movie or watch one being filmed.  One of my favorite things is forgetting that I am not that far away from the city when hiking around the L.A. area. 

So, the next time I’m stuck in traffic, which undoubtedly will be tomorrow, I will again think to myself of the time I got that perspective of Los Angeles in a way I hadn’t before.  Perhaps someday I’ll take a ride in an actual helicopter and fly around the southland to get the kind of view I’ve been imagining is out there.  That would be a lot of fun and very informative as to the relation of parts of town to each other.  I am certain that I always shorten the distance between the valley and the city in my mind, but that flying over it would really show how much earth separates the two metropolitan areas. But if I were to go up in a helicopter, it would have to be a professional pilot with many hours of flying experience.  I wouldn’t go up in a helicopter with Pee Wee Herman for instance.  I just think he would be too distracted a pilot.