Driving Ambition

I’m hardly the first person to ever comment on LA traffic. Everyone here drives. Rush hours are legendary. Duh.

And you hear a lot of whining and bitching about it. It’s SO AWFUL! But you know what? It isn’t. Even the worst rush hour, where it took me an hour and a half to go 20 miles, it was still a freaking breeze compared with DC.

Why? Because I didn’t hate absolutely every single driver on the road the entire time I had to share the space.

Now part of this may be that I was able to manipulate my schedule, which does eliminate a lot of frustration. If you can leave at 6, drive an hour and show up early, that’s probably preferable to leaving at 7, driving for 2 hours and showing up 5 minutes late. I get that. And I get that I didn’t have other people depending on me to be somewhere with a hard deadline — that whole WE WILL CALL SOCIAL SERVICES TO TAKE YOUR KID IF YOU AREN’T HERE BY 4:02 thing.

All that said, though — LA is still a piece of cake. I drove from the airport to Glendale, from Glendale to Santa Monica, around USC, from USC to Pasadena, from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach, from Manhattan Beach to Glendale, and from Santa Monica to North Hollywood. I took PCH, I took the 10, the 405, and the 101. (Yes, THE 10, THE 405, and THE 101. I’m hardly the first person to comment on that either.) I drove at 6 a.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m., and 9 p.m. I think I got a fairly representative sampling, and even when it took me 40 minutes to go 5 miles, it was still a thousand times easier than DC because the drivers are better at what they do.

But why would that be? I mean, it isn’t like the people in DC drive less, or shorter distances. They should be fine too, right? It’s got to all be in my head.

Maybe. But I don’t think so. Here’s my theory: LA drivers are informed, experienced and understand there’s a common goal: Everyone wants to arrive at their destination. It isn’t a contest; it’s going along to get along. In DC, by contrast, you are competing with people who HAVE TO BE AT WORK RFN FFS with tourists and taxis — and you have a lot of confusing nonsense like traffic circles and magical construction zones that pop up overnight with no advance notice that three lanes of your four-lane highway are going to be closed. (And that’s not even taking into account the whole “everyone blows town as soon as Congress recesses” aspect.) This means you’re dealing with a lot of lost people in unpredictable and trying conditions — and it’s exacerbated by the fact that you can’t ever really predict what you’re going to encounter. 3 p.m. in DC? Well, it could take you 10 minutes, or it could take you 3 hours. It just really depends on the traffic gods.

In LA, things are more consistent. You know when rush hour is going to suck, and you know if you wait long enough, it’ll clear out. There’s plenty of advance notice when stuff will shut down, and people pay attention.

And then there are the drivers themselves. First of all, they know how to merge. I had forgotten that. It’s like being part of a ballet — people move smoothly and they accelerate and decelerate with the cars around them. There’s none of that herky-jerky slamming on the brakes when they realize traffic ahead of them is stopped, or stomping the gas pedal so they can crawl right up the tailpipe of the car ahead of them. Even in rush hour, people leave room for others to move. Weaving across and maintaining a constant speed is an art form that really needs to be practiced in more regions of this country.

Second, they know when not to merge. I was in the slow lane at one point, next to an exit only lane, and I found myself tensing over the wheel and and narrowing my eyes at the people to my right, just waiting for that freaking moron who was going to suddenly decide he didn’t want to get off after all and zoom over, cutting me off without even looking. It never happened. I think this is a byproduct of most LA drivers being local. They know where they’re going, they know where their exit is, and they don’t stare at the GPS in a hypnotic state, then suddenly realize they need to be six lanes over.

The one downside? The effing motorcycle riders. Cars will be poking along at 30-40 mph, and those little suckers will buzz you at 60 as they bounce along the Botts Dot lane dividers. I’d forgotten they did that, but it only took one of those dorks to remind me how much I’ve always wanted to fling my car door open when I see them coming.

So, yeah, I reckon I’ve been in DC too long, as this rage aspect clearly makes me part of the problem. Guess it’s good I’m going home!


About arwenbicknell

Editor by day, author by night.
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