To Live and Drive in LA

Zoom.Whenever one meditates on the Hollywood “Dream Factory,” it’s difficult to resist making facile jabs at its inevitable nightmares. From the ground up, these include the fact that the entire place is paved, as if it were hermetically sealed the way that nuclear test sites are capped with cement to prevent glow-in-the-dark weeds from sprouting. On top of this artificial crust is the traffic – an endless, sputtering circuit of automotive free radicals, each going in its own direction, which, at any given moment, will also happen to be your direction. No matter where you’re going, don’t even consider tugging your turn signal remotely verso. Of the two hard and fast-rules in Los Angeles, “Never try to make a left turn,” comes right after “Never put your own money into a movie,” though the first is generally more costly. Many have joked that working in the entertainment industry can cost you your soul, but making a left in Los Angeles can cost you your life. I suppose the thinking goes that to yield to a left-turner is to forfeit one’s place in the order of the cosmos, thus thwarting one’s dreams and ambitions as the left-turning interloper assumes your spot on the way to “Making It.” Thus, the average Los Angeles commuter would just as soon T-bone you than let you in.

Mercifully, this didn’t happen to me on a recent FilmArt3 business trip to my former stomping grounds (though I grew up in Lumaville, the stink of L.A. persists on me the way cologne leaves its olfactory whispers in an old coat). I also avoided the lethal freeways that cinch L.A. to the craggy Malibu coast with great ribbons of concrete. I stayed on the surface streets, which is probably why I kept getting lost. Or rather, kept getting my father, my boss and my old screenwriting partner lost due to my slipshod navigation of Los Angeles’ dreamlike landscape. Why all three of these passengers were with me is too complicated to explain in this space. Suffice it to say, the terrain of Los Angeles is surreal enough – endless strip malls, punctuated by sudden spikes of high rises and the occasional mega-studio – but traveling with that particular confluence of personalities had all the hallucinatory hallmarks of Freudian dream analysis. Because I can’t find my way out (or even into) a paper bag, I got us lost no fewer than five times. We made dozens of switchbacks and covered so much weird territory attempting to backtrack (while not turning left), I’m surprised that some intelligence bureau or other didn’t peg us as “people of interest.” If you mapped our progress with global position system you would see that our travels spelled “Hopeless.” And we accomplished this while avoiding the cursive S’s of the lethal 405 and 10 freeways.
The 405, which slows to a crawl anytime anyone has to be anywhere remotely on time, kills through shear tedium. Years come off one’s life in inverse proportion to the miles that are not accumulating on the odometer. The 10, on the other hand, is where Los Angeles drivers challenges land-speed records and is to be avoided unless one has undergone combat-driving training. In Northern California, when one signals one’s intention to, say, merge into the right lane, the driver nearest you in that lane, sees this, yields and let’s you enter the lane in front of him. In Southern California., they do the opposite. You signal, they appear to ignore you and speed up. The idea is that they’re making room for you BEHIND them. What’s to prevent the driver in back of them from speeding up as well, thus eclipsing your window? Nothing. They’re trying to kill you. This, among other reasons, is why you will never hear my complaining that you can’t turn left from First St. West to West Napa when facing north. It’s far worse when you’re facing southern California.

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