Kage Baker, my fearless Navigator, hated traffic. I do too. We long ago realized that a longer route was preferable as long as it kept us moving – as long as we weren’t stuck in traffic, or playing stop and go with a thousand other cars driven by people who didn’t know how to drive. Because it’s always the people who don’t know how who end up driving in front of me.
The vernal equinox has come and gone here in Los Angeles, and though Spring is a subtle season here, it has a few unchangeable markers. One of these is road work. As soon as the winter rains reach a reliable end, the road work begins. Excavations appear in all the most inconvenient portions of the narrowest freeways; traffic is re-routed, and diverted, and detoured until it meets itself coming the other way and just stops dead. And the works continues on remorselessly, 24/7, until the next wet season shuts ’em down again.
Some will reappear in December as sinkholes and artesian springs, but that’s another whole set of problems …
Right now, it’s road work. And accidents. Daylight savings time is upon us, and for reasons I have never understood, Angelinos drive like they have three eyes and no depth perception during this season. You take your life in your hands on the freeways from March to October, from 4 PM to dark – there will be crashes, entanglements, skids, collisions, and burning barricades of steel and glass on every freeway. Everywhere. Every day. If there is nothing physically occluding the freeway you are on, then refugees from the other, blocked roads will be pouring in to slow you down.
Alas, it’s been 16 years since I was a regular on the streets of Los Angeles. They removed some of them in my absence, and inserted others. Aside form the freeways, there are few straight lines to follow – one must know the streets intuitively, learn the hidden passes and secret ways and portals … and here’s me with no Navigator.
My nephew Michael – to whom we clearly read too many doomed hero stories as a kid – is pursuing a teaching degree at Cal State Los Angeles. He doesn’t drive yet, and I’m his ride. I don’t mind – the campus is bright and modern, but is surrounded by a nest of freeways, miles of auto repair shops that were built to accommodate model T’s, acres of tiny stucco and Craftsman cottages dug into the hills that rise east of downtown. There are no easy ways to get there. There are no easy ways to get out of there. I am fairly sure there is actually NO WAY to leave the area unless you get to the right doorway while the elements are properly aligned …
But the freeways reached their annual blockage this week. I had to find enough remnants of surface streets to get between CSULA and Atwater. I spent the day poring over old maps and Google Earth (which gave me directions that obviously went through another dimension – two of the streets aren’t even there any more) and finally found a route.
And it worked! It wasn’t as easy as following Kage’s long hands, gesturing “over here” and “Left! Left! Your other left!” – when she wasn’t missing a turn because she was yelling about a gorgeous bit of tile work glimpsed under the universal cloak of morning glories on a hillside – but it worked. The compass above my dash (which she insisted on installing) saved my aging butt three times. And I got us home despite the two collisions, one burning car and crews widening lanes on Highway 5.
Kage would have been proud.