Thoughts on LA Traffic

S Cearly: Embrace This Space



Judson Hamilton

I was visiting my friend in LA. I called and told him where I was and he told me I was only a 2 hour drive away and that I was close and I said ‘cool’ and got on the 405 headed south, but quickly realized I was on the wrong highway and started to panic.

My doctor had recommended a meditation tape and I was rooting around under the passenger seat trying to find it but my seat belt got locked up and I couldn’t reach it or find it (plus I was swerving kinda) so I gave up and just chose something from the pile of tapes next to my elbow while trying to focus on my breath (yes cassette tapes not cause it’s retro but because they’re hella cheap and this car is old AF).

But cause I was so stressed out at the thought of being on this massive highway with people criss-crossing lanes in balletic mayhem I kept punching the tapes in listening to one half a track and then popping them out and tossing them into the back seat. I wanted to find the right song. I’ve got a shit ton of tapes cause I buy them by the lb. so I just started motorin’ through them

“City of Angels” by 10,000 Maniacs, “City of Angels” by Thirty Seconds to Mars, “City of Angels” by Cactus World News, “City of Angels” by Captain Rizz, “City of Angels” by The Burritos, “City of Angels” by Miguel, “City of Angels” by The Distillers, “City of Angels” by Elevation vs Grube & Ozomatli, “City of Angels” by Red Elvises, “City of Angels” by The Savage Rose, “City of Angels” by The Unknowns, “City of Angels” by Wayne Duncan, “City of Angels (Dumb Ol’ Country Boy) by 10 City Run, “City of Devils” by Yellowcard, “City of the Angels” by Bill Withers, “City of the Angels” by Dave Dudley, “City Of The Angels” by Elyse Weinberg, “City of the Angels” by Fred Astaire, “City of the Angels” by Jimmy C. Newman, “City of the Angels” by Journey, “City of the Angels” by Gowan, “City of the Angels” by Linda Hargrove, “City of the Angels”, by Michael Johnson, “City of the Angels” by Neil Innes, “City of the Angels” by Bob Saker, “City of the Angels” by Wang Chung — before settling on “LA woman” cause I just really like that fucking song.

I was just getting settled in and starting to mellow out and really hear what Jim was saying to me and what Ray was layin’ down on the keys with my fingers drummin’ on the steerin’ wheel and thought about puttin’ on cruise control when some crazy mutherfucker swung into my lane and I had to switch up real quick to keep from hitting him and then I realized I’d missed my exit and the highway up ahead was forking. I started to hyperventilate and rolled down my window which made me feel better for a minute but then Jim’s voice started sloooowin’ down like he was stoned on Thorazine or something and when I popped the tape out a whole bunch of it was stuck in there like glistening ribbons of it and I tried to pull it out and wind it back up but I kept swerving and people were honking and one guy in a convertible threw a slushee at my car which put me right back in panic mode.

The tape got wrapped around my finger and I pulled even harder on it until something snapped inside and the spool of tape was all over the place. Then there was this gust of wind through the window and spools of tape blew all over me from the backseat covering my elbows and upper neck and I couldn’t reach the window to roll it up and it started winding itself around me (or was I unwinding it?) I looked up to see the highway had opened up to a four lane and people were criss-crossing in front of me trying to make their exits and then I slammed on my brakes but it was too late and I smashed into the back of a eighteen wheeler the doors swung open and boxes of CDs smashed my windshield and broke free of their cases and were spinning down at high speed like throwing stars lodging into the hood of my car and my chest my collarbone my head —


Paula Harris

It ended with me on a bus with two other people, being driven through a wasteland of highways to get to a wasteland carpark where LA airport hotels clumped together. It started because Lufthansa upgraded their computer system overnight, which caused their entire computer network to crash internationally. I was in Italy when that happened. We found out after standing in a queue for an hour in Rome airport. They didn’t tell us what was happening for that first hour, the staff just kept clustering together and talking quickly, and then they’d dash around in a fluster. Eventually we got to Germany – was Frankfurt our transit point? – and by then we knew we were probably screwed. But maybe we’d still get home to New Zealand? But maybe not.

In that second airport – Frankfurt, I’m sure – we were told that for security reasons, because of the crashed computer system, we needed to visually identify our luggage before it would be loaded onto the flight to LA. We were herded in groups of a dozen at a time, walking out across the tarmac, searching through the 400-ish suitcases to point our suitcases out to staff, then walking up the airplane stairs. The first dozen had gone to do this when the First Class And Gold Passengers started kicking up a fuss. They were First Class And Gold Passengers and therefore they should be the first to go across. They spoke with tight mouths to the Lufthansa staff. The Lufthansa staff eventually let them move up and claim their rightful place as The First To Search For Their Luggage And Then Board The Plane.

Half a dozen of us realised that the best idea was being the last to go out onto the tarmac to check for our suitcases. Once most of the luggage was loaded, we’d have a much easier time of it. We’d also get to walk around inside the airport and have more space while we waited. We didn’t join the queue, but instead walked up and down the corridor leading to our departure lounge.

After an hour and a half it was down to the last dozen passengers. Our half dozen joined the queue. We walked out. We looked around the twenty bags – oh, the joy of a two suitcase allowance! – and quickly spotted ours and pointed them out to staff with clipboards. I also spotted that one of my suitcases wasn’t there to be spotted, that it was already lost in the system, but that’s a story for another day.

The pilot tried to make up some time by taking the fast route – I woke up at 2 in the morning to chance upon seeing the Arctic out my window, and I got up and joined a group of cabin crew who were in awe of this and taking photos out one of the windows.

We were told that the airlines for our connecting flights had been advised of the computer system crash, of our flight delay. We were told that airport ground staff would help us get through immigration quickly. LAX was, as usual, absolute shit and we were in the immigration queue for two hours. No one helped. We got our suitcases and took them to the transfer desk. The woman looked at our tickets and said “Oh chile. Just take ‘em and run. Run!”

With legs that were still half-numb we ran the two terminals distance to Air New Zealand. Our flight has just closed its doors. “If only we’d known” the thickly-American-accented Air NZ staffer said. I don’t know why Lufthansa hadn’t told them. I don’t know why the airport gossip wasn’t talking about an airline’s entire computer system being down. He rebooked us for the next flight to Auckland, 24 hours later. He arranged a hotel and meal vouchers and a bus to take us to the airport hotel. “Now don’t be late for the flight tomorrow!” he said. I stared daggers at him. “At least you get 24 hours in LA, how great is that?!” he said. Daggers.

The only time I’ve experienced LA outside of LAX was that drive to and from the airport hotel. It was bleak. It was nothing but concrete. We seemed to go in the opposite direction to any other traffic. It felt like we were driving towards the apocalypse, but at least we had meal vouchers.


Paul Jonathan

I imagine LA traffic is as never ending as the desire to escape your own past.


Joe Linker

The Sepulveda tunnel runs under an LAX runway, linking El Segundo to the south to Westchester to the north. Sepulveda is part of SR 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. Pictured, is a Kodachrome slide taken while driving through the tunnel in February, 1975. Heading south of LAX, one drives through the south Santa Monica Bay beach cities: El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach. But Sepulveda is still a mile or two from the beach. To drive through the beach cities with views of the water, head west to Vista del Mar and drive south on Highland Avenue, Manhattan Avenue, and Hermosa Avenue, ending at the Redondo Breakwater and Pier. In Penina’s Letters, after picking up Salty, just back “from the war,” at LAX, Penina drives the “Peace Truck” south through the tunnel but takes the first right on Imperial Avenue and drives down to Vista del Mar where Salty gets his first soldier’s home view of the water.


Scott Manley Hadley

“La traffic” is French for “the traffic”, which is something you can commonly find on the roads in conurbations big and small the world over, including major North American cities such as Mexico City, New York New York, Los Angeles and Montreal. People in north America and western Europe love cars, even though for every additional person who buys a car there are more cars in circulation and thus more cars in traffic and thus driving takes longer and longer and becomes less efficient. Sometimes driving is useful, like when you want to go to somewhere tiny and remote and rural, but given the non-intoxicating yet still toxic fumes produced by cars then investment in sexy public transport infrastructure should be the real focus, even in places where they call “the traffic”, “La traffic”.


Colin Raff

Q: What are the main factors that slow traffic en route to LAX?

A: Potholes, construction work, speed limits, special events, and accidents are all possible contributors. They work together, and seen from above, they grind into one another, these ailing segments, these ramps swollen with car hoods glittering in the midday sun like taxed integument, open sunroofs like spiracles of an oversized invertebrate, the whole mass heaving like the tracheal system of a dying prehistoric insect. For our sick giant to have lived at all, it must have spent its days in a shallow swamp — and sure enough, today it writhes half-steeped in warm water, its bulk dwarfed by obscene plants that could have thrived only then — but they are already diseased, and some of these fleshy fronds are dead, boated limbs, inert but juicy, waiting to be pierced by needy chelicerae! And our arthropod may chew away at dinner for one more evening, but it cannot prevent that eventual slide into death and rot, into base carbonization and inexorable California.


Equisapien Replicant

Veins curving twisting around and branching through population centers, the residential centers send their nearly rested residents to work against the flow of those with all the work squeezed out, a population in constant cyclical flux giving its collective life to a hungry Los Angeles. The passages fill and empty through the day and no one is already where they need to be; where we flew at 1am, 8 hours later we are filling the sky with expensive fruit of idleness while crawling at hours per mile. We do a lot while we trade time and money for distance; listening to the radio, blankly staring at the homeless encampments, avoiding the gaze of panhandlers at onramps, preparing for the next part of the day that arrival brings, trying to read the bumper stickers of fellow travelers – and during this time, we can only wonder how much the living city does with us.


Ed Simon: SoCal Reverie

Who knew that Los Angeles has a subway? According to Wikipedia, that source of all which is factual, the Los Angeles Metro Rail system operates six lines across 93 different stations, and yet can you think of a single cultural representation of these mythological trains? There’s no movie or television show which comes to mind where L.A.’s subway plays any significant role, to the point that for an outsider it might as well not exist. This is by contrast to New York of course, where the subway lives in the imagination of those who don’t know the A train from the R, and who wouldn’t recognize a MetroCard if it hit them in the face. When we think of a subway, we think of New York’s grand, faded old dame; the orange plastic seats and the graffiti associated with all that 70s punkish beauty – even if it doesn’t quite look like that anymore. But L.A.? Who knows what that subway looks like?

Because if New York is a city that was built up, then Los Angeles is one that is spread out. As such, it’s the freeway and not the subway which is a metonymy for that city in a valley constrained by the Pacific and the San Gabriel Mountains.  Both the physical and mental landscape of New York is written by pedestrians, cyclists, and the yellow-drip of taxis stalled on its grid, but Los Angeles is the Kingdom of the Car. The diffuseness of the California metropoles necessitated that its life-blood would be the automobile, and so the sacred geography of Los Angeles is maintained not by subterranean train but by the Harbor Freeway, the Santa Monica Freeway, the Hollywood Freeway, and so on. No graffiti-laden subway trains come to mind with L.A., but rather the image of bumper-to-bumper traffic in a concrete circulatory system threaded through the flesh of the sunbaked city.

In that way, Los Angeles is arguably the more American of the two cities. The car, with all of its detriments, all of its negatives, has always been the great national obsession. American identity is replete with images of cowboys and baseball, but none of us are cowboys and the obesity epidemic ensures that we’re on average not very athletic (though the apple pie part may be true). Only the car becomes the great psychic extension of the American polity. No other places Is more associated with the car and the ways it shapes space and experience than L.A. – not the Jersey freeways, not Boston’s Big Dig, not even the interstate highways crisscrossing the nation. It’s within that sunshiny place chocked with exhaust that he American propensity towards metallic grandiosity and backlogged frustration most fully exemplifies itself, what the consummate New Yorker Norman Mailer described as “this land of the pretty-pretty,” whose virility is “in the huge billboards, the screamers of the neon lighting, the shouting farm-utensil colors of the gas stations and monster drugstores, it is the swing of the sports cars, hot rods, convertibles.”


Joseph Spece: theorizing LA traffic

About LA traffic: it’s nothing like the freight in Silent Hill. Mr Sunderland was a visitor there and I hunched in his shadow as he ran                   , just observing.

There was a garage off Nathan but James didn’t use it; he left his sedan on County. Once a man swerved off County and pitched his daughter through the passenger window. She totters through the brush unhurt and ends up becoming Heather. For traffic in the brush there are mayflies & dark wild daffodil.

Mr Sunderland found a radio that picks up static. Thin as a blade in his shadow I couldn’t make out whether that static created more traffic or summoned the traffic already there. The faceless slid their feet towards us, both arms struggling in the seeming pockets of their ribflesh. James got a crowbar but still the traffic came.

No one parks at the garage on Nathan from looks of it. There was something like a Hyundai on Harris and white vans here & there so the garage on Nathan is empty except for the grooms in Rosewater Park. There the hounds drive their slather and a woman named Maria considers Toluca Lake.

One other thing about the traffic in Silent Hill is roads have been twisted off into ether with their mangled subbase & base courses spilling & their tack coats totally mussed. The cutback bitumen formed a watertight surface alright but it wasn’t water that left the roads looking chewed-off. Mr Sunderland and I stood a long time on Sanders just looking into the mist but no cars came.

Yet it was not unpeaceful.

Mr Sunderland finds every sort of junk and pieces it together to enter old apartments. I think he’s savvy.

Someday I’ll never visit Los Angeles and know more about LA traffic.


Anna Vangala Jones: Workshop

The bench at the bus stop is littered with styrofoam containers, lids open, full of old noodles and surrounded by a moat of greasy chicken wing bones. I’m relieved my foster dog isn’t with me because his strength is much greater than mine when there is leftover food trash to be scavenged. I’d have no power to keep him away, leash or no. I’ll be waiting for the next bus for a good while since I’m just a few minutes late for the one I actually needed. But my intro fiction workshop instructor is used to me tiptoeing into class late, with my dog’s severe separation anxiety being the entirely truthful excuse every time. I glance at the time on my phone and wonder if it’s worth going at all. I’ve been teaching middle and high school English for several years, so I know how to survive constant embarrassment in front of a tough audience, but for whatever reason, the anxiety of letting these total strangers read my writing and then tell me everything that’s wrong with it is ten thousand times more unbearable. Like standing in the center of the room and letting people paint you naked, only they’re allowed to say things they don’t like about your body while they do it. The nice comments help, sure, but I’m still so new to sharing my fiction with non family members that somehow my mind erases the positives and etches the criticisms into my memory with permanent ink. I look up and can see the blue bus in the distance now. It’s not that far, but this is Wilshire. Basically I’m gonna have to watch it sit and inch, sit and inch, sit and inch its way over to me for the next twenty minutes or more.

A man approaches me on the bench. “What country are you from?” he says. No hello.

“This one,” I tell him.

“Don’t be like that. You know what I mean. I’m just curious.”

“I was born in India, but I’ve been here since I was a toddler.”

“You’re cute.”

I don’t say anything and just keep staring at the bus, willing it to learn how to fly and glide over all the cars below it to come land on this guy for me and then drive me to my destination.

“It’s rude not to say thank you, sweetie. They don’t teach you manners in India, huh?”

I stand and check the time on my phone again. Workshop has started. The blue bus may be closer than it was before by like a few feet? But that’s it. The headlights spread out over the many packed lanes of Wilshire reflect off my glasses until all I see is a depressing blob of bright white. I start to head back in the direction of my apartment over on Barry.

“Aw c’mon, I didn’t mean anything. I’m not dangerous. Stay and wait for the bus with me.”

“You’re fine. I just forgot something. Look at that traffic. You’ll still be here waiting for the bus when I get back.”

“That’s LA traffic for ya!” He says it like this bonds us and makes him not an annoying creep, but my new buddy instead.

As I walk, I glance over my shoulder every so often to make sure he’s not following me and type out a brief email to my teacher, So sorry but I’m too sick to make it to workshop tonight. Can we do my story next week instead? I apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you.

As I turn into the alleyway behind my building, my foster dog’s panicked barks douse me in cold water and I know he’ll be happy I’m home at least. A car honks at me to get out of the way and I barely make it to the side before it speeds past. Its license plate says BE KIND.

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