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Road Expert Hits One of Life’s Little Bumps

Some call me Dr. Chuckhole. Others prefer simply Stick Shift. Whatever the moniker, I often suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous colleagues, all because I write a weekly question-and-answer column about traffic and commuting. It’s dubbed “Street Smart” and appears Mondays in the Orange County edition. You’ve seen it. Some of you may have even read it.

The good-natured ribbing from my peers hardly bothers me. Lord knows I deserve it. And along with the kidding come some serious queries about life on the roadway. One staffer wanted to know if an out-of-state ticket would catch up to him. Another asked me about a troublesome railroad crossing. Still another pestered me about when that darned car-pool lane is going to open.

Warranted or not, it seems some of my colleagues view me as their trusty transportation consultant. Even my neighbors occasionally pop a question when I’m out front mowing the lawn. If I don’t know the answer, I at least know where to get it. Ask good old Dr. Chuckhole.

Recently, however, the good doctor’s reputation took a tumble. We’re not talking malpractice, just a teensy-weensy oversight. And this one hit very close to home.

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I was talking with a county transportation official who happens to live a few blocks away from my house on the northern flank of Santa Ana. We were exchanging small talk when we got on the topic of the flood of commuters who chug through the neighborhood each day. I wasn’t taking notes, but as I recall, the conversation went something like this:

Transportation expert: “Well, things will get lighter when Caltrans closes the Flower Street off-ramp.”

Dr. Chuckhole: “Flower Street off-ramp? What Flower Street off-ramp?”

Expert: “You don’t know about the Flower Street off-ramp? It’s been there forever. Dumps cars right onto Flower.”

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I could hear it in his voice, the sort of veiled derision saved for only the truly uninformed. I was, of course, aghast. Profoundly embarrassed. Humiliated.

Here in Southern California, one must know one’s off-ramps, especially around one’s home.

Clinging to the faint hope that the expert was mistaken, I set out to investigate. I pulled out my trusty jalopy and headed north on the freeway. Swinging south again, I steamed toward the moment of truth. Say it ain’t so.

It took several passes to find the proper route along the knot of overpasses, transition roads and cloverleafs. But, alas, it was true. There it was, a neat little slice of asphalt that conveniently slips traffic virtually into my back yard.

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The discovery has been weighing on me ever since. Indeed, this has been the first time I’ve come clean. Admitting my faux pas will undoubtedly subject me to abuse from friends and colleagues. “Doc! Where have you been?” I can see them now, gleefully tittering in the corner, pointing my way.

It was a humbling lesson. Never again would I assume to have mastered all the nooks and crannies of the Southland freeway system, let alone the streets outside my front window.

But let’s face it. I’m not alone. In this land of endless asphalt, keeping track of the twists and turns of the freeways and thoroughfares that make up our dizzying transportation network is downright impossible. Indeed, I surveyed several of my neighbors, and none but the most veteran residents had set a set of tires on the cursed Flower Street off-ramp.

Thank God Monday is a holiday. On Tuesday, I will return to work, tail between my legs and resume my duties as Orange County’s transportation answer man. Perhaps by baring my soul I have compromised my hard-won credibility on traffic matters. Perhaps this sad little episode will have cost me my title.

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I’m a doctor no more. Call me Chuckhole.


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