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The L.A. lament: You can’t get there from here

Look at me. I am sitting in my car in the middle of the 605 Freeway, pounding my steering wheel like a madman and filling the interior of my vehicle with words I have not used since I was in the Marine Corps.

When I am not at a dead stop, I am crawling forward at the pace of a wounded caterpillar, surrounded by enough trucks carrying enough stuff to destroy and rebuild Baghdad a hundred times over and, once emptied, available to haul away any weapons of mass destruction lying around.

This is not just a convoy, it is a mass movement of commodities unlike any ever witnessed in the free world, including France. There are cement trucks, beer trucks, tool trucks, dairy trucks, chicken trucks, fork-lift trucks, quilting material trucks, Coca-Cola trucks, horse trucks, produce trucks and trucks, I swear, carrying pigs to slaughter.

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I am in a moving valley of trucks. Each one is blocks long and several stories high. I long for the carpool lane, but I am alone in the car, headed for Whittier. I asked around, but no one I know wanted to go to Whittier. My frustration is monumental. Given the opportunity, I can rage for an hour and a half without once using a clean word, and this is one of those times. It began two hours earlier.

I left my house in the Santa Monica Mountains humming a cheerful little tune, something from pre-Eisner Disney, when it was still the Happiest Corporation on Earth. It is about 50 miles from where I live to Whittier as the crow flies, but since the crow wisely does not fly the circuitous routes of our freeways, add another 15 miles. Under normal conditions, the trip would take an hour, but there are no normal conditions on an L.A. freeway. I should have realized that and left the day before.

I was barely five minutes from home when I ran into a construction roadblock on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. That was annoying enough, but the wait was made palatable by a Caltrans worker holding a stop sign who moonwalked while we waited, effectively diverting our attention from the delay.

Finally allowed to go, traffic crawled the four miles to the ocean, where Pacific Coast Highway was slowed by dense fog. It hardly ever fogs up that much on PCH. It fogged up this day because I was in a hurry. And there was no moonwalker to amuse me.

I crept through the McClure Tunnel onto the Santa Monica Freeway. It should have been a snap. Let ‘er rip time. Pedal to the metal time.

No way. Up ahead somewhere in the maze of Volkswagens, Chevy Blazers, Camrys, BMWs, Toyota Land Cruisers, Lexus SC430s and Jaguar XKRs, someone had run into someone else, not only causing great bodily harm to a human, but, worse, screwing up traffic to a fare-thee-well.

While this is a good time for radio and television traffic reporters who salivate at a SigAlert, it is not a good time for those of us caught like lab rats in a maze with no cheese in sight. There is no place to go on a freeway when you are several miles and five lanes from the nearest offramp. You wait. Sometimes you faint or die or go mad.

I fantasized that I was the Michael Douglas character in the movie “Falling Down” who loses it in traffic and goes on a rampage. I had to fight the urge to leap from the car and trash a 7-Eleven with a baseball bat.

Finally, onto the San Diego Freeway. It too was clogged, but for no apparent reason. An oil spill? A dog trotting along in the fast lane? Mattresses scattered by terrorists over the entire freeway, paralyzing our ability to move and thereby destroying our will to live?

Crawl. Creep forward. Scream. Shout. Swear. Shake your fist at God and the old lady in front of you who allows wide gaps between her and the preceding car, which is filled by vehicles from the other lanes. Body English thrusts you forward, powered by the hatred that heats your otherwise gentle soul.

Onto the Glenn Anderson Freeway. The 105. No one calls it the Glenn Anderson Freeway because no one remembers who he was. He was a congressman who died 10 years ago. And now he curses his freeway from beyond the grave with another accident in that vague up-ahead. The dead always have the last laugh.

I have made it to the 605. The San Gabriel River Freeway. I can’t see the offramps for the trucks. I can’t see the trucks for my blind rage. I may never get to Whittier. I can’t even remember why I wanted to go to Whittier. There are 21,197 miles of public roads in L.A. County. If I never return, you’ll find me on one of them, sandwiched between a bread van and a pig truck, in the final stages of dementia.

Al Martinez’s column appears Mondays and Fridays. He’s at al.martinez@latimes.com.


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