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L.A. drives us crazy again

Everyone in L.A. complains about traffic — while at the same time bragging that their commute is only 20 minutes. But the truth is that traffic here is unspeakably, irremediably bad for only a few months of the year.

This is that time. It begins around Halloween and ends with the New Year.

It’s a time when the logistical tricks we pride ourselves on fail — jumping on and off the freeway, cutting through someone else’s neighborhood. We’ve lost our mojo, and we find ourselves stuck in jams, coming and going, at all hours of the day and night, for no earthly reason.

Bus drivers race by with murder in their eyes. Alone in protected space, we scream at the guy in front who won’t edge out far enough so we can squeak into the intersection before the signal turns red.

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Shame follows. We didn’t really say that, did we? And oops, who’s that we’re tail-gating? Not the wonderful woman from accounting who straightened out our sick time? OMG, does she know what we drive?

As we sit on the 405 south and curse the roadside sign “XPECT DELAYS” (Is it too much to ask why we should expect them? And why no E?), we begin to rethink our entire existence. We’re going to have to move across town. Or to Portland. We’ll lose money on the house, but we can get rid of the cars and bike to work. Rain’s not so bad. L.A. is an absurd place to try to make a life.

Our most cherished birthright as Angelenos is to get in our cars and drive around aimlessly while we try to think of something to do. We’re lone cowboys, mounted on our metal steeds, free to roam at will through the canyons and valleys of the wide-open West.

But now, in this very unMerry Christmas season, we’re pebbles in a giant’s hand, squeezed into one big ball of steel-cased humanity. Togetherness does not become us: The city doesn’t work if we’re all using it at the same time.

No doubt we should just roll with the traffic crush. After all, it’s simply a byproduct of all the holiday shopping and activities, the Triple A tells us, plus schools are in session and I guess we’re all out of vacation days. But we’re in no mood for a measured discussion, or for hearing how we should all be taking the bus. Instead, we gaze through the windshield with baleful eyes and ask ourselves: Who are all these people? What gives them the right to be driving now?

I blame Hollywood. After summering on the Vineyard and watching the leaves turn in Vermont, Hollywood’s not-quite A List and trust-fund screenwriters are back home planning chic little cocktail parties. Or watching their kids fill out the Common Application so they can attend a small liberal arts college back East next year.

After the New Year, there will be ski trips for some, meditation retreats for others, and spa visits to work off the holiday weight, then spring skiing, summers abroad, Cannes and Telluride and the cycle starts over. But for now, these people are all here, taking up space that should go to those of us who WORK FOR A LIVING.

The nerve of people who choose to drive when they don’t have to: “I see a lot of old people and I wonder why are you on the road now? You’ve got all week to get the groceries,” said banker Greg Harvey, 57, who drives from the West San Fernando Valley to his job downtown.

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Even worse are those who appear to be enjoying themselves: “I like to go green as well as anybody, but those bicyclists, I see them packing up on the corner,” said Kashaia Kole, 31, who endures the special punishment of Alvarado each morning to get to an employment assistance agency downtown. “A crowd of cars backs up behind them because they don’t know which way the bicyclists are going to go.”

Most galling of all are those who don’t seem to care if they get anywhere. Someone should say it: You are not one of us.

“People on purpose stop at stoplights when they’re still green so they can use their phones,” Jessica Vela, 29, a makeup artist and Culver City resident, marveled. “They actually take their foot off the accelerator.”

Well, if the Automobile Club is right, it will be over soon. Our little tricks will work again. Our existential doubts will vanish. We’ll forget all about Portland. We’ll go back to trying to cheat the traffic gods.

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Or maybe we won’t. One of the good things, perhaps the only one, about California’s long economic slide is that the traffic died down. This season’s congestion could be one of the first signs of a recovery. Fasten your seat belts: It could be a long, slow ride.

gale.holland@latimes.com


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