The 101

My apartment is less than a mile from the 101.

With the windows open I can hear its low roar like the constant murmur of an ocean. Hundreds of thousands of commuters travel on that strip of cement every day. Stray vegetation grows in the cracks.

The 101 is known as the Hollywood Freeway, but where it passes my house it’s called the Ventura Freeway. You could take it all the way to San Francisco, passing Hearst Castle and the elephant seals that hang out on the beach near there. It’s a beautiful drive.

It’s Friday night and drivers are headed to Hollywood and the clubs, coming down from Santa Clarita or Calabasas or Oxnard. It’s a proverbial stream of libation and celebration, and, after 2 am, a literal torrent of drunks.

Freeways define the Los Angeles landscape and you can’t live here very long without eventually getting stuck on one, with no hope of going anywhere. When that happens freeways elicit all the emotions of a bee trapped in a glass jar.

When it rains at night the landscape changes to a pointillist painting of red brake lights and squiggly lines in the road. Cars crawl along like snails, everyone hiding inside their shells.

One day I drove next to a couple in their car fighting. The woman was really yelling at her man, letting him have it. She glanced over suddenly and caught me staring, then flipped me the bird.

There’s a morale there somewhere but there’s no time to think about it when the exits are flying by and the traffic is weaving in and out and you have to get to work or wherever. And really, I’m not looking for morale, this is more the literary equivalent of a dog sticking his head out the window for air.

It’s the freeways that get you places in L.A.

They criss-cross the urban sprawl, delivering people to their destinations. We travel in metal boxes at fatal speeds, singing along and picking our nose. We live and die by them in the City of Angels. Soon after the freeways came fast food joints, smog, and strip malls — all the joys of modern America.

I heard somewhere that 95% of dust is human cells, and the rest is tire particle.

The average commute in Los Angeles is 30 minutes.

You see, as much as we despise them, freeways shape us, they’re a big part of our lives.

I have memories of good times on freeways too.

Driving on the Santa Monica Freeway the night it reopened after being damaged in the Northridge Earthquake. There was still dust on the road and bright construction lights and all the cars slowed down driving through it. I just happened to hear the announcement on the radio, and, being young with nothing else to do, thought it would be an interesting experience.

And the same for the O.J verdict.

I caught wind of it on the radio, grabbed a friend, and headed downtown. There was a guy walking around in an Uncle Fester costume for some reason, and the phrase ‘circus-like’ would be an understatement to describe the surreal scene. Reporters outnumbered onlookers two to one. There was a nervous tension in the air that was as real as the bright noon sun shinning down until shouts of ‘not guilty’ rippled through the crowd. People began cheering. Looking back, I can’t remember if I was one of them.

How many people can say they found out O.J was acquitted firsthand, right outside the courthouse doors? Like driving on the repaired 10, it’s something I’m strangely proud of.

Next time you’re stuck in traffic on the freeway, take a look around, you have a lot of interesting company out there.

Here’s my exit.


2 thoughts on “The 101

  1. I first noticed the odd way nomenclature of the freeways years ago when I first road tripped down to Los Angeles from Seattle. My LA friends all told me we were driving down “The Five” of course, coming from rural Washington State I had only occasionally driven on” I-5″ (eye-five) with my parents…

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