Driving through the city is the thing I both hate and love most about Los Angeles. Traffic, road rage, terrible drivers: these are things Angelenos are initiated to at an age younger than most people find decent. Sometimes the thought of turning on my car and navigating those tortuous streets is more than I can bear. Sometimes I dream of Paris and Copenhagen and San Francisco and Portland: mythical lands of public transportation and bicycle-friendly streets. Then I think about the view from the 134 as it snakes across the mountains above Eagle Rock, and I know that I am married to LA and its car culture, for better or for worse.
I’ve yet to find a sweeter pleasure than catching all the green lights on La Brea, or driving from my house in Silver Lake to a friend’s in Santa Monica and coming around the bend where the 5 turns into the 110. I still get a little nervous maneuvering my car around the tight corner that is inevitably jam-packed, but once I do, there’s that irreplaceable reward of finding myself downtown, amidst LA’s skyscrapers and the Staple Center. You’re in the city, you’re in Los Angeles.
Driving west on Santa Monica Boulevard in the late afternoon is another satisfaction that I will never tire of. It’s a quintessential Los Angeles scene — the gorgeous ephemerality of driving toward the ocean and the setting sun as headlights begin to come on. The city changes; it puts on its neon and its cigarette smoke and prepares for yet another night of Hollywood types and hipsters and the inevitable drunk drivers.
And eventually, there’s having the freeway all to oneself — a gift only experienced after three in the morning. It’s a reward for a long day spent in the unforgiving streets. After hours of breathing in smog and listening to beeping horns, one can glide down the darkened expanses of concrete and get from one side of town to the other in an intoxicatingly short amount of time.
True intimacy with the city of Los Angeles comes from knowing which streets to take to get from Los Feliz to Century City for a breakfast meeting, from the memorized images of blurry landscape seen from the freeway, from the muscle memory of the drive to the beach. Los Angelenos, for better or for worse, experience the city from their cars. The junk on the sides of our freeways, the graffiti and murals that decorate dividing walls: these are not things ignored on the way to someplace better. It’s a patina, a reminder of who we are. We may complain about parking and gas prices and commutes, but really, we know our traffic culture is what sets us apart from the rest of the world.
We’re the only ones stupid and brave enough to live this lifestyle, and that is why we deserve Los Angeles.