March 06, 2007

Everything You Ever Needed to Know about Driving in Los Angeles

By Change100 © 2007

I have the same strange thought at least once a day while I'm behind the wheel of my 1993 blue-green Saturn. It usually springs forth as I'm tailgating some poor asshole at 15 MPH in the right lane of a busy thoroughfare as he fruitlessly looks for street parking at a peak time of day. Precious minutes of my life are sucked into the ether every single day of my life by these morons' insistence that somehow, today, they will luck into that perfect metered space on Beverly Drive during the industry lunch rush even though experience and simple common sense dictate that like yesterday, like the day before and like tomorrow -- it ain't gonna happen. That's when I start to fantasize about a world where I could push a button on the dashboard and my front windshield would turn into a programmable neon sign that can read my thoughts and express them to the idiot drivers around me in a clear, concise manner. I dream of tailing right behind these fuckers, my windshield ablaze with the message, "YOU'RE NEVER GONNA FIND A SPACE ON THIS BLOCK AND YOU KNOW IT! SO FUCKING DRIVE, YOU MOTHERFUCKER!"

I am a Los Angeles driver. And by conservative mathematical estimates, I have driven over 150,000 miles inside the City of Angels in the last decade and a half. That translates into almost one solid year of my life spent operating a motor vehicle in heavy traffic populated by yuppies, criminals, high school kids, industry douchebags, Hollywood slicksters, and hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants without licenses or insurance. I have an average of 1.5 near-death experiences in L.A. traffic every day. At this point, I'm immune to them. A minivan full of preschoolers could shoot out of an alleyway at 40 MPH, it's bimbo-mom driver yapping on her cell phone instead of watching the road and my heart will scarcely quicken as my foot hits the brakes with automatic, instinctive precision. Smoking a lot of pot may also contribute to this almost eerie sense of calm, and is a highly recommended practice especially when venturing out into the concrete jungle at the witching hours of 7-10 AM and 3-7 PM.

If there is one fundamental rule about driving in Los Angeles, it is this. Be the asshole or be the asshole's victim. See an opportunity and take advantage of it, whether it's a lane change, a parking space, or a quickie left-turn. Otherwise, be prepared to waste your life waiting.

Driving in Los Angeles is made infinitely easier if one understands that there will always be traffic. Even at 2 AM, there can (and will be) freeway traffic as you are now entering prime high speed chase time and cop cars will frequently be used to slow down the pace of freeway traffic by driving in a serpentine pattern across all lanes when a criminal is being chased perhaps miles ahead. Understanding that traffic will always exist is half the battle toward becoming an effective L.A. driver.

Be prepared to execute the "right-lane swerve-around" at a moment's notice, especially when trapped behind a slow vehicle. For an average commuter, this will happen on an average of over a dozen times per day. Appropriate situations for this maneuver include:
(1) getting stuck behind the Mexicans in pickup trucks who drive 20 MPH below the speed limit on Olympic Blvd.
(2) getting stuck behind old Jewish ladies on their way to the Fairfax Glatt Mart on Sunday mornings.
(3) getting around bottle blondes with cell phones in their ears trying to find street parking on Robertson.
Brake, signal, swerve, and if the spirit moves you, give a little "curse & sneer" just to solidify your contempt.

A few droplets of rain falling out of the sky make Los Angeles drivers infinitely more retarded than they are on dry land. Even a very slight drizzle moistens the roads just enough so that L.A. is temporarily turned into a giant oil slick where pissed-off people in luxury cars crash into each other because they can't handle even the slightest of weather-related delays. Instead of becoming frustrated at the rain and ensuing traffic, use this opportunity to thicken your "ohmygod traffic was hell," excuse for being late into the rock-solid alibi of "ohmygod I'm so sorry I'm late -- nothing was moving in the rain." Relax and accept the rain delay. Turn up your iPod. Smoke a bowl of medicinal marijuana. It doesn't rain much here so why not enjoy it, especially when it comes with a built-in excuse for tardiness.

When driving in L.A.'s tonier neighborhoods (i.e. Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Malibu), understand that those douchebags with small penises that drive Mercedes Benzes tend to feel that by virtue of their ostentatious purchase, they have more of a right to the road than you do. Rude gestures are encouraged toward these asshats, including but not limited to: the finger, the double finger, the mouthed, "Fuck you asshole!" and my personal favorite, the "chase and yell," which involves chasing said douchebag's vehicle to the next red light, pulling alongside of him and tossing a choice sound bite out the window as he pretends not to see you. Don't worry. He does. And he's pretty scared now since you decided to chase him half a mile just to get that off your chest. But that's OK. He deserves to be scared. And has a $70,000 Nazi sled to protect him.

Aggression is the key to successful Los Angeles driving. Be aware of who is in your lane, and what their driving personality is. Is this driver aggressive? Passive? Patient? In a rush? Are they aware of their environment or paying more attention to their buzzing wireless communications device? Is this driver someone who, like me, is eager to get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient way possible or are they lost, struggling, or unfamiliar with their route? It is perfectly acceptable to swerve around and/or cut off these people for no reason other than the fact that they deserve it. Know where you're going or get the fuck off my road.

In order to become a true L.A. driving warrior, you will sometimes have to be the asshole. This doesn't mean you're a bad person-- it only contributes to your overall savviness. By understanding that this attitude is just an unfortunately necessary part of your own survival, inner peace will come much easier.

Look at it as acting if you have to. After all, this is Hollywood.

Change100 is a writer and former D-girl from Los Angeles, CA.

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