A friend once told me that the biggest difference between Los Angeles and New York is that in LA, your hair appointment and the time it takes to get to and from it is probably your entire day’s plan.
Los Angeles is unlike any other place, envied for its proximity to fame and fortune and vilified for its physical proximity to literally none of the places you need to be in a day’s time. Yes, we’re going to take a second to talk about traffic. The thing that rules all Angeleno’s inner clock and the number one reason that Bay Arean’s can actually argue that they are the Golden-State-superior. Los Angeles’ traffic is a monster in and of itself, but while our roads are more open in this traffic-jam of a year we are having at the global scale, let’s take a moment to appreciate what the bumper-to-bumper experience has taught us about our city, our fellow inhabitants, and ourselves.
You see, I’m born and raised in Los Angeles (yes, actually born and raised). I have lived from Hancock Park to West Adams to LAX-adjacent, and I have never gone to school or worked anywhere under 25 minutes away.
The Los Angeles traffic experience is embedded deep in my soul, as I have absolutely spent at least a year in an automotive standstill if we add up the hours I’ve sat on the 405 alone. This all said, I have come to know traffic as a blessing.
Sitting in the passenger seat as my Dad maneuvered through his off-the-Google-Maps route to get to the Dodgers game at rush hour, or as my mom and I spent the hour up the coast taking me to high school far away from our area code, traffic allowed for some of my most bonded moments with my family. It also became the place that I figured my own shit out as I became old enough to face the freeways on my lonesome. As I drove the hour and a half to Hollywood for work, traffic helped me find my favorite music, taught me how to measure time, and taught me the joys of being in my own little bubble. A meditative mayhem, traffic is the only place that you can be surrounded by thousands of strangers, yet you are totally and completely alone.
Yes, you can judge me for comparing a global pandemic to merging from the 10 to the 405 on a Thursday night, but humor me if you will.
We are in a moment of time as we travel through a public safety crisis affecting each and every being on Earth that has forced us into our own autonomous bubbles. We are all existing in the exact same lane, whether we like it or not, and no it is unfortunately not the carpool. Most of us are filled with road rage and frankly, we’re pissed off that the arrival time to our destination is increasing even as we clock in more miles. Yet, this alone time, an experience shared with everyone in the next car over, is sacred, intimate, and gives us the time to hit the brakes more than we may have ever wanted to. What I’m trying to say is, if we can learn to love traffic for all that it can teach us, maybe we can learn to love this lifestyle that we’ve all been adjusting to.
That all said, my moments in traffic are intrinsic to my identity and my connection to not only myself but to this city.
Nowhere else in the world do you have the time to listen to an entire album while on your way to see that very same artist perform. In the longest of car rides I got to figure out what kind of music I liked, why I liked it, and what uninterrupted thoughts came up that I could watch turn into articles once I put the car in park. Unbothered by the energy of everyone trying to get out of traffic as fast as they can, I sat in my car by myself, noticing what I could tune out and what I needed to tune in.
We are all the traffic of LA, and LA is traffic itself. Not only is it the cliche butt of a joke or the excuse that your date uses when they’re keeping you waiting, it is truly symbolic of LA life and all of us within it. We are a population of fast moving products of productivity, and we are angry when we are slowed down by other people.
“Los Angeles is that strange paradox of fake features but pride in its unique qualities.”
Similarly, New York IS the subway system, as it’s inhabitants are accustomed to being tightly packed into a forced shared moment with one another at all times. But as the Bay Area has many connecting freeways in their transportation system, they omit the “the” when referring to any (with their logic, it would be “405,” not “The 405… weird). Maybe that’s because LA highways have this life of their own. Los Angeles is that strange paradox of fake features but pride in its unique qualities. The freeways are these structures that create a web of connections like a Live Nation intern networking at a Wednesday night showcase (RIP). The freeways need the “the” because they are more than just the ground that the traffic builds upon, they are their own entities connecting millions of people to places, to each other, and to themselves.
So, as we trek the slow road filled with bumps and standstills like the status of our current worldly predicament, we must remember the benefits of doing this journey alone amongst the masses. Los Angeles traffic is not for the faint of heart, and much like the pandemic that is speeding into every space across the globe, LA is said to have it the worst. But it is that which makes LA the fucking worst that actually makes it live-able and full of love.
I’m not going to sugar coat it: the locals are not too fond of the transplants, and it is the symbolism of traffic and this actual jam that we are in today that makes that ever so clear. People come for the beach, the babes, and the bottle service (barf), but they just can’t take the realities of a city life that you must share with millions. If you come here and Uber everywhere, of course you’re going to hate LA. You must sit and experience the torture of traffic in order to appreciate what it gives you in return. Those who come here to Uber everywhere never get that break from their phone screen or from having to put on the “I’m better than you” facade as if your driver knows who you think that you are.
When you let someone else take the wheel of your LA life and you do not sit in the bumpy standstill space of solitude, you do not allow the city to slow you down in the way that we all need. Maybe traffic is what weeds out the ones who cannot sit with themselves, and this big city only becomes bigger the more you can be sitting still outside of the carpool lane.
It is a privilege to sit in traffic, and the transplants that don’t give it a try don’t get to reap the real benefits of this city.
Yes, Los Angeles, like any big city, can be the most isolating. And, like the endlessness of the 405, the road to “making it” in this city means that you may not be content with the fact that we’re all already here. LA traffic is the best at being the worst, but it is something that we must learn from in order to tap into what it actually means to be productive in the land of possibilities. And as we mirror traffic in this moment of collective panic and increased isolation, we have to remember the beauty of being alone around a thousand people. Like the flow of hundreds of headlights under the pink-twilight-emission-filled sky, we have to use these moments to remember that it is the work we do on our own that does get us to where we need to be together.