As a product of the Golden State, there’s a lot that I appreciate about California: the weather, the immigrant diversity, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the fact that people drive fast just to name a few examples. But, having lived for years among fellow California refugees here in Oregon, there’s a lot of things I don’t look forward to when I find myself headed South, and chief among these is the traffic. But there’s traffic and then there’s traffic, and Southern California is currently gearing up for what promises to be the worst weekend of traffic in memory. A crucial portion LA’s infamous 405 freeway is shutting down for repairs on Friday and it will be closed all weekend. To someone who has never been to, or driven in Los Angeles, the reconstruction of a major intra-urban bridge and the addition of a new commuter lane in a single weekend might seem like impressively brisk work and cause for huzzahs. But in Los Angeles, where they don’t know Detroit claimed the tagline years ago, locals are hunkering down for “Carmageddon”… and their reactions form a fascinating comment on our national ambivalence towards driving.
If you don’t live in the LA area, this may be the first you’re hearing about this… but La-La land is transfixed. The LA Times gushes
In case you recently left a cult, returned from the moon or have just been blissfully ignoring Los Angeles news, consider the following a public service especially for you. The southern half of the Mulholland Drive Bridge is about to be destroyed.
Right down to the choice of possible excuses for missing important LA news, the Times captures the spirit of the most fad-driven city in the world. As the LA Weekly puts it
Only in Los Angeles (hate that saying, but it’s true) would an empty freeway be considered a major sightseeing attraction. But on Day 4 of the countdown to Carmageddon, it’s just the kind of apocalyptic municipal madness we crave:
Madness you say? But what madness could the closure of 10 miles of freeway inspire in the level-headed citizens of Los Angeles? Where to start? 70 digital billboards are being turned over to warnings about the closure, the space donated by media giant Clear Channel. Not bizarre enough for you? How about the $400 helicopter tours (champagne included), or the $4 Jet Blue flights from Long Beach to Burbank (Saturday only)? Still too humdrum and everyday? How about the sinister threats of street action by the Midnight Ridazz bicycle club, which seems to want to “bomb” the 405 over the weekend? Metro officials are warning
… I recognize that there’s going to be a lot of interest in bicyclers and skateboarders … But … we are going to be working very closely with our friends at the California Highway Patrol … Keep ‘em well away unless your looking for a free ride home in the back of a police cruiser.
And public leaders seem to be getting in on the frenzy with as much gusto as the Ridazz:
“‘Carmageddon’ is not a phrase that I invented, but it’s certainly one I’ve exploited,” said County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the closure area. The supervisor dedicated a page on his website to the closure, complete with a countdown ticker created by Metro.
And with the ball in their court, elected leaders are turning to the people Los Angeleans always turn to in times of trouble: Celebrities. With, it must be added, predictable results:
The LAPD contacted hundreds of celebrities, many who have already begun tweeting news of the closure to give their followers a “heads-up” on the upcoming traffic nightmare…
Access to 30 million followers with celebrity Twitter does have a downside, though. One of the Kardashians promptly complied with the LAPD’s request, but got the information wrong — twice.
Newly engaged sister Kim Kardashian jumped the gun, advising her 8 million followers of the wrong weekend. When notified of her mistake, she referred to the weekend before the planned closure, getting it wrong yet again. Kardashian proved the third time is indeed a charm, and her persistence in the getting the word out was appreciated by officials.
But what do the real Angelenos, the Joe Eightballs think of all the madness? Just another day, says writer/producer Rob Long in an LAT guest Op-Ed
Chaos on the 405 is anytime between 7 in the morning and 9 at night. Chaos on the 405 is weekday afternoons, summer evenings, rainy days and anytime a gallon of gas is slightly less than $4. Chaos on the 405 is a Type A guy in a BMW pounding furiously on his steering wheel as the traffic snakes slowly over the hill, a gigantic truck rumbling to his left and a Latino gardener in a rattling pickup truck on his right, with another guy in the back who stares at the raging BMW driver with expressionless eyes and an imperceptible smile.
Chaos, in other words, is situation normal for Los Angeles freeway traffic…
The freeways — all of them, not just the 405 — are a lie that we tell ourselves every day: Twenty minutes door to door; it’s just over the hill. Every day we approach the onramp with high expectations and hearts full of hope, and every day the 405 betrays us with unexplained delays and an unpredictable rush hour. Now, finally, we’ll know the truth: Freeways lie. Only surface streets tell the truth.
It may make a bigger impact on the one thing that unites all Angelenos than anything else in recent history, but at the end of the day “Carmageddon” is just another spectacle in a city that runs on spectacle. And, as usual, the sideshow helps cover up the painful truth: driving anywhere at almost any time in LA sucks. At least this way everyone can tell themselves it will all be better on Monday.