Exposed in L.A.


I flew to Los Angeles last week, into the Burbank airport, for a long overdue visit to Pasadena, where we’d lived for 7 years. Before Pasadena, we’d been bay area residents for over 20 years, and as the plane began to descend I remembered the ‘culture shock’ I felt as a Northern California transplant in L.A. But it wasn’t long before I adjusted and came to enjoy life in L.A.

The biggest adjustment was freeway driving. As a former San Francisco resident, I rarely ventured out on the bay area freeways; my house and job were both in the city, a short drive from each other. So tackling the 6 and 8-lane southern California freeways was panic attack time. I learned how to do it by focusing on the cars right in front of me – looking ahead at the sea of thousands of cars was too overwhelming. After a couple of years I knew those freeways by heart – the 405, the 110, the 134.

I didn’t appreciate how comfortable I’d become driving down there until we moved back here and became commuters on the 80 and its tributaries (the 580, the 780, the 680, etc.). You’d think that in a smaller setting, like the bay area, the freeway system would be simpler, but not so. I found the driving to be more congested, the drivers (and the general freeway atmosphere) to be angrier, the entrances and exits confusing. But I adjusted, more or less – no choice, right?

And then a strange thing happened – I went back to L.A. not longer after the move, for a weekend visit, rented a car at the airport, and took off down the 134 freeway. And I completely relaxed. A smile popped onto my face and I realized I was having a great time driving on a freeway! I later described it as “being part of a harmonious, fluid community, moving together like a well choreographed ballet”. It was amazing and wonderful.

“It’s the exposure”, my husband said, when we talked about this. “The warm air and comfortable climate means fewer layers of clothing. People are more exposed and open to each other.”

I considered this as I hopped into a Prime Time shuttle at the Burbank airport last week. When we pulled onto the 134 freeway headed toward Pasadena, I instantly felt the same warm relaxed feeling, even as a passenger. The driver was relaxed, the lanes of traffic were moving in harmony, the smile popped up and I felt like I was home again. In spite of the weekday rush hour traffic moving alongside us, there were no jams, no lane changers angrily and frantically accelerating from one lane to the other, no tailgaters looming behind each other at top speed.

Yes, it was warm, almost 90 degrees and as I took off my Northern California jacket I remembered what my husband had said about exposure. I looked around at the other drivers and they were wearing short sleeves or sleeveless tops in light, balmy colors. Many of them, I’m sure had shorts on. I felt dark, overdressed and underexposed.

The next day I took to the freeway in our car (my husband had driven down from SF the day before) with much anticipation. Even though it was very warm I grabbed a jacket out of habit. I wore a short sleeved t-shirt and loose cotton trousers. More than exposed, I felt naked! But once on the 110 freeway, going into downtown L.A., the harmony took over. And I became part of the L.A. freeway symphony – flowing, merging, skin to skin, car to car, in a great collective unconscious bonding. Exposed and loving it.

Mercury Retrograde


Chilly gray gloom – the endless loop of the August commute. Actually of the June, July, AND August commutes. Traffic is relatively light, because it IS summer, after all and fewer people are out here on the freeways. Today I’m in a new white 2-door Volvo. The other rider squeezes into the back seat and I squeeze into the front – not a lotta room in this car. Once I’m situated I turn to the driver to say good morning and pay my toll. She’s a young girl all clad in blue denim, right hand on the steering wheel, her left arm resting on the side window with her chin in her hand. No smiles, no good morning from her – only a scowl. KBLX is loud on the radio.

Maybe it’s Mercury Retrograde that’s got her in such a grump. The planet Mercury goes retrograde several times a year and is in the process of doing that right now, beginning August 3rd, lasting until August 26. A planet is described as retrograde when it appears to be moving backwards through the zodiac. Since Mercury’s zodiac prowess is in the areas of communication and travel, when it is retrograde, it seems that these kinds of things get very screwed up.

Look at BART last night. At 7:30 p.m. on Monday, September 8, the bay area’s BART system was shutdown. The problem – the computers. Service resumed at about 10 p.m. but during those 2 1/2 hours, the computer was not allowing the trains to see each other -a big problem, and a mess for the commuters who were on board and in the stations.

My cell phone became cranky yesterday, not sending texts, not receiving them either. My husband’s HP printer refused to recognize a new ink cartridge he installed, claiming it was NOT an HP cartridge. But it was.

But the worst was what happened with this blog. Last Friday, I finished what appeared to be a nice, chatty, informative blog, about a couple of memorable, and not memorable rides, some toll gossip and the commute in general, and when I posted it, it v a n i s h e d. Never to be seen again, and I was unable to retrieve it from the clutches of Mercury Retrograde, or wherever it landed.

“Mercury Retrograde gives rise to personal misunderstandings, flawed disrupted or delayed communications, negotiations and trade, glitches and breakdowns with phones, computers, cars, buses and trains. And all of these problems usually arise because some crucial piece of information or component has gone astray or awry,” says Rob Tillett, astrologer.

So take care fellow carpoolers. Our commutes are at the whim of Mercury this month.

July Toll Anniversary Coming Up


MONDAY, JUNE 27
Looks like we’re not all on vacation this pre-July 4th week – about 30 riders grimly waiting in line this morning. A chilly, gray, overcast morning. I wait about 10 minutes and then here’s my ride – the back seat of a big Ford Flex. This SUV is a perfect fit for the driver who is a real big guy, easily 300 pounds. He’s wearing a snug short-sleeve red t-shirt and has a bluetooth device securely clamped into his right ear. KBLK on the radio and a big Starbuck’s beverage in his right hand. As I fumble for the seat belt latch my hand closes on a small metal object which turns out to be a tiny red car – a child’s toy. I put it into a pocket on the door. Manila folders filled with papers are stuffed into the back seat pockets of both front seats A sleeping lady is the front seat passenger and another exceptionally large fellow takes the other half (and then some) of the back seat next to me. Yes, we all pay $1.25 (that’s $3.75 for the $2.50 toll). But this driver undoubtedly could use some help with the gas – the Flex gets 24 mpg at best. There’s a dense fog bank along the coast and the sky gets darker the closer we get to San Francisco. Traffic is surprisingly heavy for a summer week, but we stay at the speed limit in the carpool lane and are in the city by 8 a.m.

This Friday, July 1 marks the one-year anniversary of the bridge toll increases in the bay area. I’ll be looking for the updated statistics and pass them along here. A couple of first-year reports have been promised – one from our friends the Bridge Toll Authority and another from the transportation studies people at UC Berkeley. July 1 also marks the end of the 7-year carpool lane privileges for the Hybrids among us. This is not just in the bay area – the new rule is for the entire state. And that means about 70,000 hybrids who’ve been sporting the carpool lane yellow stickers will be joining the ranks of the non-carpool lanes starting Friday. However, the white sticker owners, those drivers of compressed natural gas (CNG) and electric vehicles, will continue to enjoy the privilege of the carpool lane. It is hoped that sales of the CNG and electric cars will go up.

I think sales would go way up if the prices on these cars would go down. Cars cost a lot of money and hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles cost even more. A Honda Civic with compressed natural gas components costs $7,000 more than a normal model.

Riding in a Fit


Wednesday, March 30
So this morning I thought I’d come in a bit later and see if the long line of riders that I encounter at 6:45 a.m is any different at 7:15 a.m. Yes! No waiting! I hopped right into the back seat of a snappy Honda Fit. Since this is a car we are considering purchasing, I was especially happy to have a close up look at this car as a passenger. I have seen very few of these on the road. Our driver was an intense kind of guy looking very much like Charlie Sheen. He had a killer grip on the steering wheel and was hunched over like Mad Max. His subdued clothing color, slate-colored dress shirt, dark grey trousers, complimented the black and gray interior of the car.

I commented on the short line as I got in and explained I was trying a later departure. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” he hollered. “There’s no pattern, no pattern at all! Sometimes there’s a line, sometimes there’s not!” Okay.

Our front seat passenger got in and we were on our way. The Fit seemed smaller than our Hyundai Elantra, but leg room was ample and the seating was very comfortable. The Fit is a hatchback and I checked out the space behind the rear seat. It is smaller than a conventional car trunk, but one of the rear seats of the car folds down, allowing more luggage/hauling space.

The driver loves the car. “I have a $98,000 Mercedes – it’s been in the shop 4 times already. I’ve got 60,000 miles on this Fit and it hasn’t needed a thing. I get 37 miles per gallon on the freeway.” All good stuff to consider.

To my amazement, we see a California Highway Patrol take off to corral a carpool lane cheater, lights flashing as he herds the hapless single driver over to the side of the road. I’m amazed because I rarely see CHPs out here, or anywhere. And then, about 5 miles further down the road, it happens again! Another CHP car pulls over a carpool cheater. This must be the Carpool Crackdown day for the 80 Freeway.

Our Mad Max driver moves right along, even taking the 40 mph zone on the construction part of the Bay Bridge at 50 mph (whee – a thrill on that curve! my life quickly flashing before my eyes) and we are in the city within 45 minutes. He kindly extends the ride up to Market Street where I catch my bus and he zooms off. In a Fit.