What I’ve Learned from Driving in L.A.

One of my east coast tells is the fact that I only really learned to drive in my 30s. I didn’t drive at all before I moved to L.A. (My native friends, I know, regard this disclosure as only slightly more bizarre than a statement like “I used to breathe through gills before moving here” or “My parasitic twin did not survive the surgery.”) I’m still not crazy about driving (I will always accept a ride from a friend when I can), and I take surface streets pretty much everywhere. (Cut me a break. I blew a tire on the 405 and crashed my car and collapsed my lung–I’m not just paranoid; I have empirical evidence freeways are a bad idea). Even so, I’ve learned a lot about life while behind the wheel in L.A. I was thinking about it this morning when I was lodged in a clump of folks determined to traverse Victory Boulevard just slightly below the speed limit. I started to let the fact that THESE MORONS DON’T KNOW HOW TO F***ING DRIVE ruin my whole morning, but then I caught myself. Why? Really, why give a group of random, clueless strangers so much power over my mood?

So here is my everything I need to know I learned in kindergarden my Scion list:

  • Stress is usually a choice. Most of the time, I really can decide to just mellow the f*** out.
  • That said, fortune favors the aggressive. Timidity is simply confusing and annoying.
  • Most people ignore the few simple communication devices available to them (e.g., turn signals).
  • Much of the time, other people’s crappy behavior has absolutely nothing to do with me.
  • Bad behavior is contagious.
  • Similarly–random bad shit happens no matter how good or careful you are.
  • It’s good to have a contingency plan.
  • Punk rock makes almost everything more tolerable.

What about you? What have you learned from L.A. traffic?

20 Replies to “What I’ve Learned from Driving in L.A.”

  1. Always wave “thank you” when someone lets you in or does you a nicety on the road. Recent research has found that one kind or friendly act has a positive impact not just on the recipient, but continues to ripple outwards four degrees of separation. Plus, it always makes me so happy when someone waves “thank you” at me. So I make a point to always do it. Even if no one else ever does. I like being that one nice person.

  2. You make me realize I should have written “attitudes are contagious” because yes, I agree, good behavior spreads too (maybe not as easily as bad behavior, but still…).

  3. Similarly, I’d say Random Shit Happens, (see what I did there? -Grin-) good and bad, whether you’re ridiculously careful or completely reckless, leading into the following point about contingency plans.

    And I will have to whole-heartedly endorse point eight.

    (And you ‘kin still edit the post, y’know…)

  4. The wave is very important, but I think that was raised before here.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that turn signals aren’t used here so at least one thing functions on the car when it finally dies of old age. In LA that can be decades.

  5. I’ve learned that it’s extremely difficult to make a left turn during rush hour. Be prepared to make three rights. It’s usually easier.

    Also, in busy traffic, if you have to take Wilshire (and you can handle a bumpy ride) the far right lane is usually completely empty (but full of bumps, humps, holes, and other scurf of the road).

  6. You know I love you, but you are confusing observational with empirical evidence. Also, I can say with confidence that aggressive (as opposed to timid) driving is the primary preventable reason driving in LA (freeway or otherwise) is as dangerous as it is.

  7. I’ll take the first critique for sure, C, but the second…I don’t know. Those folks who are afraid to merge on the freeway or who go unusually slow in the fast lane, they are at least as dangerous as anyone in my book.

    Fraz, you crack me up.

  8. 1.do not try to gutter ball some one you only make more traffic. before you ask, gutter ball is when you are in a lane going straight, the person gets in the right hand turn lane, and when the light turns they floor it and try to cut you off.
    2. almost same as #1, when you know two lanes are bottleneck-ing into one, dont think that you going into the other lane to skip 2 cars ahead doesnt F-up the rest of us. you got a whole two cars ahead. but caused more traffic by not knowing how to merge back into the lane.
    3. WAVE THANK YOU!!
    4. when you cut some one off and they honk at you, dont flip them off like they are wrong. you are in the wrong, survey says 10 out of 10 times.
    5. when merging from two lanes to one or from the 10-405, or 101-405. it is one by one. like walking, car in the right lan, car in the left lane. and so one. dont be a dick and try and not merge. youre causing more traffic by thinking that a whole car length will get you there anytime sooner.

    and, the bigger hurry you are in, the more traffic there is.

  9. Michael cracks me up. Only in LA does it work. In real life two wrongs don’t make a right, but 3 rights make a left and I’ve been known to go around the block to make life easier and less deadly than make a left.

  10. “So, like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, I learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original.” – Reyner Banham

  11. I do the Lucinda thank you wave too. If someone is tailgating me and I can move to the slower lane I will do that – angry driver be gone!

  12. What I learned is that when driving surface streets between 9am and 7pm, whenever possible, you should avoid commercial streets and take only residential streets (that is, those that have stoplights at the major intersections).

    I’ve also learned, after driving in many other cities across the United States, that L.A. drivers are actually among the smartest and the most polite (disregarding the 10% who are overly aggressive dickheads – easy to spot, just look for the black Mercedes). Go to Chicago, Boston, Seattle or San Jose and you’ll see that I’m right. Also, in no other city have I seen drivers so agreeable and ready to merge right when an ambulance or firetruck is roaring down the street. The only cars in L.A. that don’t cooperate? Those with out-of-state plates.

  13. I disagree that Southern Californians are bad drivers – I’m a 4th gen from LA and know the roads pretty well.

    1. We have the largest high-speed road network in the world.
    2. The highest per-capita car population in the world.
    3. California holds the greatest concentration cars: more than 26 million. This makes the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with roughly 1.8 cars per person, the world’s most car-populated urban sprawl in the world.

    There are more cars in California than people in any of the other states of the United States. The Los Angeles freeway system handles over twelve million cars on a daily basis. While L.A. holds the number one spot as America’s most congested and polluted roadways, surprisingly enough, it does not hold the title of most chaotic car city due to its enormous freeway infrastructure that allows the residents of the Los Angeles area to carry on their daily migration of over 300 million miles.

    So, the next time you are on the 405, if you gather the strength to get back up on that horse, and you find yourself in lane of THOUSANDS of cars, 3.5 feet apart, at 80 mph to zero and back to 80 over and over – maybe realize that is an astounding coordinated effort of very alert people and I would have to argue; actually “good drivers” who are moronic when it comes to courtesy or rain.

    But really – I think there’s too many selfish, inconsiderate drivers talking on cell phones (worse than alcohol), but this is happening in every city.

    I’ll always have a love/hate relationship with LA, however, bad drivers we really are not. I LOVE going to other cities. Driving in Denver, Seattle, Little Rock, Omaha rush hour is juts plain FUN compared to here.

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