Perhaps the most frequent jokes about LA involve our car culture. I often point out that in LA, if you’re traveling some place that’s only one block away, it’s okay to walk, but if it’s any further, you’re pretty much expected to drive. We drive everywhere. I’ve even known people to drive 3 or 4 blocks (and have to admit that I have even driven to a Starbucks within walking distance (as defined by non-Angelenos) of my place). When my Dad was here recently, his hotel told him it was too far to walk to a restaurant that was fewer than four blocks away. Steve Martin makes delicious fun of this in his brilliant movie L.A. Story where his Harris K. Telemacher drives to his next door neighbor’s house.
So, it’s kind of an existential crisis in this town when something happens to your car. And today (Thursday), after returning from three days classes and setting off to run a whole mess of errands, my car, Mary Anne II (named for the great George Eliot) refused to start after I had stopped briefly at the ATM. The guy from AAA came soon enough, gave her a jump and she sounded good as new, but he thought that since she had started fine just moments before, I might want to have someone look at the battery.
Terribly nervous that Mary Anne would conk out in traffic as I drove to the dealership (where I needed to schedule some maintenance anyway), I imagined the nightmare if I couldn’t start her again right at some intersection. I could just hear the angry Angelenos cursing me, beeping their horns — or worse.
Well, I made it to the dealership and the estimate wasn’t as bad as I feared. As I waited for the guy from Enterprise to pick me up and looked over the list of errands I could not complete today, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t as bad as it had seemed earlier. I had been in a decent parking lot when the car wouldn’t start; I could get the errands done on Friday (and over the weekend); the guy from AAA came quickly and told me that AAA would probably pay for a one-day car rental; the car didn’t die in traffic. And then, the battery “decided” to go out today instead of yesterday when I was driving a friend from school to the airport. Mary Anne held out long enough so that I could get him there on time to meet his flight and return home to his wife and kids.
Whenever something happens to our cars in LA, we always fear the worst because here we are so dependent on the automobile. And yet, it does seem that more often that not, even in such crises, things do work out in the end. Even when some moron decides to block traffic in a parking lot while he waits for a driver taking their time pulling out from a prime parking space — when the numskull could drive just 20 feet further (where there is ample parking) which would him require to walk a mere 12 extra paces to get to the store. Or when some ditz who has not activated her turn signal just stops in the middle of a busy intersection (right in front of you), waiting to make a turn (which you didn’t know about because she didn’t signal) and preventing you from profiting from the green light (because all of a sudden, all these cars that weren’t there previously just materialize in the right lane forcing you to wait ever longer). Had this airhead bothered to activate her turn signal when she was supposed to, you could have changed lanes and been well on your way. But, it was more important to talk to her friend Suzie on her cell phone about what shade of blue eyeshadow would make her look sensual but not slutty than to concern herself with others on the road.
I thought I was trying to end on a positive note, but then I ended up writing about driving in LA. Oh well. As Emily Litella used to say, “Never mind.”
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com