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You Are Safer If You Drive Here

Sunrise, Late Autumn, 2012, San Luis Reservoir, eastern slopes of the Diablo Range, Merced County, California.
Sunrise, Late Autumn, 2012, San Luis Reservoir, eastern slopes of the Diablo Range, Merced County, California.
Duke Dukesherer

All over the Westside and often, the issue of traffic congestion and ways to ease it is the topic of the day. I don’t envy mayor-elect Garcetti.

As our population continues to “densify,” and we build even more homes in the area, the situation will become a pandemic. New rapid transit plans are in the works however, and soon, we hope, relief will come to L.A.

The bad news is that we are stuck with what we have for now.

We danced around the issue for so long, we are now paying the piper dearly.

It is nearly summer and spring has sprung, and along with the season planeloads after planeload of eager tourists are landing on our ample runways, exuberant to explore our boroughs and hinterlands, and further confounding our transportation infrastructure.

The college sessions have ended, and I am hopeful that I will be able to park my car again, closer than 6 blocks from home. And it’s time to fire up the old Ford and stock a cooler full of Orange Nehi’s and Dad’s Root Beer for the annual retrieval of our son’s and daughters. The great migration back to Westchester for their summer holiday or everlasting freedom has begun. The salad days, when I was green in judgment!

And this roving writer has some good news for my fellow Angelenos. After spending a great many days on the roads in Northern California, specifically the Bay Area, I am pleased to announce that at least for now, we live in a safer place.

The reason is, and I say this with a great deal of practical experience, the worst drivers in the State are without a doubt in the Bay Area. The roads are full of escapee’s from the asylums. To get behind the wheel of a car in the Bay Area is tantamount to trying to cross a Serengeti trail full of stampeding wildebeest; you are going to get run over. The roads and highways are full of mad men and women, intent on; cutting you off, ignoring the rules of the road and running into or; and I repeat, over you.

For decades, late night show comedians would often joke about Los Angeles drivers. I remember many years ago on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Alan King jesting; “Los Angeles; the only place on earth where you can have a traffic jam at 65 miles per hour.” Los Angeles was the brunt of traffic jokes for years. Well move over L.A., and let your neighbors to the north; in and near San Francisco, take the lead.

But first you have to get there Brother, and the story starts here.

Getting to and from there, for most of us, involves driving up and down CA Interstate 5 (I-5), a road that is for most of that trek, a four-lane highway. I like the drive, and in fact over the years, I have grown to love it. It has become for me a place and time where for a few hundred miles you can get away from it all, (mainly because all of it ain’t there), and enjoy the very underestimated virtues and scenic panorama of Central California and the San Joaquin Valley.

It is Steinbeck country and the greatest growing region on earth. Cowboys wearing spurs and chaps still come down from the hills, fruit stands are at every off-ramp, and lonely cattle dot the landscape; interspersed by great groves of nut trees and fruit orchards.

And to be more exact than I usually am, you can’t get there on I-5. The traveler-heading north (for the sake of this diatribe) will have to make a choice at some point, as the road misses the Bay Area by about 80 miles. Your main choices are to head north and west over either the Pacheco Pass; a former Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach route, or the Altamont Pass; a former California Gold Rush trail. Either Pass will then deliver you, more or less to there.

But as I said, it is a four lane highway; two lanes in each direction. Lane 1, the left lane, is for passing. Lane 2, the right lane, is for driving.

Well guess what? We live in a State where a great many denizen’s of this area are totally unaware of this. We live in a place full of arrogant, stupid, godless, ignorant idiots, who for some reason were granted a drivers license and then choose to ignore the first commandment of rural driving; Move over and let your people pass!

Just so we can be very clear about this, let me quote The United States Uniform Vehicle Code:
Upon all roadways any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic.

Is there really a licensed driver who does not understand this? Well apparently there are. Apparently there are thousands and thousands of people, and all of them congregate on Interstate 5 every time I seem to be on the highway. Somewhere hidden in my car; perhaps in my LoJack, is a device that transmits to the masses every time I hit Interstate 5, and let’s them know that it is time; to get in the left lane, set their cruise control to 58 m.p.h., and wait patiently for my arrival.

But finally, if you survive I-5, and the slalom-like wild ride over one of the passes, you will drop down onto Highway 101, or something called an “80.” An 80 is another reason why the Bay area is such a damned mess, because all of the highways are 80’s. No wonder everyone up there drive like nuts. They are all lost! You take the 580 to the 680 to the 880 to 80 and then back to the 280 and the 80 and 80 and 80 until you too are nuts!

But assume if you will, that as an Angeleno, you can handle it. In Los Angeles, and I suppose New York, we invented traffic. We are road warriors and can figure out just about anything. And so, over time, I have mastered the 80’s and somehow I always manage to bring the ship in.
And just for a moment, imagine that a person just landed at LAX from some place ending in “stan.” Let’s for the sake of this column imagine he landed from Turkmenistan; headed to Hertz over on Airport Blvd. with his family of 11, rented a mini-van, and set out to see the great State of California.

He is intrigued by the place and has seen television commercials or heard about us on the local Balkan radio. We are a land rich in fruits, bountiful harvests, and tourist attractions abound. He has seen re-runs of The Beverly Hillbillies and the Streets of San Francisco. After all, he has conquered the Karakum Desert and The Kopet Dag Range, and if Jed, Granny, Ellie Mae, and Jethro can make it through L.A. in that 1922 Buick flatbed truck, he surely can too. Besides, he is driving a Dodge Caravan! And there is plenty of room on top for his 40 pieces of luggage too. His enthusiasm is as big as Karl Malden’s nose. He and his party depart Westchester, and proceed north.

So and with the grace of God, he has traveled over the Grapevine, and has now entered the great California Valley, along with thousands of other vacationers; equally ignorant of the first commandment of driving, and he plants his vehicle in the fast line, cruising proudly along at 58 m.p.h.

For now, and with a smile, he owns the road, and is void of thoughts about his country’s dismal trends of arbitrary policy changes, shuffling of top officials, diminishing economic output outside the oil and gas sector, and isolation from regional and world organizations. He is on The 5; the Golden State Freeway, the Great Equalizer, where any fool with or without a license or a road worthy vehicle, can demonstrate his ignorance of transportation rules and etiquette, and he is going to do his Uzbek best to demonstrate that.

They forge forward, singing bad renditions of California Here I Come, and Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and remarking at the road signs; equally badly pronouncing their place names; Fresh-no , Yosa-meat, and Coal-lingo, blissful and unaware of the sixty-three cars inching along behind them. Wheels turning, high beams flashing, horns honking and fists pumping; the sounds all diverge into a highway symphony, blended with the cacophony of the overloaded Chrysler.

And eventually, by God, he too will enter that great traffic cesspool known as the Bay Area, and just as the abundant caravans that once met at Merv on the Great Silk Road, people of all races creeds and I.Q’s, merge and converge, and increase the 54% likelihood a motorist living there will be involved in a crash, relative to the national average.

On this days approach, I begin my downwind leg; half-flaps down/half- throttle, and start my landing checklist. As I ease into the transition lane, (and I kid you not), not 1 but 3 cars simultaneously cut me off. I had no choice but to power swerve and maneuver through the oncoming chaos and shot the chute; miraculously coming out at the other end unscathed as I hit the curve. Folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up. What happened to the morons, two of them in Pregnant Roller-skates, I will never know, nor do I care. We landed safely a short while later at Berkeley, more evidence that there is indeed a God, (I mean my arrival, not Berkeley). Over the course of the last year, I have experienced dozens of these near mishaps. No kidding.

Although I have hated the Giants since Juan Marichal cracked Dodger Johnny Roseboro over the head with a bat in 1965, I love San Francisco. The Region; the Peninsula, the East Bay, The City, Marin, and so on, offer so much and the people are truly beautiful.
But everyone there needs to re-do drivers education or just stick with B.A.R.T.

And I left something other than my heart in San Francisco. I left my sanity, patience and a slew of unprintable words on the roads there and nearby there. I am back safe at home, and although my Dodgers are in last place, I am happy to be home after being driven through and to the brink; where the grapes of wrath are stored.

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