Over the past week, Trumpmania has made it almost impossible to focus on anything besides the election results, as well as the sobering realization I may be one of those left-coast elites disconnected from the rest of the country.
Completely unrelated, though entirely opportune, I distracted myself from the armchair quarterbacking — and the taxi life — for a couple days with a road trip to Los Angeles.
Even though I’m a native Angeleno, I’ve only gone back to Southern California three times in as many years. These days, I feel more like a stranger in my hometown.
Also, driving a taxi 40 hours a week in San Francisco has no doubt helped shape my perception of the two places, because the differences blew me away immediately.
The first night I was there, I had to check myself. After tailgating slowpokes and flipping off Ubers, I realized I wasn’t in the Bay Area anymore. This is L.A., where drivers are courteous to each other on the road. People actually let you into the flow of traffic and allow you to change lanes without laying on their horn, cursing you out or blinding you with their high beams like we do in The City.
On Friday morning, I braved the sprawl and swelter to run errands. (This was less a vacation and more of a business trip.) I traveled from Hollywood to Reseda to Burbank and then back to Hollywood. The ride was long, but surprisingly not very arduous at all. Almost relaxing, even.
L.A. drivers seem to work together to make the long commutes bearable, unlike Bay Area drivers. We only give a damn about ourselves.
On the freeways, traffic moves slowly but steadily. Everyone appears to have long since accepted the fact that there’s no way to beat congestion.
Bay Area drivers, on the other hand, still hold onto the illusion that if we change lanes enough and race toward bottlenecks like shook-up cans of Coke, we just might get to where we’re going faster.
In L.A., bicyclists, pedestrians and cars all coexist together by obeying the rules. Streets and intersections are designed to keep cars moving, which is a refreshing change from the chaos of Bay Area roadways, where everything is set up to stop the flow of traffic, thereby creating what’s quickly becoming the worst congestion in the country.
The stereotypes about driving in Southern California have obviously shifted.
In four days of moving around L.A., I saw more courtesy on the road than I have in three years of driving full-time in San Francisco. And way more organization.
On Saturday, I was heading down Hollywood Boulevard when I encountered a road closure. Assuming it was another Trump protest, I expected a snafu, but traffic control officers were there directing cars onto a side street, keeping vehicles flowing without a hitch. (I pictured them like SWAT teams. At the first sign of a backup, they repel from helicopters and charge out of the backs of vans, chanting “hut, hut, hut” as they move into position.)
Despite the advancements in traffic control, L.A. is still the epitome of a monoculture. One night, I went for a walk down Sunset Boulevard. In contrast to the abundance of anti-corporate graffiti and stencils covering every available surface, the people outside bars and restaurants looked just as plastic as the cars streaming past in a never ending swell.
The poor exist in a subterranean world, confined to the subway, buses or behind the wheel of beat-up, late-model sedans. Although the homeless have enough room to spread out, each block has its down-and-out denizen, either ranting at a bus stop or curled up in an alcove outside a casting agency.
As I waited at an intersection to cross the street — I would never dare jaywalk — I tried to count the number of Ubers and Lyfts that blew past, but I just got dizzy. And yet, there were a plethora of empty taxis.
Most of L.A. is ugly and depressing. The urban growth is destroying what little charm it does have. There are now so many high-rises in Hollywood, you can’t even see the sign anymore.
On Monday, as I headed north on the 101, I felt a sense of relief. I couldn’t wait to get back to The Bay. I prefer to be where the weather suits my clothes, and surrounded by beauty. Sure, it’s easier to drive in Southern California, but nobody ever left their heart in L.A.