Sorry I have not posted in a while (except on Twitter). This post will be sad for many of you, because I’m revealing some of my Los Angeles driving habits. These are sad habits. Trust me, I could fill a book with my observations on driving in L.A., and I’ve been meaning to do some nice, long, hopefully funny posts about it here on The Wren Forum. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Consider the below to be but a glimpse into my world of L.A. driving.
The moment I first hit the L.A. freeways in my little green Civic, September, 1994, I’d just driven from Colorado, and could not believe the chaos and congestion in my new city. I got my Disney job not long after, and I have been doing the 34-mile round-trip commute for over 13 years. That’s plenty of time to learn I had to become a different kind of driver if I were to survive.
On the 101 East this morning, as I was coming into work, I saw a big, red Cadillac with the license plate DR AGAPE (license plate holder: “Motion Picture and Television Fund: We Protect Our Own”) ease from the right lane into my lane, cutting off the car in front of me. They practically scraped bumpers. Now, the car I was behind was one of those annoying “maintain 40 car lengths” kind of drivers, and I do my best to not to stay behind these types. Keeping a gap is safe, sure, but there’s a difference between safe and paranoid, in my book. I understand another driver’s need to get in front of such a driver, trust me. But not like this. DR AGAPE did not need to cut so close to this guy, he just did because, well, obviously, he’s the only driver on the road.
So nearing the 134, I had to do my usual lane change to make it to the far left lane. And wouldn’t you know it, there was DR AGAPE, just behind me in the lane I needed. He was an older man, of course, and it turns out he’s one of those inconsistent drivers, leaving tons of space in front of his car, then closing the gap, then dropping back again. So I took the opportunity to change lanes in front of him during one of his gappy moments.
Here’s a truism that all L.A. drivers know, or at least should know: If you signal for a lane change as early as you’re supposed to, you will not be let in. I learned long ago to watch for a space, then signal just as I start the lane change. I know not to try to cram myself into a space where there is no space, so I try to change lanes into a gap where there’s enough room for my car. It does not matter when you signal, early or late; often the person behind will see your blinker and rush to close the gap, so best to already be half-way done with your maneuver.
Since I was trying to make a point to myself, I made sure I had just enough space to get in front of DR AGAPE, but not tons. I was nowhere near as close to him as he’d been to the guy he cut off, but that was my test, and DR AGAPE took the bait. As soon as I started to make my lane change and turned on my signal, he sped up, and then honked his big, blasting Cadillac horn at me. He was justified because, of course, DR AGAPE is the only driver on the road.
I raised my hand up when I’d finished changing lanes, and gave him a nice, long, languid hand wave, a thank you for his participation in my social experiment.
I have to be honest here; I am someone who will not always let another driver get in the lane in front of me. Horrible, I know. I have very complicated rules for when not to let someone change lanes in front of me. Are they heading for an exit or a freeway split, or just changing lanes for fun? Are they already going way, way too slow? Are they a “maintain 40 car lengths” kind of driver? Are they polite driver or an asshole driver? What kind of car are they driving? There’s lots to factor in. I learned that if I let that old mini-van, that Jaguar, that Prius, or that tiny truck with a lawn mower in the bed and three guys in the cab get in front of me, I’ll be behind their slow ass for miles, and as other cars fill the lane in front of them, they will maintain that huge gap, letting even more cars in front, and so on. It’s less about the minimal time I’m wasting behind such a driver, and more about how incredibly stupid such driving is in a region with over 10 million people. If everyone drove with huge gaps in front of them, no one would get anywhere. It’s incredibly sad, but true, and I hate it.
There was the chance that DR AGAPE had cut that guy off because he has similar rules of the road, and wanted to make sure he was not caught behind the slow guy. I guessed that was not the case, based on his car, his age, and the really self-absorbed way he changed lanes, slowly, ignoring the guy he was cutting off. He had no reason to cut so close to the other driver. But maybe. Maybe he doesn’t like getting caught behind slow drivers.
Once DR AGAPE and I were both on the 134, where traffic was flowing, I expected him to change lanes and speed by me. But he did no such thing. Instead, now that we were out of bumper-to-bumper traffic, he drove slowly, holding up his lane, and I was a quarter mile ahead of him by the time I hit my exit. And thus was my experiment a success. I had proven that DR AGAPE is a shitty driver, a clueless driver, and, without a doubt, the only driver on the road.