Even when fires are not threatening them from both sides, freeways are a brutal part of California’s physical and metaphysical infrastructure, providing a map in your mind of where it’s possible to go—and raising the question: Can you bear to drive there? The roads crisscross the soul, seeming to open up all kinds of destinations but, overcrowded, under construction, whimsically closed for unstated reasons, pretty much block your way to wherever you might be thinking of going. The freeways, which in name conjure hair-blowing convertibles, were not planned for a population this size. The arteries are clogged in the old circulatory system. The hair does not blow.
I live in this soul-crushing web of lies. By which I mean that my job forces me to drive at least twice a week from Los Angeles to Orange County, and then back again during rush hour.
It’s a ridiculous commute. Just to be clear, and for my Southern Californian readers—or anyone fond of old Saturday Night Live jokes—this means I drive 20 minutes from my house to the 101, and take that mega-road in virtually unmoving traffic to the 5, and then maybe get on the 605 or the 710 (or both, one after the other), depending on which is sort of vaguely moving, and then, always, onto the fearsome, capricious, cruel 405, for many a long, harrowing mile. Then, having failed to die in a crash with a jackknifed tractor trailer or an overturned RV or a lane-splitting motorcycle, I exit from one of the 405’s three leftmost lanes, fling self into a final short spin on the 73, and plunge onward toward work.