Los Angeles is a big place and in its own world. This is especially true when driving. The rules of the road apply a bit differently to L.A. drivers, so before you roll, it’s good to know what you’re in for.
To begin with, those little white lines separating lanes are merely a suggestion. L.A. drivers wander all over the place. And, many times, they can’t make up their minds, so they just straddle the line.
The wandering and straddling is likely because L.A. drivers are very preoccupied. They don’t call it “La-La Land” for nothing. This place has the highest density of actors and wannabe actors in the world. They are rehearsing lines, wondering whether the call from casting will ever come, and generally concerned about their careers, their looks.
Speaking of looks, rear-view mirrors in L.A. are not for observing vehicles behind you. They are for checking your makeup, fixing your hair, and rehearsing facial expressions for your next audition.
Texting, of course, is illegal. But there is one minor exception in L.A.: If you are communicating with your agent. This also applies if you are texting your mother, your shaman, or your therapist about your agent. Now, you may be inclined to think, “Well, not everyone has an agent.” But this would not be accurate. Yes, everyone has an agent. Even the driver in the semi-tractor trailer next to you, who is speeding along in her eighteen-wheeler, lugging 20 tons of office supplies for Staples, is checking to see whether she landed that cameo on “The Young and The Restless.”
Anywhere else, turn signals on cars are meant to indicate an intent to change lanes. Things are a little different here. Blinkers represent an event in the past, as in: “I just turned into your lane, and this is the direction I came from, in case you didn’t notice, which you probably didn’t since you were texting your agent while applying a bit of eye-liner.”
L.A. has four of the busiest freeways, and The 405 takes the top spot as the most congested in the world. That’s why it’s important to have a bit of flexibility in your schedule. Protocol dictates that you inform someone you’re planning to meet that you’ll be there at a given time, say, 8 p.m. It’s prudent to follow this up with, “If there’s no traffic.” The other party, of course, knows there will be traffic, so it’s understood that you’ll be there between 8 p.m. and a week from Tuesday.
Freeways in Los Angeles are always preceded by a definite article. It’s “The 405” (pronounced The Four-Oh-Five), “The 110” (The One-Ten), etc. There is a history behind this peculiar nomenclature. And there are almost as many jokes about it as freeways. My favorite is that The 405 stands for “the four or five hours” it takes to get anywhere in L.A.
You will see speed limit signs, but these are just props from the prop department. There really are only 2 speeds, 0 and 88 mph. From a bird’s-eye view, traffic appears as either a parking lot or the Indy 500
It’s a dog-eat-dog town, and so everyone is trying to get ahead. This is why the driver behind you will weave and dodge across four lanes, onto the shoulder and an exit lane to get around and in front of you, where, invariably, he will then slam on his brakes. You will be inclined to show him your dissatisfaction by raising your middle finger. But that just means he has won. Anyway, he’ll be using his mirror to apply more makeup, so he’ll never notice.
It takes a bit of getting used to while listening to Siri for directions. She’ll say things like: “Stay in the middle 17 lanes,” or “Keep right to take the exit on the left.” And although it might sound like Siri is broken, she really is recalculating the route at all times. Perhaps my favorite pronouncement from Siri is “You’re still on the fastest route,” while sitting at a complete stop.
L.A. is all about “looking the part,” and that’s why cars are the ultimate status symbol. You will see a fair share of Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces, and Bentleys. Of course, no one can afford these things, so they just lease them. It’s not only important to look the part but to be comfortable. You will spend more time on the freeway than in your home. And since most homes in L.A. are crammed onto postage-stamp-sized lots, your automobile may have more legroom than your living room.
Teslas do not count as a status symbol in L.A. There are so many of them that the brand is equivalent to a Toyota Camry. But Teslas do have several practical advantages. As most people know, Teslas have “Autopilot,” which is not autopilot, but which too many people use as autopilot to do other things they shouldn’t be doing while speeding along on pavement and yelling, “Look Ma, no hands!” The freeway is an excellent place to take a nap, for instance. And, of course, the big screen in the Tesla is ideal for reviewing “dailies” (unedited footage from the day’s shoot, for the layperson).
And to make this an even baker’s dozen, one more: Drinking while driving is prohibited. I don’t mean alcohol, I mean any type of beverage. This is due not to the laws of the land but to the laws of physics. The streets and freeways are in such bad shape they’d give Mad Max a run for his money. The potholes are big enough to, well, drive a truck through. The bouncing and jostling make it nearly impossible to lift any type of beverage for a sip.
So there you have it. Happy motoring!