Friday, December 31, 2010

The November Trip, Part 2: Los Angeles

After the conference in San Diego ended, I took a train up to Los Angeles, to visit my friend A___. I got off at Union Station (there seems to be one of these in every city), took the metro red line to North Hollywood, and waited for D___, A___’s boyfriend to get off of work so he could come pick me up.

Prior to arriving in LA, I had two preconceived ideas: that I would like the city, and that I would dislike D___. I assumed that I would like LA because what is there not to like about California? It’s 60-70 degrees and sunny all year long; near the ocean; and one of the entertainment Meccas of America. However, I failed to remember one significant fact that was repeated to me again and again: it is impossible to get around without a car.

Having developed a love of public transportation (and a corresponding aversion to driving) ever since studying abroad, I end up feeling limited by—and therefore resentful of—any city that requires a car to get around. I must have somehow believed that LA wasn’t really one of these cities. That is, until I arrived. LA not only requires a car, but it also makes it impossible to escape cars even when you are not driving one. Virtually every residential street seems to be one or two blocks away from a major road (i.e. a road that spans four lanes or more and is full with bumper-to-bumper traffic—which essentially describes every road in LA).

Before this trip, I thought I knew what traffic was. In Pittsburgh, traffic was taking 45 minutes to travel a distance that should have been covered in 15. Then I moved to New York City, where traffic was streets full of taxis all swerving and rear-ending one another to get around buses, through red lights, and over bridges. Traffic meant taking two hours to go twenty miles. However, I discovered that I never really knew the definition of traffic until I arrived in LA.

Gridlock is a way of life in LA—headlights shine directly into taillights at every conceivable hour of the day. We sat in traffic when D___ picked me up at 5:30pm, when we went out to dinner at 9pm, when we drove home from seeing Harry Potter at 11:30pm, and again on the way to the airport at 2pm. (There might have been some open road at 5am, but I never woke up early enough to check.) All in all, the inescapable feeling of being on a highway no matter where you are, combined with the frustration of endless traffic give the city a busy, congested feel that is very different from NYC. Instead of confronting countless people, you are confronting countless cars, which feels much more impersonal, but no less stressful. All in all, I wasn’t crazy about LA.

My feelings about LA surprised me, but not nearly as much as my feelings about D___. Prior to meeting him, all I had heard was how untrustworthy and inconsiderate he was. Honestly, if I were the one dating D___, I’d have broken up with him a long time ago. He didn’t manage to improve my opinion when he arrived to pick me up from the metro station, either, since he didn’t offer to help me with any of my luggage. (Not that I couldn’t handle it myself—I had carried it this far, after all—but it seems like something respectful to do for anyone, male or female, familiar or not.)

Once we got into the car, I was anticipating a tense, silent ride. However, D___ turned out to be a perfectly adept conversationalist; we talked about work, living in CA versus NY, sports, and of course, A___. By the time we got to UCLA, I was almost disappointed that our ride was over, because I knew as soon as we picked up A___, the dynamic would change. As I expected, as soon A___ entered the picture, she and I did most of the talking, and D___ just drove. However, this car ride and our subsequent interactions made me reconsider why A___ was still with this guy, and why she started dating him in the first place. Despite the past and future horror stories that would come to be told about D___, this interaction was enough to give him a second chance in my book.

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