I drove down to Los Angeles this past weekend for a soccer tournament. My daughter and I departed Santa Barbara at 2:30 Friday afternoon. We finally reached our destination in Anaheim Hills at 7 p.m. We didn’t stop. Google Maps plots the trip as a 132-mile drive that should, on a good day, take about 2½ hours. We were not so lucky.
For anyone who wanders down into Los Angeles and points south, the first decision comes in Oxnard. Do we take the coast, the scenic Highway 1? We stayed on Highway 101, slipped through Camarillo and wound our way up one of the most treacherous grades in Southern California.
The Camarillo grade separates the men from the boys. Unfortunately, the boys tend to stay in the fast lane, unwilling to push their automatic transmission past cruising speed. They eventually slow to a crawl while the rest of the world flies by them on their right.
Skilled and sometimes reckless drivers use the grade as their testing ground. They study the road ahead and whip from lane to lane like a jockey looking for position. I’ve seen more than a few ugly accidents on that grade in my many years of travels up and down the coast.
Dropping down into Thousand Oaks traffic was moving well. We began to toggle between KNX 1070 with “traffic on the fives,” KFWB 980 with “traffic on the ones” and the Sig Alert app on my iPhone. My daughter has developed into a worthy navigator. Early signs were not good and traffic slowed to a crawl just north of Parkway Calabasas. It was going to be a long drive.
Angelinos have, as part of their arrogance and sense of superiority, collectively agreed to confound visitors to their fair city. Rather than use the universally understood numbers of the freeway system, they use names. I lived in L.A. for five years, so I am familiar with the monikers. Outsiders must be utterly perplexed.
The names are so confusing that the same numbered freeway can have two different names. Interstate 5 is both the Santa Ana Freeway and the Golden State Freeway. To confound things even more, a freeway with the same name can have different numbers. The Hollywood Freeway shares 170 and 101. Unless you live in or are familiar with this insanity, it is little use to listen to traffic reports or ask for directions.
We found ourselves at the divide between the Ventura Freeway (101 and 134) and the San Diego Freeway (405). Heading into Orange County, this is the most critical decision a southbound traveler will make. The choices are clear — do I sit on the freeway in West Los Angeles and watch the planes land over the top of my car, or do I crawl through downtown at the speed of the line for Space Mountain? We went downtown.
The downtown slot offers an insect’s view of the courthouse, City Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. I remember the architect of the cathedral likening the freeway as the new river. The cathedral sits perched just above that river and seems ready to drift into the current at any moment. Many more learned individuals than I have found great meaning in the edifice. It is lost on me.
We crept onto the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) and made our way through East Los Angeles. The old Uniroyal tire factory still impresses. The Assyrian Palace Façade rises above the surrounding blight to beckon shoppers to an outlet mall. It is a Los Angeles landmark that has evolved to meet the needs of our current consumption.
The freeway opened up when we entered Orange County as if to suggest “things are different here.” Indeed, they are. Orange County is the pretty and popular sister to her homely and practical sibling to the north. She offers comfort and familiarity. When we did arrive at our destination, the surroundings were both.
Our trip home on Sunday lasted, as Google foretold, 2½ hours. It was certainly faster and less stressful than the trek south, but I know we missed a lot along the way.