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Big Chuck

September 26, 2011

I Was Just Thinking: Local traffic's got nothing on LA

I will never complain about traffic again.

I just got back from a wonderful vacation with my daughter, Frances, in Los Angeles. I had lived there many years (and a million people) ago. While I was there from 1974 to 1980, I saw this exciting and vibrant city through the eyes of a longhaired wanderer. It was great.

Now, 40 years later, I saw the "City of Angels" through the eyes of a balding, cranky 60-something. Oh sure, LA has perhaps more to offer the visitor than any other city in the world: the Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills, great weather, Malibu, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Dodgers, the beaches, and more stars than even the biggest galaxy. And great Mexican restaurants. And Universal City. And UCLA. And the Santa Monica pier. All are wonders to see and experience.

But the traffic. That is the deal-breaker.

I was in LA for a total of five days last week. If you added up all the time I spent in a car there, I actually only had about three days to walk around and see the sights. I must have spent at least 48 hours total sitting in a car on some anonymous freeway or another. The 405, the 101, the 240, the I-10, it made no difference. LA is in the paralyzing death grip of its automobile population.

Last Saturday, Frances and I were snailing our way for a visit to downtown Los Angeles. We were in bumper-to-bumper traffic coursing through the San Fernando Valley on our way to our destination. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Ad nauseum. I held my tongue for fear of ruining this father-daughter reunion, but about an hour into our seven-mile trip I had to say something to Frances.

"Boy, this traffic is really something, isn't it?" I said vaguely, kind of to myself, as I nervously thumbed the edge of her unmoving GPS screen.

"Yeah, Dad," she chirped. "It really moves right along on a Saturday, doesn't it? The traffic is so much lighter on a weekend."

Oh my God. My mind tried to imagine that if this was "moving right along" what do Angelenos have to endure on a Monday morning? I imagined cars and trucks inching along in an assembly line of slow-motion claymation vehicles, melting under the glare of a 105-degree sun, seemingly on a road to nowhere. The prehistoric dinosaurs clawing their way out of the bubbling La Brea tar pits were action figures compared to LA traffic.

But they deal with it out there with great aplomb. I never saw a hint of road rage or uncivil activity on the highways. It was as if some demented judge had "sentenced them to drive in LA for eternity" and everybody was just shouldering their punishment with stoic, suntanned fortitude.

A couple of months ago, when construction on a major overpass bridge on the heavily traveled 405 (or was it the 286, or the 101, or the 210?) caused the closure of the entire freeway for the entire weekend, they dubbed it "Carmageddon." People stayed home. People fled Los Angeles. People stocked up on food like they do during a hurricane warning around the rim of the Gulf of Mexico. People held their collective breaths. Residents searched for their rosary beads. No cars on a freeway? It's the end of the world! Well, no it really wasn't.

Carmageddon. Sounds like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, doesn't it?

Oops. You can't mention him out there anymore!

When I was younger, in 1967, I used to drive from Sidney to my college in Albany on old Route 7, before I-88 was built. I remember always getting stuck behind a milk truck around Otego, right around where a woman would stand in the middle of the road each morning with her housecoat on holding up a handmade stop sign while her husband crossed a herd of cows across the road behind her.

It was just me and the milk truck, in tandem, skirting an eternal solid line until I would finally be able to pass him somewhere up around Worcester. I remember that when the solid line finally broke up, I would goose my old '63 Dodge Polara and pass him swearing under my breath that I would never, ever get caught in traffic like that again. Ever!

I gotta tell you. After driving through the lingering aftershocks of Carmageddon this past week in LA, I'll take that old milk truck any day of the week.

I'll catch you in two ...

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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