FIRST, FOR THOSE OF YOU who live a lot closer to New York, it’s not “Interstate 405.” In fact, for locals, it’s not even the “San Diego Freeway,” even though that’s what the signs tell you. It’s simply the 405. Just like the 5 is the 5, the 101 is the 101, and the 57 is the 57. Brian Williams on NBC news last night made the distinction as he talked about Car-mageddon, about to be unleashed on our nutsy city.
For as long as I’ve been out here I have never heard of a highway referred to as a route or an expressway. It’s always a number preceded by the article “the.” Can’t tell you why that is so, and neither can anyone else. Call it an idiom (determined by idiots?). Whatever.
In any case, they say that if you live near, and particularly if you have a need to drive on, the 405 between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles this weekend, then just don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it, because if that’s your route of choice, well frankly, you won’t able to. Presumably, the guys in charge have a bullet for you if you try.
Happily, for me that’s not an issue, and perhaps at least one good reason for hanging out down here in the bowels of Orange County, which is a safe distance from the forbidden zone. Notwithstanding, there have been electronic signs on every freeway in the city for weeks now with dire warnings of a closing that will occur this weekend, and amplified by every newscast for days. Just this morning I heard a new song on the radio, titled — no kidding — “The 405,” with a strong suggestion to just leave town for the weekend. My doctor, who works in the affected area, said he’s going to do just that.
The notion here is that a weekend closing will enable some quicky construction that ostensibly will allow more cars to travel on the 405 — which already handles more than a half-million day…so they say. Yet a guy writing for this morning’s Times claims that the “improvements” are doomed even before they’re completed because still more cars will join the already molasses-like flow of traffic. He could not be more right. Welcome to life in L.A. It’s a cultural thing here.
Oh, it’s a laugher, alright. And while the headlines around the rest of the country will go to the endless budgetary pissing contest that occupies Washington leadership, we’ll be looking at footage of angry drivers at both ends of the 405 no-drive zone. That’s why, kids, people who retire here often give life in the concrete jungle as a primary reason for a new attraction for the voids of Montana and Oregon. It’s also why Californians who pull up stakes and move to those states make it their first order of business to dump their California plates and get local ones: You think they want our freeway morass?
Meanwhile, we plan to leave the mess to those who call the northwestern part of the city home and head off to the beach on Sunday and spend some time with people who seem to enjoy walking more than driving. We’ll shoot down the 55 and then turn up the PCH — short for the Pacific Coast Highway (see, I’ve done it again) — where only light traffic will be in evidence.
But what if our route becomes a detour for the wild guys from the north?