Friday, April 27, 2007

Drive At Your Own Risk: Southern California Freeways

I have few positive things to say about traveling and specifically driving in southern California. Last Friday I found myself loading up on acid reflux medication as I crossed the deserted border south of Las Vegas and entered the foreboding wasteland near Death Valley on the stretch of I-15 that passes through Baker, CA. My destination of Irwindale, CA seemed a reachable mark by 10:00 local time if no difficulties thrust themselves upon me. Of course my memory recalls the distinct sound of someone knocking on a wooden structure and the malaise began just south of Victorville near the junction of I-15 and 395. Apparently an overturned truck south of the weigh station near the bottom of El Cajon Pass blocked all lanes of the southbound I-15 interstate. Tragically I believe at least two motorists lost their lives in the messy collision. I know nothing of the accident's circumstances but obviously one wrong move by a car or truck caused an immediate and catastrophic reaction that ended in grisly fashion. There seems absolutely no margin for error in the congested and overcrowded world of the L.A. and southern California freeway system.
I slowed to a stop as a frenzy of red brake lights hinted at the beginning of a frustrating and delayed commute. Three and sometimes four lanes of stalled traffic inched along at a snail's pace; frustrated faces peered out windows and into mirrors trying in vain to ascertain the cause of such a mind numbing and costly shutdown. The report from a traffic observer flying effortlessly overhead in a news helicopter confirmed my darkest fears. A fatality accident involving the overturned semi-truck lay silently wreaking havoc some 12 miles in front of me. Twelve miles in front of me! My appointment in the L.A. foothills now seemed quite distant and maybe unreachable during business hours. At my hastily calculated rate of movement, I determined my estimated time of arrival to be a much later 3:00 pm. The hapless drivers started their predictable movements of nonsense. Change lanes and change lanes again even though your spot stays the same regardless of which lane is chosen. Drivers begin speeding down the shoulder of the roadway in an attempt to circumvent the wall of tractor-trailer combinations eerily creeping along. The rain and fog began to set in like a reaper intent on reducing the visibility to zero and causing even more panic and disillusion.
What seemed like hours passed as I crept along in a maze of exhaust fumes, idling metal, and brake heat. Finally I passed the weigh station near the bottom of El Cajon and knew the accident site must be somewhere in the vicinity of the Kenwood Road exit. For some unfathomable reason the California Highway Patrol added to the danger and traffic flow difficulties by requiring trucks to weigh at the scales and emerge from the ramp in the hopeless attempt of completing a successful merge. Giant cranes managed to pull what was left of the spilled big rig onto the shoulder allowing at least three of the southbound lanes to be used for the now exasperated drivers. The precipitation continued and increased as I headed past the I-215 split and visibility fell to dangerously low levels as the throngs of traffic kicked up water spray over six lanes of traffic. I thought to myself, "These people are crazy!" The rain simply poured as I merged west onto the 210 and headed towards Pasadena. The slippery roads and limited sight distance seemed only to spur the southern California drivers on. I might as well have been handling a horse and buggy instead of a modern streamlined motor vehicle. Dodging, ducking, braking, and swerving the possessed drivers attempted to gain as much forward distance in the shortest possible time regardless of the danger to others.
Because I am generally regarded as one of the unluckiest members of the planet my departure from the area happened to coincide with the beginning of the afternoon rush hour. So now I get to fight the idiots on my way out of the valley as well. I daydreamed about trading for a relaxing drive across northern Canada in a January blizzard. The rain stopped and speeds increased even more. Merging drivers expect to merge without understanding or caring that they are lawfully required to yield. Cell phones, shavers, and other unmentionable acts take place as the wayward commuters rocket home only to face the prospect of beginning the whole maddening process over on Monday.
The next day two more drivers died in nearly the same spot as the previous day's accident. A few miles north of Barstow another fatality accident finds its remnants peered at by passing drivers. There are simply too many people in a confined geographic area. The infrastructure and highway repair budgets in California appear dismal at best. The problem compounds itself with each passing day as the city and valley chokes itself off in a fit of massive overcrowding. Until the state addresses the monumental safety concerns of traffic flow and congestion, people will die in great numbers as others fly by gawking at the twisted remains only hopeful or lucky their time is not yet at hand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Better to die in traffic in LA than of boredom in Montana.