I don't have a regular work/commuting schedule--I audition all over town, any time of day. And I get stuck in traffic everywhere. So much traffic. SO MANY CARS. Sometimes it's overwhelming--there are just so many people here. It's enough to make one feel like a meaningless cog in the giant churning machine that is Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, I had a 10am audition in Santa Monica. I live in the Cahuenga Pass area, so I had to take the 101 to the 405. When it's still rush hour, that interchange can be just hell on earth, so a lot of people bypass it by exiting the 101 and taking Sepulveda Blvd. over the hill, then getting on the 405 at the other side of the Sepulveda Pass.
That's not extraneous information, you see, because normally? Sepulveda Blvd. is just this little two-lanes-in-each-direction street that winds through residential neighborhoods--big sweeping curves under leafy trees, until you hit the crest of the hill and go through this magnificent old tunnel. You are plunged into cell-serviceless darkness even on the brightest of days, just for a couple of moments, then you burst through into light and start going downhill.
But during rush hour, it's a popular alternative to just plodding along from freeway to freeway.
And when you make it through that tunnel during rush hour, it can be an incredibly satisfying shortcut, because if you made the right call to stay on Sepulveda, you'll see the 405 is a total parking lot while you cruise right alongside it all the way down the grade, then get on the freeway on-ramp that lets you on right as traffic starts loosening up. It just starts your day off on the right foot.
Now, this isn't a secret shortcut. Sometimes you can get stuck in a bottleneck in Sherman Oaks because a lot of people want to bypass the 101/405 interchange. But once you start heading uphill, everyone is a serious commuter and they've all got the same thing on their minds--get over the hill faster than the poor suckers stuck on the 405. And suddenly all of you are racing around those curves at twice the posted speed limit. And it feels like this video, which I took of the Metropolis II "sculpture" by Chris Burden at LACMA.
And because everyone is doing the same thing, there's not a lot of jockeying for position. You kinda just spend 30 minutes with the same group of cars around you.
On this particular day, I was behind a very specific car. A dark-colored Yaris that was just completely missing its entire back bumper, but preserved a license plate holder that read, in part, "PHALEN SOUND."
Normally, I'm not so perceptive that I memorize the characteristics of cars I'm stuck behind in traffic. And if this had been a normal Yaris with a dealer plate-holder? I never would have clocked it. And even so, I didn't have an opinion on it. Sometimes I see a damaged car and wonder what circumstances lead to the damage. But this time I didn't. It was too early, I think. I was just trying to get to my audition.
I don't even remember when I wasn't following that car anymore. Did it get on the 405 when I did? Or did it continue on down Sepulveda, past the Getty and into Westwood? I honestly don't know. I never would have thought about that car again.
Until today, around noon. I went out to Mark's Paints on Lankershim in the Valley for chalkboard paint for my refrigerator. On my way home, I decided to not get back on the 101, and instead take surface streets home. As I pulled into the left-hand turn lane on Lankershim to get on Riverside, I came to a stop behind...
The dark-colored Yaris with no bumper and a license-plate holder that reads, in part, "PHALEN SOUND." (I still can't tell if it's dark grey, or maybe blue? Or green. It's dark.)
And I got SO. EXCITED. Because I felt like I knew that person.
It felt like the time in college when I was visiting my boyfriend's family in Sacramento and we were in the baggage claim area of the airport coming in from Los Angeles, and suddenly someone said, "CARRIE WIITA??" and I turned around and it was my friend Erinn Schwass, one of my best friends from the high school I went to in Oregon (where I'm from) and WHY THE HELL ARE YOU IN THIS IN AIRPORT? One of those moments when the world shrinks in a nanosecond, when you're in the middle of feeling like the world is so impersonally large and then suddenly you stumble on a piece of warm, reassuring home.
For a fleeting moment, I felt the overwhelming duty to INFORM YARIS-DRIVER WHAT WAS GOING ON. Like--DUDE WE KNOW EACH OTHER! Fortunately, the rational part of my brain still works a little bit so I didn't flag them down. I did do that creeper thing where I pulled up alongside Yaris, in the blind-spot to get a look at the driver, because I had to know. I don't know why. I just had to see who this person was.
Hipster dude, scruffy beard, glasses. No one I know. But I know him now, and he has no idea how excited I am to know him. Because he reminded me that even in this vast anonymous metropolis, we're all just trying to get where we're going...together.
Community exists in Los Angeles, in the oddest of ways.