Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Drive

I live in Long Beach. I work in Pasadena. That's 64 miles round-trip every day.

I take the 710 Freeway, which is a bit of battered roadway, to put it charitably. There are potholes galore and the dented metal median railing speaks to the frequent accidents (and offers good reason to replace it with something a bit sturdier.) It's a truck route, so I try to remember that I could be roadkill at any given moment if I don't stay alert. I'm not crazy about the drive, but the 710 is way better than the 405 or the 605. It could always be worse when it comes to commuting here in Southern California.

The 710 stops at Valley Boulevard in Alhambra. I exit into a heavily Chinese community with small businesses, some thriving, some forlorn-looking, lining both sides of the street. I drive a few miles to Atlantic Boulevard, where I turn to head north towards Pasadena. Atlantic takes me by Alhambra's movie theaters and car dealerships before a heavily commercial district abruptly ends. I cross Huntington Drive, where Atlantic turns into Los Robles Avenue and I'm in wealthy San Marino. It's a mostly white community of stately homes that sit back from the roadway, staring at me haughtily as I drive by. The trees are lush and the street curves seductively.

From the moment I cross the boundary delineating the two cities, there are stop signs at almost every intersection and then a roundabout to calm traffic. As I arrive at this point, Los Robles and Glenarm Street, I always anticipate an accident that does not happen. A BMW driver on her cell phone slingshots around the circle as a man to her right in a Land Rover steps on the gas and narrowly misses hitting her bumper. Myself, I've sat absent-mindedly at this intersection until the car in front of me zips through, at which point I follow blithely as though I'm at a stoplight and not a four-way stop. No one ever honks or looks fazed in the least.

It's not too far from here to my office. I pass by a series of Craftsman homes and daydream that I own one. At the corner of Los Robles and Fillmore Street, there's a lovely yellow home with a small stone wall and a porch perfect for sitting down in a rocking chair with a book and a cup of coffee. It was for sale when I first started taking this route to work and every day I imagined that I won the lottery and bought that house. One day, the for sale sign was gone; a few days later, I saw furniture through the windows. I still haven't seen the occupants.

A few blocks later and I'm at my office. An hour has passed and I've heard snatches of radio shows from Kevin & Bean to Morning Edition to Air America Mornings. I've checked my email on my Blackberry at stoplights, and chances are good I've cursed at at least one stranger who cut me off, drove too slow, or nearly hit me. But I've made it to work, and I've only got another 32 miles left to drive today...

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