Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nobody Walks In LA

When I first got my license, I loved to slip into my shitty little 1982 Ford Escort and escape to wherever I wished. "I'm off to church," I'd tell my mom, and then spend Sunday morning cruising the backroads of the surrounding farming communities. I'd find places more beautiful than I could have imagined, dappled with sunshine, overgrown with wildflowers. I'd play music in the car that my parents frowned upon at home, at a volume that probably permanently affected my hearing, singing along happily, windows down, hair whipping into my mouth, utterly free.

I drove to Chicago when I was supposed to be in South Bend. I drove to Indianapolis when I was supposed to be at a friend's house. I wasn't a bad kid, I just wanted to go where I wanted to go - and for the first time in my life, I could do it! All I needed was my driver's license and a tank of gas.

When I moved to Los Angeles to go to college, I didn't have a car. I missed it a little, but mostly I was enthralled with being someplace new and meeting all these different people and being drunk on a regular basis. In the summer after my sophomore year, my parents bought me a 1988 Pontiac Grand Am while I was visiting them in Indiana. I lied, as usual, and told them I was going to caravan to LA with a friend of mine. I hopped in the car and drove across the country by myself, with nothing but my cassette tapes to keep me company.

I saw a giant cross in the middle of nowhere. I laughed at signs warning me of escaped convicts and telling me about quaint and mysterious tourist traps like donkey and burro farms. In New Mexico I was pulled over for speeding. I never paid the ticket and got my license suspended the next year. I have no idea why I thought I could get away with that.

Anyways, having my car changed the way I saw the city. I've always had a touch of insomnia, which is easily triggered when I'm under stress. My junior year was hellish, and I spent many late nights driving aimlessly, drinking sodas from 7-11 and seeing a Los Angeles that I fell in love with over and over again. I drove Sixth Street through Hancock Park, marveling at the beautiful and stately homes. I drove Laurel Canyon on my first venture into the Valley. Mulholland Drive seduced me with its curves and views. As a sheltered Midwestern girl, driving across the Sixth Street Bridge or down Crenshaw Boulevard introduced me to worlds I didn't know existed.

Even after college, living in Glendale, I loved to go cruising around in the evenings. It's those late-night jaunts that introduced me to the Colorado Street Bridge, the roads through Griffith Park, the wide beauty of the boulevards in Eagle Rock. I even made another cross-country trip, alone again, after I bought my first new car.

It wasn't until I moved to the Westside that I found myself a commuter, someone who hated traffic and driving and everything associated with being in my car. It only got worse when I moved to Long Beach and had a three-hour roundtrip to Pasadena every day. Even a 6-CD changer couldn't take away my driving blues.

This is all just build up for me to say that I've rediscovered the joy of driving. I've gotten in my car a few times this week and picked a direction, not certain of where I wanted to go, but just wanting the solitude and pleasure of being behind the wheel, listening to music, and driving in LA. And I think I'm falling in love all over again.

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