For my entire life, I have lived in the same house in the same Southern California town of about 50,000 people. I can drive from one end of town to the other in about 10 minutes. Just about every local shopping center has a huge parking lot, and I don’t think there are any parking meters or pay-to-park garages anywhere in the entire area. Parking on the street only really happens during the day and on the weekends, because street cleaning happens in the early hours of the morning.
During the week, I leave my house at 7 a.m. to trek to my job in Santa Monica, which I had only been to once in my entire life before this summer. Depending on the route I take home, I drive about 80 miles roundtrip and 400 miles every week. (The reason I do this is because my job is temporary, and it wouldn’t be smart to move closer to work when I’m not sure where I’ll be in a few months.) I also don’t have a designated parking spot or even a parking lot to pull up to, so I either have to pay for parking at a 10-hour meter or find a street spot in the residential neighborhood nearby. Thursdays and Fridays are really tough because each side of the street is blocked off for street cleaning, so I get there more than an hour early to find somewhere safe to park.
The reasons why I’ve drawn this all out for you is to say that this shift has impacted my daily life immensely, and that I’ve become well-acquainted with the working commuter lifestyle. I know people commute regularly like this all the time, but for me in my immediate post-grad life, it has been a pretty jarring experience. Obviously change is a significant part of your twenties, and this is one way that change has materialized itself in my life — and I’m guessing that it’s also happening for a significant part of my peer group.
One of the things that makes post-grad life both great and terrible is that you get to go to new places and try a change of scenery. On one hand, I’m glad that I’m in better proximity to the places I like to go to regularly. On the other, being so dependent on my car really sucks in many ways. In the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about what being a commuter means and how it has changed the way I see Los Angeles.
40 miles makes an incredible difference.
Compared to my sleepy foothill town, Santa Monica is on an entirely different planet in a galaxy far, far away. The people (and amount of people) are different: I had to go to the Santa Monica shopping area to catch up on Christmas gifts, and I felt uncomfortable in a mall that wasn’t “mine.” The streets are different: I couldn’t really tell you what any of the houses look like in the residential neighborhood I park in, and they’re all crammed together to maximize the number of lots on the block. The list goes on: the prices, the weather, etcetera. These differences are borderline alienating, which I think just speaks to the entire life-after-graduating phase.
This isn’t to say that this 40-mile difference is entirely bad — I’m glad that I get the experience of spending time in a place so different from where I grew up, because it’s important to get out and explore. Getting in the car and driving to this other galaxy is just a weird feeling.
What are traffic rules?
This should not come as a shocker to anyone, but in general the drivers in LA do not obey the traffic rules that are supposed to keep us all safe during a relatively dangerous activity. Most people don’t use turn signals to change lanes in dense traffic, and a lot cut across lines they aren’t supposed to. Drivers make complete stops in lanes to try and squeeze their ways onto the freeway, and I’ve never seen so many single riders in non-hybrid cars in the carpool lane. I guess the way people behave in traffic is just an extension of how we treat each other in other areas of everyday life. There have been quite a few times I’ve contemplated merging into the carpool lane for the sake of getting out of gridlock, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It might be naïve, but I’m still trying to follow the rules.
The stress of car culture can really get to people.
I don’t think most people quite understand what a commuter culture does to a person, physically and mentally. Every time I get in the car, I feel like my muscles are slowly atrophying. And I know that if I didn’t have to spend so much time and energy driving, I would feel healthier. It angers me that adults spend most of their days sitting in some kind of transportation or at a desk when we know it’s unhealthy, but that is just #capitalism.
My go-to LA parking story is that one night after work, I drove to Echo Park to take a lettering class. It was after 6 p.m., so I got a spot on Echo Park Avenue. I pulled up to the curb so that the front of my car was about a foot away from the front of someone’s driveway. When I got back to my car at 9 p.m., someone had left a note on my car (using this notepad) saying that I took up too much space and that I shouldn’t be an asshole.
I’ll admit I’m not a world-class parker, but I couldn’t believe that that person had the audacity to leave that note on my windshield. Why did he or she feel an obligation to have that notepad handy, write out the note and stick it underneath my wiper? Why did it matter where I parked if it was legal to park there and parallel to the curb?
I think a lot about space now.
That last question brought me to think about the idea of communal space and ownership, as well as space as a commodity. From the parking angle, I think a lot about space in terms of how limited parking is in cities, especially LA. It’s more valuable to multiple levels of entrepreneurs and government officials to use real estate to make retail space, offices and apartment complexes, and devote as little space as possible to parking lots.
I also see so much trash and debris while I’m driving that it makes me wonder how humans can keep anything nice. My other LA driving story is that in gridlock morning traffic, I saw a group of teenagers deposit a bottle of urine on the side of the 10 Freeway and drive away laughing (I cannot make this up.) I guess because you can throw something out the window and drive away that drivers don’t realize and/or care that they’re making the driving experience even worse. We don’t respect the spaces we share, but we want to exhaust them for all they’re worth.
What do you think? Am I just overdramatic? (Probably.) Let’s talk about it in the comments.