Thursday, February 16, 2012


THIS IS a busy city. LA is like the 405 within that short half hour in the afternoon when there is no traffic.  People have no idea what to do so they just drive and swerve from lane to lane, cutting you off in an attempt to get to their destination as fast as they can before the next wave of break lights begin to form in the distance.  LA is the fast cars and fast people, zipping in and out of your memory, cutting of any sort of the thought you may have.  For a city known iconically by its red brake lights that so many people despise, they can however, be the one thing they need; a break, to just stop and think.  Although a foreign idea to me, I would like to think that there is a place where you can just stop.  
            Then you do.  Break lights form as you turn the corner.  You stop—finally, you have stopped.  Instead of getting frazzled by the fact that there is nowhere to move, these break lights have actually come as a relief.  LA traffic is the only time when the city isn’t moving. As you slowly inch forward, working your way deeper into, what writer Louie Adamic refers to as, “the jungle.” Grey skyscrapers enclose around you as you become trapped between the broken white lines beneath the blue and gray painted ceiling.  Through the glass of your windshield, you finally see LA for what it is: red brake lights glaring through sunlit smog and people finally moving with one another toward entirely separate destinations. 
            Freeways define the city. They are complicated mazes that connect the beach with downtown and the suburbs. In 1996, Los Angeles was ranked 44th out of the largest 57 urban areas according to Federal Highway Administration Data.  According to writer and researcher Wendell Cox, Los Angeles has the nations worst traffic congestion because is has less freeway space per capita in most urban areas. This urban city continues to grow and it has become filled to the brim with all types of people, from all types of places, that all have one thing in common, the freeways they take.  The freeways doesn’t just connect places, it connects people, families.  They establish relationships, for they make it possible for the grandmother living in the Valley to see her grandchildren in Marina Del Rey and her older sister in Echo Park. 
            When the red break lights hit, you may be alone in your car, but you are surrounded by the congestion of thousands of people.  Through the windows, you can see into the lives of Angelos that you have never met.  The mother in the white Sequoia who laughs and sings along to the radio with her teenage daughters who, for that very moment, are not growing up; the high powered man who, for this moment, can sit in his black Mercedes and doesn’t have to pretend that he likes his job or that he really wants to get to where he is going; the a hopeful twenty-something, who sits in her beat up ford that is plastered with colorful bumper stickers and pauses from memorizing the script for her audition to actually look at the world outside of her duck taped window.  LA is a snapshot and the shots, that define LA, can only be taken through the horizon of red brake lights.
Photo credit: Elise Fornaca
“Why are we stopped?  We all have somewhere to go,” my friend, Andrew Pardo,  a Northern California native and now LA resident recently exclaimed as he sat in stand-still traffic. We've all been there.
  Yes, we all have somewhere different to go; yet we are all moving together.  In traffic, time freezes.  It is in these moments that you need to take in the world around you, because once the traffic picks up again, LA will flash before your eyes.   

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