Sunday, April 1, 2012


IN THE opening scene of Falling Down, Michael Douglas, having a panic attack, abandons his car in the middle of traffic. Although it seemed like an absurd thing to do, it was obviously the most liberating option, and I can say that from experience. Last year, it must have been around March or April, I was driving back to my home in Venice from Hollywood. As I reached Olympic and Avenue of the Stars in my 1992 metallic teal blue Volvo (no air conditioning), a parade of cop motorcycles swerved and snaked into a blockading row of flashing reds and blues. “We’re clearing a path here for President Obama,” they explained, “you’ll have to turn around.” They began directing the cars on another route, a route that quickly became jam packed with agitated drivers, inching along, beating their horns in the heat.

 I don’t know how, but after an hour I had been corralled to Overland and Palms.  At this point, traffic came to a standstill and my car was running out of gas.  People began getting out of their cars, trying to figure out what was going on.  People spoke to each other, commiserated, cracked the occasional bitter joke.  Unlike in Falling Down, people were being kind to one another, bonding over their frustration.  Cars are metal bubbles that shield us from each other, preventing interaction, preventing solidarity.  When that forcefield breaks down, a sense of community can thrive, even if only for a fleeting moment.
By the time by gas light went on I was on Overland, just about to reach Venice Boulevard.  Traffic was virtually motionless and there was no sign of a gas station.  Four hours had gone by since I left Hollywood.  Exasperated and overheated, I pulled over into the closest drive way and turned off my engine.  I wrote a desperate note, pleading to not be towed, and left it under my windshield wiper.   Then, in patent leather high heels and a silver lycra halter dress, I began my long walk home, west down Venice Boulevard.
 I didn’t care about the blisters developing as I walked, I didn’t care that drivers stuck in traffic were staring at me as if I were a martian, or that the pedestrians, few and far between, glared at me with stares that seemed to say “you don’t belong.” I didn’t care because I felt free.  I realized as I walked that for so long I had felt trapped in Los Angeles, at the mercy of cars and freeways.  Abandoning my car and walking home made me feel for the first time that I had real autonomy, that I could break free of the oppression of traffic if I really wanted to, that cars and traffic cant make decisions for me! I felt free, powerful, human. 

-- Zahra Lipson
image by floran via flickr creative commons

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