Alas for the Red Car (#81)


The original Red Car.  From the Robert Gaddie collection, photographer unknown. Courtesy of

Once upon a time, Los Angeles had mass transportation in the form of 900+ electric “Red Cars.” 1,100 miles of track connected cities such as Pasadena, Downtown LA, Santa Monica, and Long Beach. (Today New York City only has about 842 miles of track.) A massive hydro-electric plant in the Sierra Nevadas powered the cars.

The advent of reliable cars, lobbying by General Motors, and the pro-car slant of LA Times publisher Harry Chandler (heavily invested in automobile–related industries) resulted in a loss of public support, however. Sadly, LA turned to the automobile, eventually turning the Red Car’s lines into freeways and embracing GM’s master plan.*

When I first arrived in LA, I saw that GM’s glorious vision of LA had indeed come to fruition. (Well, I didn’t exactly see it. The smog was pretty thick back then.) No one took the bus, and no one took the metro system seriously. No one carpooled. There were gas-guzzling Cadillac Escalades all over the road, ferrying one person for miles. Car washes were everywhere. Most people in the entertainment industry traded in their cars after just a few years to get the latest vehicle. Car-centricity at its finest.

In D.C., natives used the Metro and tried to avoid owning a car. Cars were covered in bugs in the spring, pounded by rain in the summer, and pelted by sand and salt in the winter. D.C., as you might expect from a city ultimately run by Congress, was the land of a million potholes. D.C. denizens with cars were grateful if the asphalt demons merely demand the occasional tithe of a tire, rather than an entire axle.

I found the Californian desire to have the newest car and keep it in pristine condition a losing proposition. LA has 5 of the top 6 most heavily travelled highways in the world. There are so many accidents that the police only show up if a person is seriously injured. If no one needs a Life-Flight to the nearest trauma center, the drivers involved in an accident are expected to move their cars to the shoulder of the freeway, exchange their information, return to their cars, drive away, make a claim, and let the insurance companies handle it from there. Seriously. If the police show up, it’s generally to yell at you for not moving your damaged car out of the flow of traffic.

“But Autumn,” I can just hear some of my readers asking, “what about the famous California Highway Patrol? Aren’t there CHPs everywhere?”

The CHP has its hands full with high-speed chases and pulling over minorities for both real and imaginary traffic violations. Priorities, people.

The first time I got hit in LA was on the 110 Freeway. I was doing an awesome 40 mph (only Angelenos know how amazingly awesome that is) when a red sea of brake lights appeared ahead. I slowed, then stopped, as did the cars next to me. I checked the rearview mirror and saw a young Asian woman in a brand new car flying up behind me. She was talking to her male passenger, not paying any attention to the traffic stopped ahead of her. There was nowhere for me to go. I laid on the horn, hoping she’d hear it, look up, and stop in time.

She looked up. She hit the brakes.

But she didn’t stop in time.

Her new car plowed into my convertible.

My convertible was thrown into the car in front of me.

That car was thrown into the car in front of it.

We all pulled onto the shoulder. We exchanged information very civilly. The driver in front of me was a Swedish transplant, the guy in front of him an African-American. The young Asian woman apologized profusely. None of us had the heart to scold her, not after seeing her once brand-new, now thoroughly mangled front end — complete with torn dealer tags.

And the CHP? Please. It was almost rush hour. They had minority miscreants to catch.

We all headed home to call our insurance companies.

I spent a restless night (or five) with a messed up neck from whiplash, but thankfully it wasn’t more serious. Apologetic Asian Driver was found at fault. Her insurance paid for everything, including my visits to the chiropractor. I thought the visits helped. (Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister insists that the same results would have been achieved regardless, because all chiropractors are charlatans and it was really just TIME straightening me back out.)

Tomorrow I’ll post about the second time I got hit. It was worse. Much worse. Not because of an injury, though.

But because I got hit by a lawyer.

If only the Red Car had continued… Photo from Be A Green Commuter/ UCLA)


*If you want a simple outline of the decline of the Red Car, check out this overview from The Huff Post. If you want all the wonky details, Blogging Los Angeles has this fantastic post. And you can always check out what LA’s Metro Transit has to say.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

40 thoughts on “Alas for the Red Car (#81)”

  1. Whoaaa! I’m the first to like and comment! What an honour! (I bet until I get my tired fingers to play the keyboard, someone will be here before I manage to click ‘post’ and I’ll be first no more.)

    Anyway– this was a really interesting story to read! I’m glad to hear you were okay!

    I’ve never been hit, thankfully, though, I haven’t driven in some time now, and I was still a beginner back in the days I used to drive. Like four years ago or so?
    I don’t have a car (yet). And I need some practice most likely. I’m rusty.

    Either way, I’m usually the passenger and I can’t help but notice how many reckless drivers are out there, in here too. I’ve almost been included in some almost-happened-car-accidents. Thank God they didn’t actually take place. And some were actually pretty recent. Like, either a week ago or a couple of days ago (when I was just a pedestrian crossing the street on GREEN lights for pedestrians).

    I’m still kinda scared to even walk around, sometimes. Too many idiots on the streets. -_-

    1. I think it’s gotten much worse with smart phones and texting. People just don’t pay attention. It’s terrifying to be a pedestrian. It’s probably even more terrifying to ride a bike!

      1. Yes, it is… >.<
        I was once in the car with my dad and he almost crashed into the car in front of us cause he was talking on the phone. I had to yell at him to break. He didn't notice that the driver in front of us was breaking. -.-

    1. Oh yes, I have enough bad memories of living and driving in L.A. to last a life time.
      Left L.A. more than 30 years ago. Wouldn’t move back there for a billion bucks.

      1. Sorry Moose Nose, your comment got stuck in the spam can for almost a week! (I should check more often.)

        Some day I’m going to move to a small town in New England and my license plate will read “ESCPD LA.”

        Then I will moan about the lack of good restaurants and how ridiculous it is that everything is closed by 8 PM, probably.

  2. LA has the worst transportation systems, a shame. Thanks General Motors! 🙁

    Sorry about that accident, but nice and interesting that it was so multicultural

  3. I never knew about the red cars. How educational. But of course I know about LA traffic. My uncle’s family lives there, friends’ families live there and I’ve lived in So. Cal, so, you know. Yeahhhhhh. Rather crazy. Hawaii is in a similar mess – they should have put in a light rail years ago and now its construction is causing the most insane traffic problems on the island. It’s kind of pathetic how stupid we are as a species. Oops, did I say that out loud?

      1. UGGG! My mom tells me that she doesn’t go anywhere b/c the traffic’s so bad. When I was visiting a few months ago, I couldn’t believe it. What a fucking mess.

      1. We talking monkeys are really stupid. That’s why our smarter cousins don’t feel guilty about flinging shit at us.

  4. Those red cars do look like what we call trams here in Melbourne. Quite a few of our trams run electric and are air-conditioned, but most of them are old and not air-conditioned.

    That was such a civil car crash you described there. Can’t believe no one raised their voices, but then again, as you put it, it happens quite often and you’re not the one who sorts out the bills. When I lived in Malaysia, car crashes usually don’t end this way. If you get hit, sometimes it’s better to not stop because you never know if a bad guy “accidentally” hit your car – stop your car and confront the culprit and you may get robbed on the highway.

    1. At least Australia kept the electric trams! A much better idea than a city of freeways.

      Yeah, there are always warnings for women driving alone in the U.S. about being wary of being rear-ended and getting out of the car in deserted places. LA is not remotely deserted, though.

      1. Over the years, Melbourne has reduced the number of tram stops in and around the city, all in a bid to make trams travel faster. Which I think worked, and it encourages us to walk more to our destinations.

        I hear LA is the city where traffic is horrendous, more horrendous than others parts of the States.

  5. Traffic has gotten so bad where I live on the east coast. Not only are there way too many cars on the road but all the highways in my state have been under construction for years and promise to be for years to come! And, I just bought a brand new car this week, picked it up with 7 miles on it. First new car I’ve owned in over twenty five years. I’m paranoid someone’s going to roll into it or something. Glad your accident wasn’t too serious.

  6. Wow, I have never been involved in a chain rear-end accident like that, but it is very nice that everyone was so courteous and easy to deal with. I’ve only ever had one accident — I accidentally pulled out into the road (it was my first time behind the wheel after getting my license) and a guy tried to swerve to miss me, but it wasn’t fast enough and I ended up hitting him anyhow. It scared me so much I didn’t drive for 3 or 4 months!

  7. Someone slammed into me at a stoplight in the Philippines. I was young and stupid and shook-up, so when he suggested we meet at the Makati City Hall, I drove there and waited. Obviously, he didn’t show up.

    If I remember right, LA’s early history is the story of rich, greedy men making deals for their own benefit and building a city where no city should have been built, and in the process, hoodwinking people to get water from other states. I’m not surprised that their descendants got rid of a great public transportation system. It’s sad though.

    1. Yeah, LA was kind of the wild west. It’s the main reason the film industry wound up here — to escape the laws that governed patents for motion picture cameras (mostly Edison’s, who was pretty greedy himself).

      First accident, I think everyone freaks out. A shame that the guys was a jerk, though.

  8. You description sounds like Taipei traffic or the highways in Taiwan during CNY. When we lived in Taipei, I always insisted on taking the subway – it was faster, we didn’t need to face the traffic, or look for parking.

    Luckily, [knock on wood] I have never had an accident. I have seen my fair share here though. The ones involving a car or truck and a scooter make me squirm and look away.

  9. Great post, Autumn! A little LA history and foreshadowing of the next post 🙂 At least you had the good fortune of surviving those early childhood rides in your mother’s Pinto!

    LOL at Judgemental Genius Doctor Sister’s reaction to the chiropractor. I was actually wondering what her response would be, as I read about your neck 🙂

    BTW, have you read “On Gold Mountain” ( It’s the story of an AMWF couple in LA, and their descendants. The time frame covers the mid 19th to late 20th centuries.

    I’m looking forward to the next post!

  10. This is one (of a few reasons) that I don’t think I could deal with living anywhere near LA. I live in Milwaukee and our public transport is terrible, but traffic isn’t too bad. I hate going down to Chicago, I usually take the bus or train down because driving there is too stressful and trying to find parking is a nightmare.

If you liked this, let the white girl know!