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.
*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.