I live in Los Angeles now. Oh have you heard? Right, I’d forgotten the 83 other times I’d informed everyone I’ve ever met. But can you blame me? It’s a big transition. It’s hot, everyone is tan and skinny, nobody wears black…I could go on. Still, perhaps the biggest change for me has been the sudden, total, irreconcilable dependence on driving.
I won’t pull any punches and admit to the fact that the, from the second my plane landed at LAX, I had a 2013 Prius (in slate, if you must know), with relatively low mileage and meager lease payments, awaiting me. Instead of giving myself nightmares by imagining the horror of finding one’s own car post-move, I will continue to give thanks for my boyfriend’s dad, who impulsively bought the most Charlie Sheen-worthy pickup truck of all time, leaving his old car to me.
Yet, regardless of what one is driving, one must drive. I wept for my calves, which had become solid bricks of muscle after spending the last three years walking 2.5 miles to and from school. I screeched at the sight of my step counter reading only “147” at the end of one particular day, when I so easily clocked “10,000” only weeks prior.
Pre-move, I was inspired by Melissa Broder, who in an interview admitted that the majority of her book “So Sad Today” was actually transcribed by Siri while she sat in L.A. traffic. Despite attempts to replicate this method, I have found a more productive commute relies on Avril Lavigne’s first two albums being played on shuffle.
Never before has my life relied so heavily on factors beyond my control: detours, gas prices, availability of NPR’s HD stream. Not to mention all of the fabulous, fiery intrusive thoughts that populate your mind when you are in the middle of a five-lane freeway, just trying to maintain proper breathing and ignore the Corvette in the left lane who you are positive will cut you off in approximately five seconds.
Indeed, Los Angeles traffic is neither for the faint of heart nor the diagnosably anxious. It’s the city’s greatest irony: everyone is content to skimp on work, waste away in Margaritaville, and rocket-launch down the 405 in a 600 horsepower Lamborghini. It doesn’t quite add up. Or maybe it does — but it’s not something I was ever warned about.
L.A.’s total dependence on cars is also at odds with its ecologically-friendly ethos. True, Priuses abound (I recently tried to open two other Priuses of the same color parked on either side of mine), as do Teslas. And I will say, the 60 MPG I get on average is preeeetty rockin’ compared to your average clown car, but it can also feel like putting a bandaid on a protruding femur. I can say I’m helping, but am I really?
That’s not to say I might as well be driving a 1965 Bronco that putters along at 18 miles per gallon, but a lot of people do seem to have adopted that mentality as a means to justify their desire for a more aesthetically pleasing vehicle. Car culture has never made the slightest bit of sense to me. Now that I’m a daily driver, I view it as a privilege, not a treat. It’s something I must do, but dutifully. “The Earth is going to shit anyway,” you say? Well that is just a wonderful and valid excuse for you to add another vintage muscle car to your collection.
Driving can be pleasant enough, it’s true. It can be a place to meditate, to have independence, to secretly listen to the aforementioned Avril Lavigne with the windows down. There have even been a few times (while a passenger) that I’ve stuck my head out the window like a thrilled golden retriever. But driving is ultimately a practicality, and one that mustn’t be over-exalted. Maybe, soon, when Elon Musk develops a car that runs solely off the fumes of me singing along to RENT, I’ll think differently.