There was a small reunion of friends of seventy years standing in Gardena, a suburb of Los Angeles, requring a trek on freeways to get there last week. After leaving Chico and getting to Sacramento to catch I-5 via Hwys. 99 and 70, it was fairly smooth sailing on a weekday morning until we got to Stockton. There the traffic backed up some owing to construction work that seems to have been there several times in the past couple years we’d have to go through the city.
Following the slowdown through there, we again had an easy drive through long stretches of orchards, the California Aqueduct that takes northern water to the Southland and the complaining signs along the way that read, “Congress created the Dustbowl;: “Food Grows Where Water Flows,” and another about Gov. Brown ignoring the north’s water needs. Then near Coalinga we passed the giant cattle feeding lots where the stench of their urea permeate the air for miles. Once on a hot summer day we stopped at a cafe for lunch and lost our appetites as the odors hung around in the hot weather.
We saw pieces of rubber that had come apart from retreads, men in orange hard hats whom we learned were doing their time for minor offenses picking up trash in lieu of spending it in jail, and beautifully tended nut and fruit trees in different stages of flowering, while stacks of beehives were set at the ends of rows. At some farms, men were busily preparing the fields for planting.
It was only late afternoon when we go to the foot of the Grapevine, but knowing the rush hour had already begun in Los Angeles, we spent the night at a motel. Early the next morning, we went up the
Grapevine, the Tejon Pass that separates northern California from southern. Trucks with heavy loads labored to go up the torturous grade, slowing down turtle -like on a separate lane while the the powerful cars like hares whizzed past them. Reaching the top at Lebec there are some businesses that have developed over the past twenty years since we’d left Southern California, but otherwise until Gorman, the town that perhaps exists mainly as a stop for truckers, especially during winter snows when they can’t go over the pass, it was a stretch of nothingness until we hit suburbia at Santa Clarita, approximately fifty miles from downtown Los Angeles.
Then the “fun” of driving into the metropolis began: there were four and sometimes five or six lanes on either side of the freeway, each heavily occupied, but still moving fairly fast until we came to the interchange where I-5 meets the Foothill, the Ventura and then the Hollywood, and the Glendale freeways, and 14 to Lancaster/Palmdale.
We decoded to stay on I-5 to get to the 605, the north/south freeway at the edge of Orange County, but to get there only about fifteen miles past Griffith Park and Dodger Stadium, we had to get past the Harbor and Lon Beach freeways. The freeway sign board read: 25 minutes to 605. Meanwhile, we were crawling at about 20-25 miles, in tandem with the same cars we’d seen alongside when we got into the metropolitan area. We went so slowly in bumper-to-bumper traffic that I could observe the walls alongside one community that were covered with “urban art” or graffiti colorfully painted with abstract designs, among other scenes one doesn’t notice when driving faster. It was about forty-five minutes to go from the edge of downtown Los Angeles to the 605. .
Finally, we got to the 605 freeway and got off the ramp to Cerritos to see a friend who wasn’t at home, then drove the saner surface streets to Long Beach to have lunch. Then it was off to our old friend’s for the reunion the next day, driving on the 405 to get there, and again passing the Long Beach and the Harbor Freeways.
At the reunion, we got together with two other couples we hadn’t seen in many years. I daresay we’d not seen one couple in nearly fifty years! We had lived for years within twenty-ifive miles of one another, but the formidable freeways and the masses of cars were excuses to deter us from getting together.
But our hostess decided that we are all aging and it was time for a mini-reunion “one last time,” and so it was that my husband braved driving the freeways that surely is a challenge even to the most experienced driver. I merely navigated using maps and we safely made it there and back.
Returning home a few days later, we drove on the 405 freeway that leads to I-5 in lighter mid-morning traffic, took the HOV or Diamond Lanes and made it home in a day . Freeway driving to a metropolitan area is not an everyday matter.