Wednesday, April 26, 2006

FREEWAYS REALLY AREN'T FREE

The DIC's attempt yesterday to spin and wax political over rising fuel costs reminded me of something I wrote a few months ago after my wife & I returned from a trip to California, scoping out possible locales for a move down the road:

LA Is A Crack Den For Petroleum Addicts

More SUVs than I thought existed on earth, nothing resembling public transportation in 75% of the area. Freeway upon freeway upon freeway. Nothing you can walk to, everything reflecting a choice made 60 years ago: to create a metropolis for cars and drivers.

The level of class and racial segregation is amazing compared to NY or SF, and the car perpetuates it. Because many of the immigrants or local poor can't afford cars, they have no easy access to the freeways and the 'burbs beyond. And because there is hardly a subway to speak of, and because the bus system is nearly useless, Mexicans are stuck in East LA, Blacks in South Central, etc. Meanwhile, all the white folks from the Valley or Orange County or Santa Monica warn you (and they all do), "Don't go to East LA . . . there's nothing to see there."

I'm not making this up.

The Freeways: My wife and I drove along the Ventura Freeway ("The 101") from Downtown LA to a friend's place in the Valley. Downtown LA, incidentally, is another place to which I was instructed not to go. Of course, I went. When we got stuck -- predictably -- in traffic, we noticed that "The Carpool Lane," on the far left side of the freeway, was moving smoothly. But thinking that a "Carpool Lane" required more than 2 passengers, I didn't think of trying it, and sat in the left-most, non-"Carpool Lane."

But soon my wife noticed that most of the cars in the "Carpool Lane" carried only 2 passengers. I figured them for cheaters and continued to sit in traffic . . . when I noticed something I won't forget. Scanning ahead, in the rearview, to my right I saw that every car on the freeway, except the few in the "Carpool Lane," contained exactly ONE passenger -- the driver.

Four lanes of blacktop, miles in each direction, sitting nearly still. And every one, except for three or four, had only the driver! Two in a car, two(!), is a "Carpool." I guess three or more qualifies as a car full of illegals making a border run.

Hittin' the crack pipe in LA. 'Cept there they hit the exhaust pipe.

As Fuel Prices Increase, Our Lifestyle Will Not Be Sustainable

Northern CA was, as every other time I've visited, beautiful and laid back. Witnessed a stunning vista from a one lane road in the Santa Cruz mountains. Watching the mist rise after a light rain, as we stood above the tops of the pines in a valley, sun peeking through the clouds over the taller mountains in the distance.

Sea Lions sunning on a rock on the PCH; a rainbow over a town outside San Jose; windy roads climbing a mountain in Mendocino County. Beauty everywhere.

SF was great, as always, and of course the Bay Area is filled with charming and overpriced towns. Yet to the East -- in the far East Bay and out towards Stockton, Modesto & Sacramento are weird exurbs popping up in beautiful valleys: miles and miles of flat or slightly rolling roads, covered with walled "villages" containing no stores, no shops, no restaurants, no farm land, no parks, no streams, no train stations, no pedestrians, no fire stations, no . . . nothing save for row after row of huge, identical homes.

As we drove down a road in San Ramon, a town in the East Bay, we noticed down-on-their-luck-looking familes holding elongated signs, waving them up and down, like the arrow in the old Sunoco signs when I was a kid. Up on one side, down on the other, like a metronome. A human-operated metronome. As one drove further along the road, the human signs continued to direct them, like human cattle, to their new stables. To the Mansions of San Ramon. Each "village" had a gate at the outside, with multicolored banners waving in the stiff Bay area breeze.

I'm not sure if was the fact that I was in what once was California farm land or not, but I felt like the Joads, jalopee leading to the village, to the compound, to the work farm. Time for a U-turn and a quick exit, thank you very much. Maybe it's just my NY naivete (ever saw those words together?), but it freaked me out. Maybe this is what most of America is like.

I'm putting NY on no pedestal, and I can saw without equivocation that we liked Northern CA a lot. Not sure my wife would go for a small town in the middle of Mendocino County, which is where I'd like to live. But I'm sure there are towns that are generally affordable, and not populated with SUV driving Stepford Wives. But if there are, they're shrinking in the face of the San Ramons and the San Fernando Valleys.

And I'll say this: when Cheap Oil ends (i.e., when $75/barrel seems like a bargain), parts of California, like Dallas's Metroplex, sprawling cities like Phoenix, and other over-extended metropolises, are gonna get killed. It'll be a nightmare.

1 Comments:

Blogger The Ramblin Irishman said...

Mike I just read your blog and have to agree with what you posted. Having lived in Bakersfield for 19 years before obtaining my escape permit I know what you are saying is true. We liked Northern California as well but for us the price was out of this world. Now we live in a small town in Idaho and just love it. People actually talk to you and the air is clean.

10:05 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home