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My first job in L.A. was to drive an 11-year-old girl from Santa Monica to Pasadena and back in a very expensive black Mercedes-Benz. It was always in the middle of the worst rush hour, when the 405 and 101 become a mixture of parking lots and Daytona 500.
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The girl sat in the backseat and ate cherry flavored Jelly Bellies, never uttering a word. In my lap I had the Thomas Guide and a handwritten note with directions on exactly where I should switch lanes and which lane I should remain in and for how long. Would it help to mention that I grew up in a very tiny farming village in Finland, where highways have two lanes, one in each direction with no divider? And, that this was a few months after arriving in L.A. and learning to drive stick shift.
I was in a state of anxiety, panic and terror each time I had to complete this drive. The worry would begin to pile up the moment I woke up and remembered what was on the agenda that afternoon. All sensations of joy would drain out of my body as the hours passed and the afternoon task approached.
First, I picked up the Mercedes from the house that was located in a neat and cozy Santa Monica neighborhood north of Montana. Sometimes I took it to the car wash or got gas on Montana Avenue. I was always filled with a deep fear of crashing and destroying the luxury car. I prayed it wouldn’t rain, because I didn’t quite know how to turn on the windshield wipers.
There was virtually zero enjoyment in driving this car. Normally I would have loved driving such a fancy car. I still recall the leather interior and how comfortable the driver’s seat was. Instead I was wrapped in a suffocating insecurity that gave me such tunnel vision I still wonder how the hell I managed to drive to Pasadena and back without crashing or worse.
I always took the 110 freeway back home through Downtown L.A., and that was of course when the famous California sun was setting. And since the sun sets over the Pacific, everyone heading west were practically blinded by the devilish orange light. To someone sitting on the beach in Malibu it was a stunning sunset. To us sardines on the 110 it was a cursed limelight none of us wanted! It didn’t, however, stop anyone from driving like mad. On the contrary, the orange and lemon light seemed to fuel some kind of rage in us drivers.
The 110 freeway between Pasadena and Downtown L.A. is windy. I drove fast, curve after curve, sometimes in shadow, sometimes in light. I was pulled with the stream, forcing me to drive faster than I wanted. Sometimes blind and sometimes aware just enough to switch lanes or slow down to avoid getting hit by a BMW. I told myself that if I survive today, I will never do this again. Ever. (I did it many times after that.)
Later on, on the way back home in my old Nissan, along the quiet and dark surface streets of Santa Monica, my cells were still raging after the final race along the 10 freeway west. My neck muscles belonged to a marble statue, and my brain began to protest and send sharp spears of pain into all parts of my head and upper body. I cursed in Swedish and thought of the small countryside roads in my village and how it would smell of birch trees after a midsummer rain.
This, then, was how I learned to love driving on crazy freeways. The love part came much much later.
Thank you for reading! Tell us about your defining moment as a driver! Do you hate or love driving? Why?
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Loved this read! What an experience! I live rurally in the UK and whenever I have to drive on motorways of more than 3 lanes I feel very unwell and like I lose all sense of my sense of space/ place/ time. 🚘
I like driving, but not with my wife in the car. I let her drive when we're together. I don't need her beside me asking me why we're following such a big truck? Why are you driving so slow? Why don't you pass this moron? I used to drive a big machine eight hours a day. I told her I didn't want to drive because I drive all day. It's better if you do it. I haven't driven the freeway down in LA, and would probably be just as paranoid of missing the turn off, driving too slow, or just being lost. Good on you!
( https://benwoestenburg.substack.com )