SoCal Driving

Just returned from a few days in Southern California with my daughter, and on this trip in particular, I was surprised to find myself missing a few things about driving at home (a small, rural, Northern CA town):

1. The ability to pull over or turn around at will. When you’re driving in 3-lane traffic past endless strip malls and shopping centers, pulling over to the side of the road is NOT an option. Sorry, lady, pull into the nearest parking lot, make sure you get the hell out of everyone else’s way, and THEN you might be able to idle and do whatever it was that you couldn’t do while driving. And a u-turn? You might need a writ of Congress for that. You better be watching for that place you  wanted to pull into, because a good 5 minutes will pass if you have to turn around and go back to it.

2. Easy-to-negotiate gas stations. We have two gas stations in town, and if one is crowded, you go to the other. Even in Sacramento, it isn’t unusual to be able to just pull into an empty pump and get gas. For whatever reason, getting gas was not an easy task last week. Except for the closed, empty, 24-hour pumps we pulled into at 2 a.m. That one was a breeze.

3. PARKING. Oh, God, parking. Plotting your whole plan based on where you are going to park. Ugh. Not a big Northern CA problem, even in San Francisco, where there never seems to be a shortage of parking structures ready to take your money.

4. TRAFFIC. Speaking of plotting. Plotting your whole day’s driving to avoid heavy traffic. So not possible when you need to take Highway 5 back and forth from Orange County to LA. Ugh.

I have never minded driving in LA — been doing it since I was 20 — but I found myself feeling very burdened by the tasks of getting to and fro on this trip. I don’t usually suffer that, but this trip I longed for the simplicity of driving at home. I longed for the simple u-turn. Somewhere easy to ditch the car. Wishing we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted instead of having to leave THEN because that’s when the traffic would be at its lightest. All the iPads and smartphones in the world can’t stop the 5 (and the 405 and the 605) from being jammed up from 2 p.m. to well past dark.

It made me think, “Wow, am I really a country girl all along? Do I really prefer my little rural town where I feel at home but also feel so detached from the rest of the world?”

And then I realized, NO. I just prefer a city where there is excellent public transit, like New York or Paris or Rome, where you don’t need a car. You don’t spend 30 minutes driving from one Target to another 5 miles away to try to find the right size of black shoes for your daughter. You don’t have to leave at 1 p.m. to drive 30 miles to get from your home base to the concert you’re going to later that evening. Where it’s all within a few Metro stops. Or maybe more than a few stops. But it’s all there.

I love living in my little town. I love driving in rural Northern CA. But there’s something very soothing and inviting about city transit, where it’s all taken care of for you, just buy a ticket and get on, and get off where you need to, anytime, day or night. Whatever you need.

I had a ball last week, even with all the driving and parking and crazy turns. But what I wouldn’t give for about 72 percent of all the other cars to have been removed from the equation.

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