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On the Cruel Freeways, It's Don't Get Mad--Get Creative

Traffic: Wisdom from our 'Driving Me Crazy . . . Not' survey includes side street exploration, Caltrans star gazing and a poetic interlude.

November 13, 1996|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports a gory and inglorious rise in highway violence.

No kidding, Sherlock.

And certainly no surprise to Southern Californians long resigned to freeway bashings by tire irons, jack handles, Perrier bottles, tossed rocks, eggs, pepper sprays, Bowie knives, deliberately directed Range Rovers, throat clearings, overripe avocados and occasional hosings from an AK47.

Let us never forget the Unfortunate 500 who had their windows punched in by marbles launched from slingshots. Nor that year the driver of an 18-wheeler got baked on nonprescription grass, used several dozen cars on the northbound Hollywood Freeway as bowling pins, and told police he was frustrated as hell and couldn't take rush-hour traffic anymore.

This being a company town marinated in movie violence, it was no surprise when Jack Nicholson took umbrage at being cut off and beat up a Mercedes with a Callaway six-iron. And there was Zsa Zsa and the Cop, the world's first drive-by slapping from a Rolls-Royce.

Yet, with the same resilience Californians use to survive fires, floods, quakes, droughts and pestilence, so have they found ways to chill out, stay cool, and remain far removed from the daily abuses of cruel and unusual freeways.

Life & Style studied those methods by asking readers to tell of techniques for surviving asphalt arenas above, below and along L.A.'s own Mason-Dixon line: a 60-mile divider stretching from the Ventura Freeway to the coagulated junction of the Corona, San Bernardino, Orange and 210 freeways.

"Driving Me Crazy . . . Not" produced thousands of formulas from hundreds of readers and some statistics were fairly predictable.

More than 40% relax by listening to tunes on tape ("Chinese classical music featuring the Beijing Children's Choir makes me feel peaceful," writes Andrew Green, a Los Angeles auditor), Books on Tape ("There were issues going on with Louisa May Alcott that are still going on today," notes Bobbe Josephson of Camarillo) and motivational musings on tape ("Jennifer James suggests we diffuse our anger by making up stories about people who seem rude to us on the road, such as: 'They must be rushing to be at the bedside of a dying relative,' " says Bronwyn Anthony, Los Angeles).

Southern Californians being Southern Californians, 10% of the freeway-evolved prefer Zen and the inner self for exorcising morning din and external aggressions.

"I become part of the traffic," writes Earle Reeves, Los Angeles. "I blend, I coalesce. I concede my sovereignty in exchange for a comfortable place amidst the stream, easily flowing along in peace with them. Or, in a word, us."

Five percent play games. One writes soap opera scenarios around vanity plates. Another thinks of a word of four or more letters using three letters of any license plate. And there's the star gazer who examines Caltrans crews picking up trash and tries to recognize the celebrity doing community service.

Less than 1% suggested easing ungodly drives by car-pooling with himself. Brent Neumark of Northridge listens to the Bible on tape while delivering Domino's pizza. Clearly a matter of ordering sausage, pepperoni, with Scriptures on half.

"I became a Jewish-Christian years ago because I was so stressed out from owning a cheese and wine shop in Century City," he explains.

Talk radio is a common relaxant, believe many, with Michael Jackson the drive-time favorite. Others insist talk radio probably shreds more tempers than it mends.

Jane Trask of Los Angeles is a woman of many ploys.

She calms the intemperate by waving politely at their rudeness. She brings out concern and the best in the bestial--"even bikers with tattoos on their tattoos"--by deliberately leaving a corner of her dress peeking from beneath her car door. Most of all, Trask stays wound down by driving new side streets.

"I've watched a jacaranda tree grow from a twig to a tower in the past decade," she says. "I made the acquaintance of the goose that lived in Larchmont. I've been comforted by the sight of Orthodox Jewish men and boys in black suits and hats, walking to worship."

*

Some readers, unfortunately, didn't get it. They dwelt not on staying calm, but on the reasons they get enraged.

One man wrote three pages of driving tips based on 30 years at the wheel of a bus. An entrepreneur calling himself "the Driving Therapist" tried using our survey as free advertising for his freeway therapy tapes. Several others stuck tongues far into cheeks and claimed there actually is relaxation in retaliation.

Roy Oldenkamp of Beverly Hills, on motorists who pound horns a millisecond after the light turns green: "[I decide] we will just have to sit there for a moment or two more. Remember, O impatient honker, you are behind me. I control your destiny, at least for the immediate future."

Marshall McNott of Claremont on handling tailgaters: "Slow to 15 mph and laugh hysterically."

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