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Discovering a City of Dreams: Los Angeles Without Traffic


I have never jumped from an airplane, never bonded with a bungee cord, never climbed a rock. . . . Hell, I don't even ski. But after listening to friends talk last week, I was beginning to feel like some sort of death-defying freak. Why? Because I was planning to drive into downtown Los Angeles during the Democratic National Convention. With my children, no less. So make that a death-and-infanticide-defying freak.

The mantra of doom was relentless: Anarchists. Riot squads. Gridlock.

Not that we haven't had our share of, shall we say, crowd control problems, but still. . . . This sense of inevitable pandemonium seemed a little small town-ish for the second largest city in the Union.

So off we headed Monday for the big bad belly of the beast, a trifle early in case we did actually hit traffic. And what we found was indeed a city we had never visited before.

Los Angeles with no traffic.

If you have been secretly harboring a desire to roller-blade down Broadway, or Flower, or 5th in the middle of a weekday, you missed your chance. Heading down Spring Street, I realized that if it hadn't been for the three California Highway Patrol cars and the four star-spangled Dash buses, I would have had the place to myself.

Merrily we glided along, reveling in the relative solitude like goyim in Manhattan on Yom Kippur. So taken was I with the ability to remain in third gear for more than two minutes, I completely missed my turn and found myself at a sudden loss as to how to double back. Without the normal conga line of cars, I was moving so fast that my normal morning-drive reflexes were about three beats behind. And without my antagonistic touchstones--the inevitable beat-up Toyota making a sudden dangerous left, or the Lexus SUV obliterating my peripheral vision--I was utterly flummoxed, distracted by the surreal vistas of endlessly empty L.A. streets.

It's a wonder I got to work at all.

At lunchtime it was the same: wide-open thoroughfares, sleek with just-finished repairs, allowing motorists easy transport from one place to another. Why, this is a beautiful city, I thought, as I calmly and quickly made a left onto Flower from 7th, normally a Herculean feat.

And then it hit me: This is a terrible thing.

If I, with all my prior knowledge and hard-won cynicism, was charmed by the city, just imagine what all the visitors were thinking. The folks from Georgia and West Virginia and Indiana, walking around no doubt wondering why people complain about Los Angeles when all the folks are so nice and the sidewalks are so clean, and sure, it may be a little hot, but there's hardly a drop of humidity. They don't know that Olvera Street was an absolute mess until 5:30 last Friday afternoon or that all those good-looking CHP officers don't usually guard every parking lot and office building or that Figueroa gridlocks just like the freeways at rush hour.

I'm afraid it will be just like New Year's, when chapped-lipped and shivering people take one look at the always balmy, blue-skied Rose Parade, slap the arms of their Barcaloungers and say, "Honey, we're moving to L.A!"

What will happen if the rest of the world thinks we've got great weather and we've solved our traffic problem too?

It hardly bears contemplating.

Thankfully, the roads were slightly more congested Tuesday morning. But not enough. So let's all do our civic duty and get out there and drive.

What's a little gridlock between friends?

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