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Fast Life Comes to an End

January 07, 2003

That holiday vacations are over is cruel enough to contemplate in these first days back at work and school. Crueler still is that to get to the office or shop or classroom where we don't really want to be, we'll have to crawl.

For Los Angeles commuters, this first full week back on the freeways and boulevards feels like eating worms after the salad days between Christmas and New Year's.

Driving in Los Angeles over the last couple of weeks felt like a spin on Disneyland's old Autopia, where pint-sized motorists whizzed along curvy "roadways" in sleek little coupes, laughing in the winter sunlight and waving to their moms. When Autopia, one of Disneyland's original 20 attractions, opened in 1955, all of Los Angeles seemed like a tour through the Tomorrowland of which it was a part. Freeway construction was at full tilt, with dignitaries dashing from one ribbon-cutting ceremony to the next, opening vast gray stretches of pristine concrete to giddy drivers with big cars and full tanks. In those days you really could drive the San Diego Freeway from Culver City to Van Nuys in 17 minutes -- as Mapquest.com still insists -- or from downtown to Covina in half an hour on Interstate 10. And over the last two weeks, you could again.

Disneyland renovated its old Autopia ride not long ago "for a new generation of drivers with new cars [and] new roadways." The park boasts that the updated Autopia is "filled with humor and offers new interactive surprises!"

Sort of the way it will be on the freeways this morning -- a bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-start Reality Autopia of looky-loos, stalls and creep. The winter sun is still warm and the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains still sparkle. But this January, like last, the exhaust from a million idling cars will soon rise to blot the view. Inside, we drivers will suffer rising tempers, knowing it will be August vacation time, if not December, before we feel the wind tickle our hair again on the way to work.

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