The northbound 405 Freeway moves at a crawl during evening rush hour in Costa… (Los Angeles Times )
The pursuit began somewhere in Fountain Valley. Authorities said she had been spotted siphoning gas. They chased her as she zigged and zagged on the northbound 405 all the way to Culver City where they finally nabbed her. The photo of her arrest was splashed across several columns of this newspaper. Her blond hair was mussed. Her face clinched like a fist. Her legs dangled off the ground as law enforcement carried her away.
And I'm pretty sure I know exactly how she felt.
Her path that day earlier this month was nearly the same as the one I've been making daily for months: Washington Boulevard to Harbor Boulevard. Forty miles on the 405. Almost an hour on the freeway, twice a day.
I've never made that trek with a stream of sirens following behind me, nor do I have the guts to do it at 90 mph, as the authorities said this woman did. But there's something about that drive that, even in the best of conditions, can make a person feel like the Hulk as they pull into their driveway.
In Southern California, a giant spaghetti bowl of freeways, spending inordinate amounts of time behind the wheel is a fact of life. Some even talk about their crazy commute as if it were a badge of honor, boasting about hours of commuting the way little boys brag about getting stitches.
After being transferred from downtown Los Angeles to Costa Mesa a few months ago, I've found that I just don't have the constitution for it. I'm tired of sitting on freeways. I've even become tired of driving.
I grew up thinking that freedom was having a driver's license, an open road and nowhere in particular to go. Need a loaf of bread from the store? I got it. Need someone to pick up my little brother from soccer practice? I got that too.
I relished any excuse to cruise the free-flowing streets of my hometown in Texas in my first car, a white Chevy Astro van with the bumper crunched in after I backed into a utility pole on my 17th birthday. It was like my own little island, where I could take whichever route I felt like taking and blast whichever radio station I wanted, even the one that played hip-hop.
Now, I have exactly what I wanted. But it turns out, two hours on the 405 is too much of a good thing.
My island — a Honda Accord now — has become an episode of "Hoarders" on four wheels. Newspapers and random junk clutter the seats. More papers and cups are on the floor. I've gone without my cellphone for the better part of a week because it's lost somewhere inside. On the outside, it looks like it has spent a month parked in the desert.
My commute has become a ritual of insanity. That tiny optimistic voice inside me says each morning that maybe this will be the good day on the 405. Maybe this will be the day there won't be a fender torn from a small car tumbling down the center lane near Inglewood. Maybe this will be the day that the annoying DJ with the weird, nasally voice won't be on and the radio will play some good songs — the kind with a good beat.
That little voice is inevitably lying to me. The rhythms of the 405 never change. There's always that stretch near Carson where I have to slam on my brakes because traffic has come to a halt for no apparent reason. Just as there's always the spot near the Garden Grove freeway turnoff where the lanes writhe like a snake, so someone's bound to drift into your lane.
To add insult to injury, the iPod I used to plug into my car for long drives conked out around the same time I was transferred, leading me back to the radio. I refuse to listen to anything that might be intellectually enriching, so I flip between 97.1, 102.7 and 105.9.
Spending so much time tuning in, I've discovered they play basically the same 20 or so songs again and again and again. I've quickly changed stations to save myself from Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe" about 15,646,153 times. I had this trapped feeling the moment all the stations were playing the same Rihanna song at the same time. And one morning last week, I woke up singing a rap song that had been on the radio at least twice the day before: Who booty is it, who booty is it, who booty who booty who booty is it.
I concede that good things have come from the commute. I'm no longer the fool in the fast lane on the slowpoke's tail. I'm perfectly content chilling in the center lane, even if it takes me longer.
Even so, I've had enough.
I'm moving. The new apartment is smaller than my old place in Culver City, and I'm convinced my new neighborhood is actually an office park. But here's my new commute: 2.2 miles. Seven stoplights. Four minutes, and not one second on the 405.
I'll take it.