Riding the subway in NYC during rush hour should be a bucket list item. Because I can tell you it is an experience, and after you’ve done it once you will never ever forget it. Unless you’re a daily commuter (like myself) in which case you probably try to forget it every night over a glass of wine. Or ten.
My first time in LA, which was only a few months ago, I was kind of nervous about driving. Traffic and stories of Los Angeles go hand in hand. The infamous “Californians” skit from SNL which features beautiful blonde people giving each other extensive directions kind of taunted me, and made me feel like driving in LA is considered Level: Expert. I’m not ashamed to admit that I brushed up on my driving skills before visiting LA for the first time. I wanted to be ready.
I arrived and rented a car as most non-celebrities do when flying into LAX. With my GPS propped up on the dash, armed with my best NYC offensive driving skills, I was ready to take on this big league LA traffic. My first stop was my hotel to check-in. I’d have to take the freeway. THE FREEWAY for those fans of Clueless who are reading this. Getting on the freeway seemed simple enough. There were no tolls which was pretty amazing to me (you can’t drive 4 feet without paying some kind of toll in NY/NJ). The volume of cars was kind of heavy, but nothing to tip your cap at. So far so good. I decided to bump things up a notch and really get my money’s worth of this experience, so I went ahead and cut someone off. For no reason, as we do in New York. Nothing. No honk. No middle finger. Maybe the other driver wasn’t paying any attention. So I went back into the lane I’d come from, again for no reason, again cutting someone off. I know, I’m terrible. But still nothing!
I chalked it up to the fact that maybe I’d gotten two duds. It happens. Anyways, my GPS started warning that I was approaching my exit. When I saw where I was supposed to get off, there was a lineup of cars legitimately about a mile long. Uh, hell no. In typical NY fashion, I went to the very beginning of the lineup aka the entrance to the exit. This time cutting off a mile’s worth of cars. Surely this would warrant something from someone. At least a few honks and expletives shouted my way (although I seemed to be the only idiot driving with my windows down). Would you believe that not only did I not receive one negative reaction towards my poor driving etiquette, but the car at the front who I wound up ostensibly cutting off (and who had I’m sure waited at least 20 minutes to get to their current position) actually slowed down to give me space to get in front of them. WHAT WAS THIS PLACE?! My mind had been blown. I was confused and scared, in a state of underwhelm. I had been led astray. I wasn’t even sure my name was still Lauren. I needed to lie down.
When I was regaling my state of confusion the next day to a local, their simple response had been, “Oh we’re just happy here. No one really has any road rage like back East.” My jaw nearly broke from hitting the ground so hard. Los Angeles, where you need a car to go everywhere and has the most notorious traffic in the United States, didn’t cause it’s drivers any road rage. Now I was just angry. I had enough road rage inside me to share and spread around all of LA.
In retrospect, I can understand. The sun is always shining. People are more often outdoors doing activities and getting all their endorphins up. It’s easier to see why you’d be more apt to let things slide. But all in all, I was simultaneously let down by what I’d hyped up in my mind to be such a significant driving experience gone awry and impressed that California drivers seem to have it all better figured out than us miserable people on the East Coast (south of Baltimore excluded).
I’m so proud of New York, my city. I always (unfairly) compare new places to New York, and am first to stick up for NYC in any debate. I’m writing this post right now wearing an NYPD sweatshirt. But this question of commuting was a losing battle. The things I’ve seen on the subways of New York is enough to write a memoir. A very long one at that. I’ve been punched by a crackhead for unknowingly walking in front of them. I’ve been trapped on the express train between stops after a homeless person just pulled their pants down and shit on the subway floor. I’ve sat next to a man who took a large knife out of his backpack, smiled, and then put it back into his backpack. I’ve had dirty dreadlocks touching my face for my entire 45 minute commute, unable to move in order to swat them off.
I understand that traffic can be really really bad in LA and I probably wasn’t driving in the thick of it when I was there. Sure. But at the same time, who hasn’t waited for a train in NY for the better part of an hour in the summer, when the subway gets hotter than the equator and the trash is as pungent as a Yankee Candle while watching rats scurry back and forth?
I’m sorry my beloved New York, but I’d take sitting in a long line in an air conditioned car under the California sunshine any day of the week.