2010.04.28 Sleep while you drive the 405

Written by David Green.


When Rosie and Maddie and I traveled from Los Angeles to San Francisco a few weeks ago, we drove up the Pacific Coast on Highway 1. We intended to return via Highway 5 through the middle of the state, but Highway 1 was so spectacular, we soon decided we would have to travel back down that road. maddie_sleep.jpg

Once that decision was made, whenever we stopped to take photos of the scenery and I lingered too long, Rosie was quick to use the line, “Let’s go. You can see it on our way back.”

Rosie was our driver for the entire trip—from rental car pick-up to rental car drop-off. When the three of us met at Los Angeles International Airport, it was quickly obvious that she had the most stamina, had gotten the most sleep and was the bravest among us.

Actually, we barely even considered Maddie in the rental car driver equation. I knew we had hundreds of miles of driving ahead of us; it made the most sense for all three of us to take turns covering the distance.

But, as Rosie and I stood at the counter deciding if Maddie should be listed as a driver, Rosie and I both looked over at where she stood with our suitcases. We took in the worn out, travel weary, unwashed, unkempt, hot, sweaty, vacant-eyed young woman laden with a heavy backpack and full of obvious fatigue.

Rosie and I looked at each other, shook our heads no, turned in sync back toward the counter and proceeded with the rest of the rental check out process. Maddie hadn’t driven in months and she looked like she wouldn’t have known the steering wheel from the spare tire.

She had been traveling for 44 hours without proper sleep. For the next week she would fall asleep almost as soon as the car started moving.

We began a series of photos...Maddie sleeping with her mouth wide open, Maddie slackjawed against the car door, Maddie spread out on the back seat. She couldn’t help herself. Days of travel in foreign lands, often in tense situations compounded the effects of that lack of sleep. You wouldn’t have wanted her driving your vehicle either.

With all the tales I’d heard about LA freeways, I wasn’t eager to drive the 405 to my friend Sondra’s house, especially on three hours sleep. But Rosie is a fearless driver and off we went.

I’m sure I’ve driven on roads before with six lanes all moving in the same direction. Isn’t that how it is coming into New York on I-80 and through parts of I-75 through Cincinnati? But eight? Isn’t eight lanes a little excessive?

There is a lovely single carpool lane—except it’s way over in the very left lane—that you can drive in if your car has two or more people. I didn’t follow exactly how it worked, but every now and then you could enter it and then you were stuck in it for miles...until broken white lines let you know you could exit the lane and enter the fray again.  I don’t know how Rosie knew when to get out of it...we only knew where we wanted to get off, not when we would be close to that point.

The 405 is a crazy, practically unchartered road. The exits only have names; a random few have a number., but it’s just that...random. We’d see an occasional 42 here or a 24 there, there’s no apparent order to the system.

You really have to know where you are going by the exit name, there’s no relying on numbers. It’s as if you have to be an LA native from the start and know in advance that Atlantic, Orange and Cherry avenues will precede Lakewood Blvd., or you will sail right by it. It’s such an  inhospitable system for someone who relies on a logical consecutive numbering system for exits.

Hmm, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if Maddie drove it.

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