Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

I have lived in Southern California for more than 28 years, and I still cannot believe people out here do this to themselves day after day.

Sitting on the freeway, that is.

I'm normally pretty good about avoiding gridlock on our incredible highway system. I get caught in the occasional backup — you know, the sections where you're brought to a crawl for no discernible reason, only to get back up to speed a mile later, also for no discernible reason. But I rarely find myself in a Sig Alert situation (sounds dire, doesn't it?).

That's primarily because I made a conscious decision to live in the town where I work. But more about that later.

Early this week, I found myself in unfamiliar territory. I had to take Maria to an appointment in Harbor City, which meant traveling from and to my North Long Beach home. 

The logical route was the 91 to the 110 to PCH. That's State Route 91 to U.S. Freeway 110 to Pacific Coast Highway to the uninitiated.

Getting there was uneventful. It was early afternoon, and traffic moved smoothly.

I'm not sure where my head was at when we left, shortly after 3:30 p.m. Probably thinking about the load waiting for me back at the Long Beach office.

At any rate, I decided to retrace my route, and took the on-ramp back to the 110, this time heading north.

I should have recognized I was in trouble when that on-ramp was backed up. In my defense, the stupid meter lights stopping every car or truck attempting to get onto a freeway backs up most on-ramps I use.

But once I made it up to the "freeway," that was pretty much a dead stop, too. As I said, I've been in the occasional backup, so I wasn't overly worried. It would break up soon, right?

Wrong.

The 5-miles-an-hour, then stop, then start went on and on. I thought about moving to the carpool lane, but it was as backed up as all the other lanes.

After 30 minutes or so, I had a flash of inspiration and asked Maria to check her smartphone for the fastest way home (as I should have done before we left).

"It wants you to turn around and go the other way," she said. "No, wait, now it just says 45 minutes to the 405."

According to one of the helpful Caltrans signs, the 405 exit was 3 3/4 miles away. You do the math.

I don't go to Harbor City often, and almost never from north Long Beach. So I wasn't aware, or didn't remember, that there are almost no off-ramps on the 110 between PCH and the 405. There's Torrance Boulevard and maybe one more.

Of course, I would have been totally lost if I had managed to get off before the 405. So I settled back and listened to NPR, catching up on my email every 15 minutes or so.

It took an hour and a half to get to the 405. I had long ago given up on the idea of getting back to the 91, and jumped at the chance to change freeways. I got Maria home at 5:30. Did I mention we left Harbor City at 3:30?

I know that my outrage seems misplaced, or at least overblown, to those hundreds of thousands of folks who commute up and down the 405, 5, 15, 10, 101, 60 or all the other fun freeways leading in and out of greater Los Angeles. I'm told that many, many people are on the freeways for two hours every day — some each way.

That's just plain wrong. There's more to life. I'd recommend that all you folks move closer to your job, but I write about affordable housing too much to think that's a real option.

Flying cars? Public transportation? Population control?

I don't have an answer. If you do, let me know.

In the meantime, I'll stick to surface streets.

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