Monday, December 22, 2008

Fear and driving in Los Angeles

Okay, before the year comes to its end I thought it was about time I related some more of our '08 holiday experiences. So here goes. The flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles wasn’t too bad at all, just long! Makes me wish I could afford first class… We (Jan and I) landed at 6.30 pm local time. It was pretty dark by then. We did get to see the lights of Las Vegas drift by beneath us. LV seems such a compact city from the air. One moment it’s all bright lights (the Strip was very obvious); the next, the surrounding desert was pitch.

Passing through immigration, etc, was remarkably easy. So we were soon on our way to collect our pre-booked hire car, loading the suitcases, and getting on our way. Of course, I had forgotten how the automatic gears work, making me look a total fool in front of everyone with kangaroo starts. But that was a minor glitch, and then it was out onto the streets of LA… That’s when the ‘fear’ began.

It wasn’t really fear – well for me it was just total confusion and a bit of panic. Jan, on the other hand, was scrunching down under the dashboard with eyes tightly shut! Prior to our holiday we bought a road map of LA and had worked out a route to the hotel in Glendale. Oh no, you don’t want to go that way we were informed. The quickest route was north up the 405 and east along the 101. Yup it certainly looked more straightforward. So we hit the road – remembering to drive on the ‘wrong’ side. Within mere minutes we were driving onto the 405. By now it was around 7.30, so we hoped the road to be reasonably empty. No way. It was full and fast and furious. And I had forgotten to adjust the wing mirrors first!

Somewhere along the 101 we took an exit. The wrong exit of course. We took a turn and then another, attempting to get back to the 101. Now, anyone familiar with the American grid system knows just how easy it is to get around a city like Los Angels. But at that moment, exhausted and hungry, we simply got confused. Okay: lost. We crossed, I’m sure, the same roads countless times but at different junctions. But somehow, we picked up a major road (i.e. one that was marked on our map) and made our way to Glendale, and our hotel. The restaurant next door had closed by then so we had to pick up some junk food from a convenience store, before we fell into bed to sleep off the 11 hour flight fatigue.

The following morning, our first act (after a huge American-style breakfast) was to buy detailed road maps of Glendale, Burbank, etc, before we hit the road again. This time, driving to Santa Monica, in daylight, was straightforward enough. I had become used to driving on the right (although Jan still felt I passed vehicles in the right-hand lane far too close for comfort – her comfort that is), turning right on a red light, and the grid system. Jan was excellent at navigating now that she dared open her eyes.

And then, after a couple of days in LA we took the freeway east, out to the deserts of southern California. By now, I felt rather nonchalant behind the wheel, that is until a succession of huge semis (articulated lorries, to us Brits) roared past on both sides of the car (and we were doing 70 mph), reminded us of our vulnerability in the rental.

More later.

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