Friday, May 06, 2005

Damn That Traffic Jam

You think you've been in bad traffic jams. They were amateur hour compared with your average day on I-405 in Los Angeles. During my vacation there this weekend, I had multiple opportunities to enjoy "The 405," home to the worst traffic congestion I've ever experienced (and I've driven in 9 of the 10 ten most crowded cities in America).

In the morning, The 405 is packed. Noontime, overloaded. Afternoon, hopelessly jammed.

On Friday at 4pm, it took me an hour to go six miles. That's a minute per tenth of a mile. Children who just learned to walk could have passed us in a blur. There were no accidents, no construction, no visible reasons for the backup other than pure volume. I doubt anyone has used cruise control on The 405 for at least a decade, because you can't set it to go that slow.

You've heard of these drive-by shootings in LA (they had another one Sunday, their fourth in six weeks -- I'm lucky to be alive, frankly). If it happens on The 405, it can't be called a drive-by, it's more of a near-by, because after the shot is fired, the shooter is going to still be right there next to the victim, stuck in traffic with no escape route.

Maybe this explains another southern California phenomenon. They seem to have more donut shops per capita than anywhere else on Earth. I'm not talking chains like Dunkin' Donuts or Donut King -- although they do have one big local chain named Winchell's -- I'm referring to local mom-and-pop donut shops about every two blocks. Ramona's Donuts, John's Donuts, Yashim's Donuts, Mr. Donut, Mrs. Donut, Donut Land. I'm surprised Matt Groening hasn't licensed Homer Simpson's likeness to a retail outlet named "Mmmmmm, Donuts" yet.

Perhaps these delicious doughy delights are what's keeping Los Angelenos busy in their cars while stuck on The 405. It's about the only thing that could make that hellish drive worthwhile. Almost.

Postscript: On my LA trip, I didn't stop into any of these donut places, but did have lunch at a place I've heard of for years but had never been to: Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n Waffles. Yeah, that's what they serve, and that's what you gotta have on your first visit. It's a little odd seeing a cup of syrup on the plate next to a leg-and-thigh quarter of fried chicken, but once you've committed to downing this oh-so-healthy combo, it does go together, and it's damned good.