Some of the world's most amazing races display feats of mechanical, intellectual and physical prowess. Given that we just reclaimed the worst traffic in the nation title, who's to say that a morning commute race from Silver Lake to Venice shouldn't be among the world's most grueling?
We decided to test out that very notion. On a recent Friday morning, L.A. Weekly's Jenn Swann and I decided to race from Silver Lake to Venice, East to West, hip to shore, from Intelligentsia Coffee to Intelligentsia Coffee. Swann took the freeway; I took surface roads.
Here is the minute-by-minute, white-knuckle account of how it all went down.
For speed and thrust-to-weight ratio, I choose my friend Keith's white Honda Civic (aka “Ol' Smokey”). Ol' Smoke's a lightning quick five speed with dozens of horsepower. If the apocalypse goes down anytime soon, this will fare better than Mad Max's super interceptor against marauding hordes of gas hungry lunatics.
Swann's driving in some lackluster piece of shit that hardly bears mention.
Gentlepersons, start your engines. Let's do this. My report is in white; Swann's experience is in gray.
8:31 AM: Hyperion to Virgil. Fuck, right off the bat, a fire truck is going to ruin my initial momentum. Pat Benatar is my race muse thanks to awful drivetime radio programming. She's wrong, though, it's not love, but the streets of L.A. that are a battlefield. We are young, indeed.
8:32 AM: Pull out of spot just outside of Intelligentsia on Sunset. In the time since I parked, a dude has started setting up cones for the L.A. marathon. I knock over a cone on my way out of the spot, then pause to make sure I didn't hit his truck — when he doesn't yell after me, I assume I'm in the clear.
8:36 AM: Just ran a red light on Virgil, which makes that the third law I've already broken and I'm barely out of Silver Lake. If I get arrested, I'm going to blame L.A. Weekly. And Pat Benatar.
8:37: I'm in line to merge onto the 101 South from Rampart.
8:39 AM: Now, I'm kind of creeping too close to this active ambulance on Virgil. Let's say three and half laws broken.
8:40 AM: Turned right onto Wilshire. Stuck behind a truck. This frustrating pause gives me the opportunity to think. Perhaps Swann was trying to psych me out when she initially said she felt hazy and hadn't had enough coffee? Time to step up my game. Ol Smokey, don't fail me now.
Up next: Who wins?
8:41 AM: Surprisingly little traffic on the 110, and I'm off to a good start. Merging onto the 10 West freeway, where there's no traffic at all. Cruising at a steady 74 mph for a full minute or two, until my speed drops down to 60 mph, and at 8:36, the freeway comes to a full stop, near Arlington Ave. From there, it's about 20 minutes of straight stop-and-go, at an average of 12 mph.
8:44 AM: I've made it from Wilshire to Olympic via Crenshaw. I'm now pulling the same bullshit I complain about in my own daily commute. I'm doing that thing where I bob and weave lanes to gain about seven feet of forward motion. In baseball they call that small ball. Right now, those inches count. Victory is certain. Now I'm starting to think that cops should be pulling over drivers who refuse to do what it takes to win.
8:45 AM: An LED marquee says I've got 20 minutes before I hit the 405. (But really, I don't end up hitting the 405 until half an hour later, at 9:15.)
8:52 AM: More Olympic. I see a few middle fingers. Does that gesture even have any meaning anymore? I wave. I smile. Eat bumper, assholes.
9:03 AM: And now I'm doing it, the douchiest thing in the jerkface commuter's toolbox: I'm feinting far right at a red light to get to the front of the traffic line, pretending like I'm going to make a turn, but the moment we go from red to green, I drop the brake, lay fat patches and swerve left in front of the line like some NASCAR driver whose name I don't care to know. What have I become? I see a vanity plate that just says “BRO” and a number. I chortle.
9:10 AM: I notice a sign off the 10 West — apparently Bedhead Pajamas adopted the highway. Weird.
9:11 AM: If this were Grand Theft Auto, I'd be surrounded by San Andreas helicopters and robocops or whatever. Let's just say, I haven't killed any pedestrians, but that's about the only vehicular crime not currently on my potential rap sheet. A guy to my left is giving me the hairiest of eyballs. What? Let's not kid ourselves, this is war, dude. Every day.
9:12 AM: I've got 2 miles to go until I get to the 405 South, and I'm practically flying at 28 mph, and then up to 40 mph as I merge onto the 405, and finally, I've reached a full 65 mph flying across the onramp.
9:13 AM: I've turned left onto La Cienega South. I laugh maniacally, as I slip under the daisy-chained mess of traffic on the 10. The freeway above looks…constipated. It looks like molasses going through an ice luge. Screw you, Swann! VICTORY IS MINE! I think it would be pretty badass to be waiting for her with a full breakfast. Because I'm clearly so far ahead.
9:13 AM: I exit Venice and I know I'm in Culver City because there's a bunch of trash and construction on the street. I can see the Weekly building from the other side of the freeway.
9:17 AM: Now I'm sailing down Venice Boulevard. Salty air in my lungs. Triumph is certain. KDAY's playing — Oh you motherfucker! Don't cut across three lanes of goddamn traffic! Have some decency! The maximum is two!
Anyway, KDAY's playing some Ice Cube / Mac 10. Just need to get to Abbot Kinney and “Bow Down” is gonna be my victory song. Mr. I Just Cut Three Lanes thinks he's going to beat me at this light. Nice try, tubby. Ol' Smokey's unstoppable.
9:19 AM: Once I get to Venice and Sawtelle, my GPS (an Australian dude) tells me my ETA is 9:27. He's not too far off — my actual end time is 9:31.
9:26 AM: Boom. Abbot motherloving Kinney. O Parking Gods: just pluck me but one ripe fruit from thy endless bounty!
9:28:30 AM: None. Need to turn around at the end of the block.
9:30 AM: Cruise down Venice at about 40 mph, no traffic but a bit of construction, until I finally hit Abbot Kinney, park by 9:31, and run across the street to Intelligentsia.
9:32 AM: Ooh…nope.
9:31 AM: I WIN!!!! I WIN!!!! (With enough time to make a trip to the bathroom and a couple victory laps around the coffee bar.)
9:33 AM: And there's…ugh. Nope.
9:34 AM: Fuck.
9:34:30 AM: Fuck.
9:34:45 AM: And fuck.
9:36 AM: (Toddleresque temper tantrum edited for time and content)
9:37 AM: Aaaaand. Bingo. Spot.
9:38 AM: Swann's standing there. Coffee in hand. Staring smugly at her watch. I can barely make eye contact. The pride that has preceded my fall would make Orestes blush.
And there it is: A skilled driver like myself, bred on the black-iced rotaries of Boston's North Shore, honed by stints on Germany's Autobahn and hardened in Morocco's kill or be killed back alley casbahs…is undone by Venice's horeshit parking situation. Damn you. Damn you all to the layer of boho hell where the cotton sarongs are not organic.
9:50 AM: I hang my head in defeat and I tuck my tail so low that I'm tripping over it. I take an equally crestfallen Ol' Smokey to my shitty day job and I get one smile on the way: another unintentionally hilarious vanity plate. Suffice to say this person wanted it to say PAPABEAR but…they either left out a crucial A by accident or they're an OB/GYN with an ursine spirit animal. Either way — it doesn't work, man.