I’m not sure where Aretha Franklin’s freeway is, the one she traveled in a pink Cadillac. But, if I haven’t come to love LA’s freeways, at least I’ve started to appreciate them. And that’s after driving them in a campervan, which is not meant for high-speed defensive driving. Several times I’ve taken Buffalo Soldier on the 210, the Foothill Freeway that hugs the upper edges of Los Angeles and shoots you over to San Bernardino. My experiences have been mostly good, which I define as conducive to a white knuckle driver like me driving at 55 miles per hour and not being run off the road.
This trip I tried something I’d bet even some native Angelenos haven’t tried. I took freeways from the top western border of Los Angeles to the bottom, then cut straight across West to East on another set of freeways. Specifically, I drove down from San Clemente on I-5, then I rode I-8 all the way to Arizona. Believe me, that’s a lot of freeway driving in one day. The strange thing is that I encountered little traffic any of the way, despite driving through LA during morning rush hour. I find this happens a lot when I drive on LA freeways. I think I’ve finally figured out why.
Imagine the KTLA Traffic Chopper hovering over a freeway. The pilot starts his live report:
Anchor in studio: Hey Jim, how’s that commute looking?
Pilot: Well Stan, we’ve spotted something on the I-5. It’s that lady in the silver campervan. She’s in the slow lane doing about 53 MPH.
Anchor: Whoa, I remember when she was on the 210 back in March.
Pilot: She appears to be singing along to Country and Mariachi music.
Anchor: Uh oh.
Pilot: Yeah Stan, I’d tell our viewers to avoid that freeway.
Yes my LA Peeps, I do travel 55 MPH on LA freeways. I’m in the slow lane. Just pass me. And since I’m driving slowly, I have had the opportunity to make some observations on the freeways in the City of Angels. First of all, it is entirely possible to drive for hours up and down and side to side in LA and never take an exit. Seriously, every freeway merges into another and the signs give you plenty of warning. So if you need to switch from, say, 101 to the 405, you are told a few miles ahead that you will need to get into the right three lanes. Then you just continue on and magically, you are on your new freeway. Compare that to Bay Area freeways where traffic is madly whizzing by at 70 MPH and suddenly you need to exit to get to another freeway, but you are given no warning that you will need to cross five lanes to get to an exit…and whoops…you miss it.
Secondly, LA drivers are surprisingly undisturbed that I’m tootling along slowly. I’m theorizing that it’s because in the same lane with armies of taco trucks and landscapers’ pickups with trailers. And Angelenos love their tacos and their landscaping. We get a pass.
While rattling through a metropolis wasn’t the highlight of the trip, I’d always wanted to travel I-8. It’s the southern-most freeway out here and skims the Mexican border in many parts. I wasn’t quite prepared for how close it is to Mexico. For a good part of the journey, I traveled along a border fence, which seemed aimed at keeping out vehicles, not people. The fence was akin to what horse people call a buck fence, a series of poles in the shape of Xs with one or two cross poles between each X. Completely easy for someone to skin under or climb, but it would stop an off-roading jeep. I also noticed that the US Border Patrol was out in force. Still, judging by the highway signs, there are many legitimate trucking routes in and out of Mexico along I-8. With all the factories just over the border, this must be a major route for Mexican imports into the US.
I also wasn’t prepared for the landscape. It looks more like Mexico than any place I’ve been to in the US. Unless it’s Joshua Tree. On steroids. If you are familiar with the famous orangy brown boulders that make Joshua Tree a mecca for climbers, imagine if there were three times as many. Imagine the whole landscape was just those giant boulders piled on top of each other over every square inch of land. Sadly, I have no pictures of the most insane parts of the landscape. Like many roads in the West, there are few places to stop and take a picture. Let’s get the Secretary of the Interior on that!
I finally got myself to my destination for the night, which was a wide spot in I-8 called Tacna, Arizona. By that time, it was 95 in the shade, had there been any shade. Apparently the park is a big snowbird destination, but by now , they’ve all flown away. As I poked around the rec center, it seems they do a lot of quilting over the winter here. And also play a lot of billiards. But bless their hearts, the park owners have a full kitchen available, so I didn’t have to cook dinner in my sweltering van or under the blazing sun.
Although the snowbirds seem to be a sociable lot — as indicated by the signs announcing past ice cream parties and wine tastings, the few of us here now are not likely to break bread together. As I searched for the campground wi-fi, I found that my neighbor’s personal hot spot was called “fuckBiden”. I suppose it’s an indication that I’ve left California and am now in a Red State. Guess I won’t be sharing a glass of wine with those campers.
Tomorrow, I press on to the former mining town of Ajo, which has remade itself as an artists’ colony. And then to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.