Posted by: cassymuronaka | December 21, 2010

Have yourself a wary little Christmas

Few behaviors are more pathetic than a Southern Californian driving in the rain. Because of the fact that they spend so much time on the road, SoCal drivers normally are among the best in the world. There’s even a marked difference between the wild and wooly driving habits of Northern Californians and the much more even-tempered traffic decisions of their Southern California counterparts, although I’ll admit that no one can hold a candle to a San Franciscan with a manual shift who is stuck idling at a red light on one of the city’s famously steep streets. When that traffic light changes to green, the timing needed to simultaneously let go of a brake, push in the clutch, shift gears, and accelerate on the gas pedal so the car doesn’t start rolling backwards at 60 mph is breathtaking to see — or experience — firsthand.

Here in Los Angeles, the combination of oily streets and blasé drivers during the smallest amount of rainfall would be laughable if it was not potentially so deadly.

Unlike the rest of the country, where wet things coming down from the sky is a normal fact of life, no one in Southern California ever adjusts to changing weather and road conditions. Southern Californians determinedly continue to drive around in their three-ton death machines during rain pretty much the same way that they do during dry weather. At least, until it rains so hard that they no longer can see the car in front of them.

Navigating the freeways and busy streets of LA and its surrounding cities during a week of heavy rainfall is like driving among thousands of 16-year-olds who just passed their driving tests and gleefully have taken to the road on their own for the first time.

What is particularly ironic is the stark contrast between local television’s melodramatic response to the any form of minor precipitation and that of perverse Southern California drivers as they speed down slick freeways in an inexplicable state of weather denial. So rare is “wet” that even when just a few drops of rain tentatively are predicted, the typical Your News Now team becomes completely apoplectic, assaulting our television screens with an ever-increasing number of satellite photos, and semi-hysterically interrupting episodes of “30 Rock” or “Grey’s Anatomy” with weather updates, as though The Perfect Storm was about to land smack dab in the middle of Downtown Disney.

Right now, there actually is rain, and there is a lot of it. Most unfortunate for the procrastinating holiday shoppers among us, it is predicted at last up to Christmas Day. Since Monday alone, the Los Angeles Fire Department has responded to more than 200 collisions. That’s more than double than on an average day. The Automobile Club of Southern California also has answered more than 25,000 calls from club members. That’s about 3,000 higher than the equally record-breaking number in October of this year, during a heatwave.

By now, most drivers finally will have adjusted to the reality of “record rainfall” and have been forced to reconfigure their motoring skills. They are driving more slowly, are allowing more distance between cars, and will not continue to sail up and over traffic medians, as if they were participating in Monster Truck extravaganzas. I actually saw one man do this the other night when he obviously could no longer see the white lane dividers on a well-traveled street, and failed to cut his speed in time to avoid a cement left hand turn marker into which his car drifted and airlifted. Fortunately, he was unhurt, as were the drenched, angry men involved in a three-car traffic collision spread across six lanes of another busy intersection right near my house today.

All of the traffic-safety changes that Southern California drivers make this wet week will be appreciated by all of their fellow travelers.

And all of them will be completely forgotten by the time a storm rolls around again.



  1. Do you remember sloshing up and down the SoPas gutters during rainstorms when we were kids? I’ve got a visual of a slope, so I know it wasn’t near my house on La France–maybe your Meridian house? Or between Jean’s on Pine and yours?

    • It was on the way to my house, from Oak to Meridian. I absolutely loved doing that. I never once thought about how I was trashing my shoes.

  2. I found a group of young guys sliding down the wet, grassy slopes at Creek Park in La Mirada earlier this week without benefit of and device or material. They were covered in mud, and weren’t doing the lawns much good either, but it looked like fun.

  3. This is one of the few things that makes me NOT miss home. It’s not much better here in Albuquerque/Rio Rancho but it’s still not the 91 freeway from Riverside County to Orange County. Imagine that ride every day! 1 to 4 hours to commute 20 miles to work. All I can say is, never again.

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