Travel Through the City of Cars

It was cold. Cold in contrast to the simmering heat of earlier, the occasional piece of pavement still radiating a hell-like remembrance of a Los Angeles summer. The air felt as if it should be dark, a pitch black really, as if night was the bringer of melancholy, the staging of some strange moment in which I would be thrown back into the wilds of thought.

I got in my car, uneasy as if I were in a forest, listening to the sounds. The occasional car passed and I could hear someone walking with a dog a few blocks away. No barking, just the jingling of a collar. I got into my car. 10:38pm. I still felt uneasy.

But in the bright highwayscape of Los Angeles it’s hard to believe in the apocalyptic night. Instead the world becomes a vivid construction of Art Deco details, the lines of light as you drive by creating a contoured landscape. The strange gloom of artificial light does not exist; it is a florescent vision, making the natural elements of the sky pale in comparison to the glories of manmade construction.

I drove along the I-10E, passing the numerous exits of streets I knew I had driven on before and I wondered if I was missing something by taking the highway. The cars in front of me were far-off, their tail lights a sea of glimmering red and I waited, holding my breath. I never know when my Ford Taurus wagon is ready to take its own last breath.

But there was the beacon. The crowning glory of Los Angeles. The high rises of downtown coming into focus next to what someone once told me was a harvest moon. Sitting low, parallel, to the skyscrapers, the amber glow of the moon belonged more to the landscape of Blade Runner. The buildings were lit up, molten colors running across and around them, highlighting the nuanced fact that this was a city, is a city, will be a city.

Los Angeles is one of the most beautiful cities at night. The once acrid air disappears, leaving a clarity that I found few other places. Its sprawl and smog, so often signified by traffic jams and ramshackle developments, loses its animosity and instead seems to symbolize a gentle, if misguided, generosity. There lays a million lights, twinkling in every direction, and yet the knowledge of isolation is ever prevalent.

Maybe I am too obsessed by the feeling of disenfranchisement, which the city so often represents. ButI have a hard time acknowledging that I have any pastoral leanings—the two semesters I spent in a Scottish town of 14,000 people made me realize how much I long for the city. It’s a different kind of isolation and loneliness in a city. One can chose their particular type of loneliness. You are lonely because you are not an individual. In the country, I was lonely for the exact opposite reasons: I was an individual.

Driving through the edges, not really caring about where I was going (which is the ultimate American pastime), I felt calm. I had driven this road so many times before and probably will again. But I kept thinking about all those moments where I had found my own kind of clarity while driving. Always at night. Always alone. This is why I always did love Los Angeles.


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