Rolling Stop: A Short Meditation on the City's Momentum

I last drove a car in late September 1966, when I was 18. I stopped after I caused a minor traffic accident on Bellflower Boulevard as it passes under the 405. The other guy's cherry 56 Chevrolet Bel Air right rear quarter panel was no match for the bumper of my mother's hulking1962 Ford Galaxie.

I became "transit dependent" the following morning.

Because of that, I'm not -- to myself -- an Angeleño. Still, my status as a tourist in the country of wheels does allow me to be observant of those Angeleños who are drivers, about the insults they take and give to one another and about the assumptions that sustain their forward motion. And wheels are the fix for their need.

Wheeled Angeleños will pretend to be in motion rather than be seen pausing. They make a rolling stop, make a right turn on red, make a lane change just to get one car-length ahead. It's never about any cause for all that motion. It's all about momentum, which seems to stand for something else.

Los Angeles moves or it isn't Los Angeles. Angeleños are not who they wish to be unless they're in control of some vehicle -- skateboard or Maserati -- and that thing is moving. If the wheels cease turning altogether, and momentum drains away, Angeleños have an intimation of mortality.

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I'm just a passenger, however. And I've seen what your car is compared to the alternatives. Your car accommodates itself to you -- from lumbar support to drink holder to AC to audiophile sound system. Your car shelters, swaddles protectively, shuts out, soothes. Your car embraces.

I wouldn't give it up, if your car were mine.

On public transit, it's against the law to do what I've seen you do in your car: drink coffee, eat a taco, play your music loud, smoke, curse at other drivers. There are substitutes for these freedoms that might be offered transit riders: frequent service, comfortable seats, better interior maintenance.

But they're deliberately withheld for reasons too often having to do with the color and class and eligibility to vote of the riders in the hard, cramped seats that I share with them.

Sometimes in those thinly covered seats, there's a feeling of conveyance, a feeling that the world is being moved on my behalf, which is nothing like riding in a car.

So when the urge to move overcomes me, when the longing for momentum takes me, I ride the bus or the Blue Line and take what satisfactions I can. Those are as real to me as your ergonomic driver's seat is to you.

I'd like to welcome you aboard to share my ride, but the bus is packed already with passengers standing in the aisle, and the next bus is an hour from now, and it doesn't run at all on Saturday and Sunday when it might have been fun to be in motion, to regain for a while the city's awful momentum.

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