Hellfire and brimstone


I was celebrating a friend’s birthday in a park on a cold February afternoon when I overheard two of my friends talking about the drive over here.

“They’re talking about traffic,” Jared told me. He tossed the frisbee to me. I tore my gaze away from my traffic talking friends and caught it. “How LA of them.”

It’s true. To live in LA is to talk about traffic. In normal parts of the country they have weather, so people talk about that instead.

“The weather today, huh?” “Sure is cold.” “It was raining earlier, but it isn’t now.” “Could be a bit warmer.” “It’s windy.”

Such are the things people say. It may seem banal (and that’s because it is) but weather small talk isn’t designed to be interesting. It’s not actually a conversation.

It’s simply a way of acknowledging that someone exists. It’s much more palatable to look at Drew your coworker and say “It was wet outside,” than to comment “Oh. You’re still alive,” even though, on a very basic level, they both amount to the same thing.

Weather is mercurial and suspicious. You somehow feel like bad weather is someone’s fault, where as good weather is a karmic reward for you being a good person.

Los Angeles doesn’t have weather, but it has traffic.

So we talk about traffic.

Traffic is mercurial and suspicious. You somehow feel like bad traffic is someone’s fault, whereas good traffic is a karmic reward for you being a good person.

“The traffic today, huh?” “Sure is bad.” “It was jammed earlier, but now it’s not.” “Could be a bit quicker.” “There was a wreck.”

These are the things people say to each other.

Well, when they’re not in traffic.

They say different things to each other when they’re in traffic.

Sometimes, when I’m driving in traffic, I take solace in the fact that, if there were some sort of catastrophic terrorist attack, all of these people would die with me and, perhaps, depending on the direction from which the terrorists attacked, I could see some of them burn to a crisp before I too was obliterated.

I don’t think such things when I’m not in traffic. When I’m not in traffic, I am always very happy that there aren’t any catastrophic terrorist attacks. I don’t want people to burn to a crisp. Not really.

I just wish they’d learn how to drive.

Case in point: The other day, a person in a Dodge Challenger cut me off, almost causing a traffic collision.

I was upset. I expressed my upsetness by shouting “FUCK A FUCKING FUCK IN YOUR STUPID FUCKING HEAD.”

Now, I didn’t actually want him to fuck a fucking fuck in his stupid fucking head.

That would be ridiculous.

Rather, I was so upset that I almost killed him that I wanted to kill him.

And I think that’s the great irony of traffic.

People think driving a car is about getting from point A to point B, but that’s not the point of it. The point of driving is to carefully avoid hitting stuff. This catchall of stuff can includes trees, people, bicycles and tigers, but it most commonly means “other cars.”

I get upset when someone almost makes me hit stuff. It’s quite frustrating, especially when the stuff is someone’s car. I don’t want to damage their car. I don’t wan’t to hurt them, but the fact that they made me almost damage their car and almost hurt them makes me so angry that I want to damage their car and hurt them.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” Rob said one morning as I drove us to a hiking trail, “if there was some sort of dimensional separation that would allow you to strike someone’s car with your car without having to use your car.”

“What?” I asked.

“So you hit them and they learn a lesson, but it doesn’t damage your car and you could just drive by and say ‘it wasn’t me, asshole.'” Rob adjusted his seatbelt.

I concentrated on the road.

“Yeah,” I said.

And that’s the problem. All these people spend their whole lives driving recklessly, getting away with it because careful drivers bail them out at the last moment.

And that’s the last reason we talk about traffic in LA.

We’re secretly trying to get people to be a better driver.

When we say traffic was bad, we mean “someone did something stupid and now we’re all stuck in a miasmic swamp of red taillights and exhaust fumes.”

When we say there was a wreck, we mean “someone was browsing instagram while they were driving and hit another car. Don’t do that, man.”

When we say fuck a fucking fuck in his stupid fucking head, we mean “hey, buddy. Slow down. Just chill out. You don’t wanna hurt someone….

…you don’t want me to come over there and hurt you, to punch you in your stupid fucking fuck head.”

We don’t talk about traffic.

Not really.

We urge ourselves to be safe.

Just like meteorologist during a storm.

Because out there,

on the roads,

it’s a hurricane.

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  1. As a former Southern Californian, I can very much relate to this.

  2. I am much more concerned with not hurting my car than the other guy’s.

  3. That was one of the first things I realized when I moved to Southern California–if you try to talk about the weather you instantly out yourself as a transplanted Midwesterner. And hearing “So, how’d you get here?” as a first date conversation opener.

  4. It seems like a miracle that there are not more accidents on the road than there are. At any given time there are millions of people piloting these 1000 kg mechanical devices that could be turned in any direction at varying speeds. I mean driving. Now imagine how many of these could have job trouble, money trouble, spousal trouble, or even just a bad hair day. Now add mobile-phone addiction to the mix. It is a miracle! LA or Djibouti or Delhi.

  1. This is perfect. | Just Dusty

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