Kai Ryssdal: You’ve heard about the rough weekend we’re gonna have here in L.A., perhaps? The 405 freeway — one of the busiest stretches of pavement in the country — is shutting down for 53 hours.
The end of the world is clearly upon us. There’s a Twitter ad campaign and public service announcements everywhere. Tourists have been warned to stay away. Locals have been told to stay put.
But commentator Kristina Wong can’t figure out what the big deal is.
Kristina Wong: Five years ago, I purchased a pink 1981 Mercedes Benz that ran on vegetable oil. Sure, $5,900 was a lot to spend on a then-25-year-old car with 170,000 miles. Sure, it was death defying finding used vegetable oil fuel. Sure, it cost thousands to repair an aging German car. But I was standing up against Big Oil!
That money pit car died a fiery death on the 405 freeway after two agonizing years of ownership. Two years of carefully curbing my carbon footprint went into reverse in 10 minutes and 20-foot flames. Luckily, I survived. I was just too heartbroken by the failure of my eco-idealism to go back to owning one of those nice “normal” cars.
I’ve been carless in Los Angeles for three years now and it’s definitely a lifestyle change. A car-free diet would be an easy, even necessary feat if I lived in a compact city like San Francisco or New York, but Los Angeles is 500 square miles of urban sprawl without a comprehensive rail car system.
A 30-minute car ride in L.A. becomes a biblical two-hour journey by bus. Buying kitty litter means pushing a shopping cart half a mile home. And being single without a car in this city means there is no quick getaway from the most awkward of dates. I have to be nice enough to get picked up and get that ride back home.
But I no longer deal with gridlock, parking tickets and the agony of the pump. Even better, I now have a retirement account, a vacation fund and pay my mortgage ahead of schedule. I read more books that I ever could when I was a driver and found ways to make the bus my noisy mobile office. I’ve discovered pupuserias, food carts and local businesses within walking distance of my home that I would have never found from the speed of a car.
So when Angelenos whine that the 405 Freeway shutdown will be: “The Carmageddon of 2011! A nightmare! Stay off the roads!” — I can’t help but think: get over it.