Thursday, October 04, 2007

Buying Time

I attended a national science meeting all this week (not the one pictured to the left) while sleeping in my own bed. The downside was, I had to drive to the Pasadena Convention Center each day. It is only 29 miles each way, but the route takes me through downtown Los Angeles and several of the busiest freeway interchanges in the US.

Luckily, I have a Prius with a special sticker that lets me drive in the carpool lane even when driving solo. It made the drive a bearable 40-50 minutes each way. Without it, it would have taken 2 1/2 hours by public transit or 40-80 minutes driving solo each way. (It is so totally not fair, but more about that later.) I now know why Angelenos are so obsessed with traffic.

Guess which meeting I attended? We joked about the scarcity of funds to study earth science and how we could probably learn something by going across the courtyard.

Along the drive, I got to enjoy views of blooming Chorisia (aka Silk Floss) trees. I downloaded this picture from the Huntington Gardens "What's Blooming" web page. Click the photo to view it full res on their site. The Wikipedia entry about Chorisia speciosa says this tree blooms in February to May. This is definitely NOT Feb-May. What gives? It is a South American tree. In the northern hemisphere, the bloom season will be shifted about 6 months. I found a motherlode of spectacular pictures of Chorisia speciosa at Dave's Garden website.

Our garden also shows signs of fall. The Japanese anemones are abloom. Look at the homely brown-tinged leaves near the ground. Who would have guessed that they would send up 4 foot tall spikes holding half a dozen flowers apiece?

It grows in deep shade which creates a surprising contrast of drifts of white petals in the darkest corners of the garden.

I just want to stare into their eyes and save the memory until the next time. Individual flowers do not last long, but the bloom season can last a few weeks.

Back to the traffic war stories. If you live in Los Angeles long enough, you know about Sigalerts. You can see a map of real-time traffic speeds in the whole region. Put your mouse on a dot and a window pops up with information about that locale.

This morning, there was a big fat red diamond next to my route. I moved my mouse over and learned that there had been a fatality on a neighboring freeway that had backed up onto my route. Fortunately, I had a hunch it wouldn't spill over into the carpool lane and I was right.

The other lanes were another story. They were backed up for miles. Suddenly, a small American car crossed the double double yellow lines to enter the carpool lane right in front of me. That is strictly verboten. There are stiff fines for jumping into the carpool lane outside of designated merge areas and she was also driving solo.

Did I get mad? No, I saw her in time and braked for her. I could sense her urgency and desperation. I intuitively knew that she HAD to get to work on time and she NEEDED to keep her job. No one drives a small American car in LA unless they are poor.

Seriously, with all the gigantic SUVs and trucks on LA roads, you risk life and limb driving a small car. People who drive fuel efficient cars out of principle tend to buy imported cars with all the latest safety equipment that Detroit does NOT put in their small cars.

Driving LA freeways during rush hour is a novel and eye-opening experience for me (because I live so close to work and both are near the beach). Usually, I am not in contact with people who drive small American cars out of economic necessity. This week, I saw plenty of them. I could see their tension and anxiety. Sometimes, I worried that parts of their car would fall off right there on the freeway. Imagine how they felt as all the SUVs and luxury European and Japanese sedans rolled past them.

Back to the woman who cut me off. I passed her later when we were close to downtown. As I expected, she was a black woman--not young, not old--just a ball of tension, leaning into the steering wheel which she held in a death grip. Who am I to question her need to get somewhere fast? Isn't that why I bought a Prius with the carpool OK sticker? I bought my way out of traffic hassles legally because legislators pandered for my vote. They, and Detroit automakers, don't give a rat's ass about her.

A lawyer attorney friend told me that one of the other attorneys at her firm always drove his European sedan in the carpool lane solo. He figures that it is a cost-effective time saver because he gets fined only about once a year so. After all, the fine is only about $300 and he charges $500 per hour for his time.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous07:55

    At least you missed the 50,000 lbs of watermelon that spilled on I-5 farther north on Wednesday. What a mess!


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