Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thursday Thought Stream

It's been kind of a difficult week. Monday I got pulled over by the CHP on my way to work, because I blew through the "traffic meter" red light signal getting onto the 10 freeway. I didn't argue about it, I did blow through the light. Thing is there was no traffic in front or behind me on the onramp, so there's no safety issue involved, and really the traffic meter light is a joke.

These meter lights are an attempt to govern the number of cars that can get on the highway within a given amount of time, which should ease congestion and backups, in theory. The problem is that it doesn't work at all in practice, because once all lanes are full of cars and going slowly, nobody ever leaves enough space between them and the next car for anyone to merge in anyway. I'm sure the meter works for a certain range of traffic load, when traffic is moving at some decent speed with space between the cars, but that range is very, very narrow along the westbound 10. Every day when I get on the highway, traffic is bumper-to-bumper at 10 mph from that ramp all the way to the 405, about 4 miles, and is usually backed up all the way to downtown behind me. The meters are completely ineffective, because there's just too many cars on the roadway.

Traffic has actually reached the saturation point most days here, where the roads are carrying all the cars they can possibly carry at any given time. When traffic is saturated, even the slightest little problem - just one person realizing they're about to miss their exit, and braking hard to try to get across 3 lanes - can cause a feedback effect that builds to a full traffic stop for miles behind the incident. I've seen this happen a lot on the 5 between San Diego and LA, where almost everyone on the highway is not getting off anywhere in between. Traffic there can be zipping along at 75 mph, then suddenly slow to a crawl that lasts for 10 miles, and when you get to where the traffic speeds up again, there is absolutely nothing visible to cause the problem, no accident, no police activity, not even a dude changing a tire. It's just feedback from some bit of bad driving that people do all the time.

Anyway, so I blew through the meter light and there was a CHP cruiser sitting where I couldn't see him, probably just waiting for someone to blow through that light, because it happens all the time and they know it. So I got a ticket, I'll have to pay a fine and go to "traffic school" to avoid getting a point on my license. Ah well. First time I've been even pulled over in more than 10 years.

Yeah, I'm going on about the traffic, because it's been a big problem this week. On top of my ticket, it put a big dent in our Valentine's Day, so I'm even more unhappy with how the entire system of driving cars everywhere on freeways etc. is completely broken here in SoCal. It's so bad that what most of you would call "rush hour" lasts roughly from 7am to 8pm. Yes, it lasts all day. There can be massive bumper-to-bumper traffic really at any time of day or night anywhere on the freeways in LA, Orange and San Diego counties. It's the worst during commute time which is about 7am-10am and 4pm-8pm. I think that sometime soon there's going to come a day where all the major freeways in LA just flat out stop for a couple hours, a total regional gridlock. That will be so much fun! I'll be zipping through it on my bike, but I'll be really frightened that someone will shoot me out of frustrated rage. Hm, maybe I'll just stay the hell home that day.

Enough about that, it's riling me up.

Apparently, turning 40 years old is a major "advertising demographic" shift, judging by the changes I see in my junk mail. Of course I still get about a dozen credit card offers a week, which I promptly shred, but I'm now getting real estate pitches at a rapidly accelerating rate.

I'm being exhorted mostly to buy condos, which is actually commensurate with my actual home-buying power, so clearly their research is pretty accurate, but they've got a couple of assumptions WAY off. They're offering me some of these condos in Riverside. Riverside? What the hell are they thinking? Riverside is about seventy miles away from where I work. If the roads were completely traffic-free, it would take around 90 minutes to make that trip. And as we've discussed, the roads are never traffic-free here. I'm guessing that commute would be minimum nearly three hours each way, every day. Three. HOURS.

Are they completely insane? Hey, I'm all for home ownership, but holy crap on a cracker, there is not the faintest chance in hell that I'm going to buy into that one. Obviously there are people who do - there were folks at my last job who commuted in from 90 miles plus, and a few here at this job who come in from more than 30. I think they're completely nuts. Six hours a day in the car just to commute has got to be the biggest, most demoralizing waste of time I can imagine for a human being. Sitting alone in the car for as long as it takes to drive from New York City to Washington DC (on a Saturday) just to get from home to work... who the hell does that? Just to have a house with a white picket fence in suburbia? I'm sorry, but if that's the price of the "American Dream," I ain't buying it, and I feel extreme sadness for anyone who does.

Again, it's all about the traffic.

The closest ones I'm being offered are in Pasadena, which is still 30 miles from here, and would be 90 minutes to 2 hours each way every day - the traffic is the worst within about that 30-mile radius from here.

The only place I'd even consider buying a home and commuting from, maaaaybe, is the area up around Oxnard, because the commute on the motorcycle down Pacific Coast Highway is both beautiful and nearly traffic-free, about 45 minutes or so. But even that seems like an eternity to me. It's just not worth it to me to sacrifice a ton of time commuting.

I'd much rather live like a mile from work so I can walk there, even if that means only renting. And don't give me any of that crap about oh, you need a big house in the suburbs to raise your children and send them to good schools. It's crap. You can raise a family in a nice apartment in the city and have it work out fine. Talk to anyone from Manhattan about that. That whole big house/white picket fence thing is unsustainable in the long run, which you'll find out pretty soon if you're doing it, an empty dream of "country house" isolation that's only been made possible by some interesting accidents of resource allocation, which won't last much longer.

If I'm gonna raise a family, I'd rather have those 6 hours of empty, meaningless, isolated commuting time to actually spend with my family doing loving family things. Even if it's just me with no family, I'm not going to waste 30 hours a week sitting alone in a steel box doing nothing.

If any of you who are reading this do that, you have my pity and sympathy, and I submit that you really ought to re-think that whole situation, because it's probably making you very unhappy. Since so many people do this, it's no wonder so many people are on antidepressants and have high blood pressure and diabetes and all those other stress ailments. Don't you get it? It's the way you're living that's doing it to you. You've been sold a lifestyle that is nearly devoid of anything truly good and healthful, and you're being sold on the idea that buying more and more "neat stuff" will make you happy. It won't.

So shove it, condo salespeople. I'm not falling for the hell you're trying to sell me.

Hm. Yeah, that was ranty. Well, what are blogs for if not to rant? It's time for lunch, and I'm gonna give the Empire At War demo a whirl.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love you, Ranty McGee!



2:32 PM  
Blogger dotsara said...

Traffic: here's one that I just got last weekend that made me ever so happy. There I am tearing down the 5 toward Oceanside and the 78 and boom, slow-down. Ride the (new! yay!) clutch for twenty. five. minutes. for five. bloody. miles.

Cause? Crackhead group of dudes on motorcycles -- and not the kick-ass black Hondas we all know and love neither! -- just HANGING OUT on the shoulder of the southbound lanes.

Dude, what? Hate. Anyway. Everyone had to slow down and check it out. And the bikes were ugly! Grr.

7:20 PM  

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