Los Angeles Ends

by Simulcast

a record of grief, freeways, and returning home.

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1. Through the Windshield

born to the freeway and radio masts

raised by my car and a black standard poodle

crashed turning left, sunset and western

i was trying to go home

looked through the windshield, saw both of my parents

grabbed my keys, got back in the car

right hand scans the AM bands

but this time i hit traffic

and the radio went static

car stalled, engine silent

summer 2017 and i’m in town for my dad’s wedding.

it’s the night before i return to providence, track this record, and pack up my things. i’ve decided to move back to LA.

isaac and i are driving back from shatto lanes in my dad’s sedan. it’s 1am and we want tacos al pastor. we’re stopped at the red light going north on western, in the left turn lane waiting for the green. as the light on sunset turns from yellow to red, a car sserves through the intersection and smashes the driver-side door. they speed away, pushing off the side panel. we’re left frozen, turn signal blinking off the taco truck sign.

the cops come, see my zankou t-shirt, and ask if i work there. they like the shawarma.

right before my mom moved to los angeles, she was in a car crash too.

she was on the way back from her father’s funeral and her mother stopped short. not wearing a seatbelt, she flew through the windshield.

"So there I was in critical condition with a serious head injury until, as mysterious as it still seems, I returned from comatose near-death to what could only be described as near-life in LA. I was in post-traumatic shock, but also in a form of culture shock. Shards of glass kept coming out of my skin, rising to the surface like diamonds that couldn’t be digested by the flesh. There was too much sunshine, everything was too clean, colors were too bright. I kept trying to see Los Angeles as if it were Hollywood in black and white."

"I recuperated at my partner’s family home, one of those capacious Hancock Park houses surrounded by palm trees but designed to look like a Tudor cottage in the Cotswolds. On the other side of the backyard hedge, I was told, was the house from Sunset Boulevard... The back hedge of the house in Sunset Boulevard was now a place where the dog barked at night as if he were calling across the lawns to ghosts that swam there thousands of nights before. Sunset Boulevard was just as far and just as close as it had ever been."

– Anne Friedberg, “Fame & Frame” (1992)

i can only think about the deep symbolism of being stuck at the corner of sunset and western, the car crash my mom got on the edge of her move to los angeles, and the feelings of failure that crop up when you try to write yourself out of the narrative your parents had plotted for you.

it's a printed circuit.

2. Los Angeles Ends

a dream of falling daylight

underneath the orange glow so familiar in los angeles

as a cloud blooms on the horizon

i hear baseball on the radio

this is the light that will take us with it

a warm breeze in from the desert

with an exhale, i try to let go

listen to vin tell me what the sky looks like

as the pitch comes in at 3 - 0

this is the light that will take us with it

december 2016 and the sun, set but still glowing over glendale, radiates off the hood of my car. a pulsating orange rips through the sky, indexing every time i’ve seen los angeles play the apocalypse’s backdrop.

i think about childhood nightmares of nuclear bombs exploding on the horizon, of knowing the end is soon and near but not right now or quite yet here. i think about miracle mile, a movie that my parents showed me when i was too young, where missiles come flying over the santa monica mountains and land in the la brea tar pits. i think about the episode of 24 where jack bauer cries as a mushroom cloud rises over valencia.

sunset in los angeles always confuses the day’s end and the end of days.

“It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. The city burning is Los Angeles’s deepest image of itself; Nathanael West perceived that, in The Day of the Locust; and at the time of the 1965 Watts riots what struck the imagination most indelibly were the fires. For days one could drive the Harbor Freeway and see the city on fire, just as we had always known it would be in the end. Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse... the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.”

– Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)

i have a nightmare that plays every month where i’m sitting atop elysian park. i can see a third of the playing field at dodger stadium, and i’ve taken a picnic and a transistor radio to follow the game. santa ana winds cool the air. then i turn my head to the right and watch as the light grows closer, warmer, brighter.

“i guess that’s it,” i think.

i wake up in a sweat. it's my fault — it wouldn’t have happened if i hadn’t looked.

loss often makes the apocalypse feel like an appealing alternative to life.

a ripping feeling, being pulled apart, a desire for the end because it might return you to the person who left — the end of the world is deeply personal. no surprise that after my mom died i dreamt repeatedly of los angeles in flames. of it exploding, expanding, ending. i didn't want to live.

there's something instructive about coming so close to the end and deciding that it's not the way forward. that the world is ending but you are not. on the best days it feels obvious, on the worst it feels like a lie.

not an explosion, just a tear in two.

3. High Occupancy Vehicle

we were flying down the 105 when the traffic set in

the freeway, like a printed circuit, brought us to the end

through the windshield it was tail lights forever

i told you i didn't know if we'd make your flight

stuck in the diamond lane against the sunset we waited

if i didn't want you to leave why did i try so hard to make it seem that way

i didn't know how to ask you to stay

i'm driving east now

the sun has gone down, but the light's still hanging on

in every building tall enough to reflect it

i take my exit and wind up through the foothills


if i didn't want you to leave why did i lie so often to say i'm okay

i didn't know how to ask you to stay

when you're going south on the 110, towards LAX, the carpool lane splits off. it soars, temporarily, along the harbor corridor, two lanes of high velocity and light traffic. then, at the judge harry pregerson interchange, where the 110 intersects the 105, solo drivers take the far right lane in a tight quarter arc from south to west.

but if you're not alone, if you have a passenger, the two of you can stay left and take flight. banking 15 degrees, it feels as if there's barely any force at all preventing you from taking off, launching, driving up up up into the stratosphere.

like any good angeleno monument, the judge harry pregerson interchange is heavily mediated. every drive over the stacks unfolds like cinema, placing you in the driver seat with the windshield as your camera lens. simply by driving, you get to break the screen — you become part of the movies.

it's transcendant.

in speed, the 1994 keanu reeves vehicle, a bus cannot go any slower than 65 miles per hour or it will explode. it was filmed during the century freeway's construction, and climaxes with the bus jumping a gap between unfinished sections of freeway.

i've always been certain this happned in the carpool lane, but then i turned to wikipedia:

"The highway section the bus jumped over is the directional ramp from I-105 WB to I-110 NB (not the HOV ramp from I-110 SB to I-105 WB as commonly believed.)"

in the opening sequence of la la land, a musical number stops traffic on the interchange. drivers, frustrated by the traffic, stop their cars and sing. it's a single shot, craning, deeply ambitious cinematography. if you look closely, however, there are some issues.

1) there is never traffic in the carpool lane on the judge harry pregerson interchange.

2) cars face the same direction in each of the two sections of the interchange. the group of cars on the left, should they make it out of traffic, will find themselves driving the wrong direction on the 110.

3) all of these drivers are alone in their cars. do they have LADOT transponders that allow them to pay for the carpool lane? will they face significant city fines?

the film does not take up any of these questions.

"To understand what was going on it is perhaps necessary to have participated in the freeway experience, which is the only secular communion Los Angeles has. Mere driving on the freeway is in no way the same as participating in it. Anyone can 'drive' on the freeway, and many people with no vocation for it do, hesitating here and resisting there, losing the rhythm of the lane change, thinking about where they came from and where they are going. Actual participants think only about where they are. Actual participation requires a total surrender, a concentration so intense as to seem a kind of narcosis, a rapture-of-the-freeway. The mind goes clean. The rhythm takes over. A distortion of time occurs, the same distortion that characterizes the instant before an accident."

– Joan Didion, "Bureaucrats," from The White Album, 1976

on the judge harry pregerson interchange, time distorts. i've driven it only with others — with friends, coming to and leaving los angeles; with partners, visiting me to see what i called home; with my parents, dropping me off and letting me go.

driving home from LAX, in a loose communion with the other solo drivers on the 105, i feel intense loneliness. i merge to the right lane, take the unexciting ramp, and wind my way towards whatever feels like home.