Change: A California Freeway

LA freeway

“A domestic sociable journey in Los Angeles does not end so much at the door of one’s destination as at the off-ramp of the freeway.”

– Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies

I left Los Angeles in September and was in the desert for four months. There were dust storms, windstorms, and snowstorms. I learned what Tough Country really meant – and then I came home to California.

I spent my first day on the beach. There’s a lot to experience there, especially after being in the desert, but I was chasing the moment I’d missed the most while I was away, one that comes an hour before sunset when a quirk in the weather clears the air. That’s when the sky over Los Angeles turns as blue as the ocean and a good line of sight can go for thirty miles – from Catalina Island, to the San Gabriel Mountains, to the tip of Malibu.

Most everyone stays on the beach for sunset but over time, I’ve learned that’s overrated. What I prefer is the drive home. It’s a chance to see the city from the freeway’s elevation when the light is perfect and the canyons are twinkling in the sunlight, the moonlight, and the streetlight all at once. That view has always given me a buzz, one that I never understood until I left and then came back again. And now I know that those goose bumps have as much to do with the beauty of the landscape as the grid of neon polluting it.

See, the critics see the endless subdivisions and stripmalls here and think that we’re wasteful idiots stuck in an overpriced deathtrap slowly sinking into the sea. But I don’t see it that way. I see a place where there is unplanned virtue in chronic irreverence, where fresh and new trumps historic preservation, and where all sacred cows are eventually slaughtered by the bulldozer. I love the citywide assumption that anything that can be done once, can be done again better; and I don’t care that the motives behind it are often greed and hubris.

See, Change is constant in Los Angeles. It’s the motor that powers everything. It’s endless. It has no limits.

Change is tangible in the ribcages of unfinished skyscrapers along the horizon. Change is life giving in the aqueducts that bring us water and Change is life taking in the deep bench of natural disasters that swallow whole chunks of the city at a time. Change is a new starlet on Sunset Boulevard. Change is an old style redefined in Silverlake. Change has straight hair and skinny jeans on Melrose and is relayed around the world by satellites made in the South Bay. Change is what drives you crazy in traffic jams and it’s what takes your breath away at seventy miles per hour, racing through the guts of a city no one really understands.

And for you, a person, Change will become your engine too. You’ll look at the whole valley – you’ll think one day that you get it – and on the next you’ll be back to where you started. You won’t be lost so much as inspired that so many things can happen at once, that existence can unfold on three overlapping planes on a freeway that moves between mountains, valleys and hills. You’ll love it but never understand it and in the end, you’ll learn to live in the only place that exists in Southern California’s soul: the future, where all things, including yourself, can be done again – and done again better.

Alex Keeney

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