Posts Tagged ‘freeway’

I like driving fast. And no urban freeway rewards the skilled, fast driver more than the historic Pasadena freeway, the  section of the 110 north of downtown LA .

In many ways, the Pasadena Freeway is an anomaly. The oldest freeway in the US, it connects the business district of Los Angeles to the city of Pasadena. It is a narrow, winding 8 miles long stretch of concrete road with several features to strike fear into the heart of the novice driver. The lanes are narrower than usual, the curves unrelentingly sharp and the traffic always heavy. The exits have a 5 mile speed limit, the entrances have stop signs and neither have any acceleration or deceleration lanes. The maximum speed limit is 55 miles per hour, yet traffic on the faster lane often goes at 80. Every aspect of the design of this freeway is outdated: the curves are underbanked and designed for traffic no faster than 40, the shoulder nonexistent. And fierce lane changes are the norm.

All of which makes it the most fun urban freeway to drive in probably all of US. Going fast on empty interstates is a joke; you just have to press the accelerator. To drive fast on the 110 safely requires real skill. I need to take the 110 two to three times on most weeks and I know it like the back of my hand. And oh, what a joy it is to pass those fancy convertibles and sports cars everytime: me in my ancient Corolla, veering smoothly from lane to lane, passing all those drivers many of whom are clearly out of their league and just want to get out of there, feeling the g-forces on my body as I conquer those curves at speeds that are about thirty miles faster than the recommended one yet not so fast as to make me lose control in any manner. My driving skills are one of those things I take pride in and the 110 is an arena where it is amply rewarded.

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I was driving from Pasadena to Palo Alto on Tuesday when at one point the freeway started looking rather unfamiliar – too much traffic, too many exits. A short investigation revealed that as a result of staying on the wrong lane about twenty miles back, I was going north along the 99 rather than north-west along the 5. I dug out my map and decided that the best course of action would be to take the 58 West and rejoin the 5. Not more than a half-hour lost, no big deal.

So I took the 58, which goes through the suburbs of Bakersfield before turning into an undivided single lane rural highway. By then, dusk had morphed to night and the moon shone through softly. And as I drove along, something indescribable happened – it was an intense feeling of oneness with the eerie quietness around me. I usually take freeways and they are aloof, overpowering entities. They make their way dismissively in a straight line and are too wide to see what lies beyond them. This narrow rural highway, however, truly belonged to the earth. The road was lined on either side by tall trees, that to my eyes, looked like the keepers of some secret too terrible to divulge. My car speeding at 80 miles, I held the steering wheel firm with my two hands and looked out of the window on my left. The terrain, all the way to the horizon, was washed by a pale, beautiful, ghostly moonlight and there was no sign of intelligent life anywhere.

It gave me the chills.

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