Friday, July 15, 2011

Escape From LA: Avoiding Carmageddon

My visit to LA began as an ordinary vacation--driving down from Northern California and join friends on a trip to Catalina Island. But it turned out to be a visit that coincided with the closing of the 405 Freeway--thus, the trip followed by my zoom home to Escape From LA ...
The view from the loggia of Banning House Lodge, Two Harbors, Catalina Island.

I just returned from a visit to Southern California where I have several friends forced to live in that dangerous nexus of sumptuous homes, a strong economy, movie stars, over population, snarled traffic, chronic neighborhood burglarizing, gang tagging, all black vehicles, and a socialist government in Santa Monica.

I received my Masters Degree from UCLA and used to love Los Angeles, so it is okay for me to say this: people who live there now have no idea how much pain they are in. They are so used to bad, they don't know how good good feels.

For some reason I had it in my head that I wanted to see Catalina Island, so after dinner and an update from my filmmaker friend Steve (Return of the Killer Shrews), my college friend Phyllis and I packed and headed to the Catalina Island Ferry.

We took the ferry from the Catalina Express terminal, under the bridge that stretches from San Pedro to Long Beach.

My friend Phyllis forgot to mention how seasick she gets--just looking at water in a glass can do it, apparently--so I felt awful as she turned first ashen, then green as the ferry traversed that famous "Twenty-six miles across the sea ... " Not ever having felt motion sickness myself, I couldn't really understand what it meant. But I could see it in her frightened face.

Back on solid ground, her color improved, and we found ourselves at the rustic and charming Banning House Lodge at Two Harbors. It is an old summer home built by the sons of Phineas Banning, who was not only their father, but is also known as the father of the Port of Los Angeles.  The family enjoyed owning the whole of Catalina Island until a big fire burned its main town, Avalon, and they sold out to the Wrigley family of chewing gum fame.

The garden above the sea at Banning House at Two Harbors.

Two Harbors is a tiny little village on the Catalina Island isthmus, a jolting two-hour ride in a "safari bus" on unpaved roads from the famous town of Avalon.

Avalon is just the place to moor your yacht.

Avalon, like an aging beauty, still photographs well, but viewed up close looks less appealing.  The cruise ships stop there now and thus it is filled with the usual t-shirt shops, souvenir peddlers, and fast food joints that look the same there as they do in Key West, Santa Cruz and elsewhere.  

We did make the trip to see it and were happy to have done so. Unfortunately; Errol Flynn and Clark Gable don't go there anymore.

Back at humble little Two Harbors we found the one restaurant there--the Harbor Reef Restaurant--to be absolutely terrific, much to our surprise.  Unexpected in that little outpost. First class meals and terrific service from the friendly staff.  Then you get to work off your dinner walking back up the hill to the lodge. Where the following morning at breakfast we found a surprising sight.

Wilson, the buffalo, lives near Banning House Lodge, one of several hundred from a herd of 17 brought to the island in the 1920s for a film called The Vanishing Breed.  The Banning House leaves water out for him so he likes to come 'round.

Alas, we needs must bid Wilson adieu, after our several-day visit to Two Harbors, Catalina, and head back to the reality of Los Angeles and its dramatic transportation complexities.

Watching Catalina recede into the distance from the Catalina Ferry.

Phyllis, headed windward, to avoid that sinking feeling.  She did better on the way home than on the way out.

The scariest part of the trip was how to get out of Los Angeles twenty-four hours before the closing of the San Diego Freeway--known as "The 405" in LA parlance. It handles 500,000 cars a day and the news outlets were calling its 48-hour weekend closing "Carmageddon." It is the way I usually go--along wih the rest of the world--up to Highway 101 North.

My theory was that on the weekend of the closing, the traffic would be okay.  Everybody would just stay home.  But it would be the twenty-four hours before the closing that might be problematic--as with a game of musical chairs--as folks scrambled around to get as close as they could to their final destination before ten p.m. Friday night and the scheduled mess.

So, after we made it off the island, I decided to avoid the 405 entirely and take Highway 1--known as PCH in LA talk (for Pacific Coast Highway)--up toward Oxnard, past the wonderfully named Point Magu--where I could connect with Highway 101 and take that all the way home to my beautiful Northern California, where traffic is light, people aren't all members of gangs, and not all homes are MacMansions--at least not yet.

I was lucky.  PCH was a breeze.

Even the surfers were staying home on the Thursday before the Friday of Carmageddon. The Swedish Car and I felt we had pulled a fast one on the whole LA traffic scare thing.

So I breezed along, caught Highway 101 and headed north without a problem.  Until I hit Gilroy.  There, at dusk, those crazy Cal Trans people had chosen this particular time to do their repaving, and the road dwindled from four lanes to one. Aaargh.

Still, the slowdown was short: my trip a fairly easy. I was home in time to see the automatic light illuminate the Fort Chapman flag, then crawl into beddy-bye and fall asleep watching the Hound of the Baskervilles. No offense LA, but I was happy to see the back of you.

As I traversed the last few miles through the Northern California farmland, I saw a hawk sitting on a fence post surveying his kingdom in the dwindling light.  No Carmageddon worries for him. He was getting ready to soar. There was no bad Karma-anything in his life.

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Don Meuler said...

Seems like Carmageddon has been more fun to worry about than participate in. Traffic might be slower, but people will either get around or not. Like with the freeway collapses in the Bay area in 1989, there's always another way to go. And this is just one weekend...

Robin Chapman said...

Remember that goofy Jonathan King hit from the sixties "Everyone's Gone to the Moon?" That is what LA seems to look like today. I'm happy not to be there, but people did seem to be prepared for this ...

Laura said...

Lucky you ... idling in Gilroy, the Garlic Capitol of the World! I swear, I can smell the garlic even when all the car windows are rolled up!