Neighborhoods are frequently defined by specific boundaries – streets, railroad tracks, waterways, buildings; things that give the impression of permanence to enhance the place where memories are formed. For six years my neighborhood was the asphalt strip in Los Angeles that stretched from U.S. Highway 101, south on Highway I-405. My neighbors were “timed acquaintances.” If I entered the traffic flow between 8:10 A.M – 8:13 A.M, I joined the green Mercedes, the red Audi, the blue Volkswagen. When I entered, no more than three minutes later, my other neighbors drove the black Cadillac, brown BMW, and that ugly orange Chevrolet. Buses and fast movers were in the HOV lane.
Freeways have their own personalities, shaped by the time of day and distance travelled, both dictating speed and reasonable expectations of traffic flow. Rush hour on the Harbor Freeway through downtown Los Angeles is from 6 A.M. to 6 A.M.
The slightest accident on any Los Angeles freeway triggers a traffic jam that is announced as a “signal alert” from local radio stations and other devices that tell you your journey is likely to be delayed. Your plan B then becomes a call to tell who’s waiting for you to expect you – much later.
Yet, despite the vicissitudes of freeway travel, courtesy and careful attention promoted orderliness among neighbors. Each morning as we approached a certain stretch, we knew the pattern of at least two dozen travelers, including the driver of the white pickup truck, or the passengers in the blue Honda. They might have been students at UCLA, or workers at the J. Paul Getty Museum, so we adjusted our flow to allowed them to change lanes and exit at Sunset Boulevard. All of us tempered our speed, cleared lanes, and said goodbye to even more who left at Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard, funnels for Beverly Hills to the East, the city of Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean to the West.
Our neighborhood, even though transitory, had a delightful ritual. Each Friday, somewhere near Mulholland Drive, we anticipated something to affirm our oneness. When we heard beeping horns and saw the flashing lights from the cars to our rear, it was a signal to move slightly to the right to broaden the lane for the woman, wearing a tuxedo, whose large body seemed to miniaturize her high-handlebar Harley-Davidson. As she passed, she would wave or sound her horn to acknowledge our courtesy to a neighbor.
Finally, it was my turn to signal my departure at Olympic Boulevard, along with at least a half dozen others headed for high rise offices and shopping centers in Century City.
We were moving too fast to get acquainted, but such routines, and just seeing the familiar each day, gave each of us reassurance that we were where we should be, on time.
Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.
Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.
They give us safe passage to where we were once content.
Good memories are not exhausted by time.
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