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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

3 Things Not To Drive

In a city as rife with personal automobiles as Los Angeles, I've seen a wider variety of vehicles in the past five years than at any other period in my life. If it can be driven, there's one of them in LA (in fact, there are probably hundreds of them); everything from dune buggies to chopper trikes; monster trucks to Lamborghinis. No matter what anyone tells you, the center of the car universe isn't in Indianapolis, Daytona Beach or Le Mans; it's right here in sunny L.A.

Of course, as with all things, with the tremendously good comes the tragically bad. Just like there are more of the world's finest autos on the mean streets of the City of Angels than anywhere else, there are also more four-wheeled abominations. The source of our smog problem may be the easiest mystery to solve this side of a Scooby-Doo episode about an amusment park. And the sheer number of cars on the roads notwithstanding, the number of them that are using a combination of luck and prayer (note the rosary on the rear-view) to keep moving seems to almost necessitate a traffic disaster. So, with my five years in this city nearly complete, here are the 3 worst things on the road:

1. Minivans. In fairness, being childless makes the concept of owning a minivan as foreign to me as owning a bra. But it appears that when one makes the tragically un-hip decision to purchase one of these modern mini-buses, they also seem to abandon the majority of their traffic sense. I cannot begin the count the number of minivans that I have seen traverse the local freeways as though they were sports cars - albeit ones moving at a maximum of 65 miles per hour. What's more, their drivers appear to have universally adopted indignation as a driving style - with a nearly inhuman disregard for honking, being passed on the right and obscene gestures. I'm not trying to say there's not a place for minivans on our freeways, in fact I'm certain there's one. It's called the far right lane.

2. Pre-1987 Toyota Trucks. For the most part, anything built before 1987 that hasn't been meticulously maintained (i.e. by a collector/car enthusiast/mechanic) shouldn't be on the road. I'm all for the durability of goods and love when something outlasts what I believed its functional life to be when I bought it, but ignoring over twenty years of automotive innovation for frugality's sake is not only poor judgment, it's downright unsafe. I only single out these trucks because they are the only Reagan-era cars that I see on a regular basis. And without exception, they appear to (a) have been painted with spray paint and in a hurry; (b) to be carrying far too much equipment (or people) in the bed - as evidenced by the sub-12 inch distance between the road and rear bumper; and (c) be driven on tires thinner than Paris' Hilton's personality. I'd feel safer driving behind a panel-truck carrying both C4 and plutonium in uncovered buckets than behind one of these.

3. Chevy Aveo, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, Etc. I group these cars together only because they seem, for the most part, interchangeable (and from outside of ten feet, indistinguishable). You know these cars, they're the ones you get from the rental agency if your company is cheap; the ones which appear to have tires with a smaller diameter than the ones on your mountain bike; or the ones apparently assembled with less reliable plastic than the stuff used to build above-ground pools. This is not an indictment of economy cars. There are great cars to drive if you don't have twenty grand to drop on a vehicle and are concerned with gas mileage, they're called Hondas. These cars always seem to be driven either by some too young to be licensed (i.e. teenagers) or someone dressed for a job that requires both a name-tag and a special hat. In either case, they are always oblivious to both road conditions and other drivers and seem blissfully unaware of the fact that it would take both an act of God and a thirty percent downhill grade to get their car up to an acceptable freeway speed. If there was ever a group of cars that should be relegated to surface streets only, this is them.

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Listen, I'm all for the American car culture. I'd hate to see the quintessential expression of American individuality (outside the kind of jeans you wear) be driven into state-sponsored unimodality. I certainly wouldn't want a world where we all drove the same thing. But, in a world where traffic is one of the places where anything that we do affects everyone around us (as anyone on the 405 can tell you), we ought to be especially conscious that our own choices don't make life harder for everyone else. So even more so than what you wear, what you say, or what you listen to, drive what you like - just make sure it doesn't suck. Because if it does, the rest of us won't just point and laugh, we'll leave you stranded with that thing on the side of the road.


Hasani said...

can we get a list of three cars a man or woman SHOULD be driving on the streets of LA?

Anonymous said...

FUllY agree on the minivans needing to be in the far right lane!! I swear people in LA were never taught common road courtesy!! Up north when driving in any lane if the car behind you is coming up fast the polite thing to do is to get over to the next right lane and get out of the way. If you want to drive slower than others get over! Here people are in their own worlds and dont even pay attention to the cars around them let alone behind them. That is why here in LA only we have to pass people on the right. There is a huge difference when driving up north or pretty much anywhere besides la!!
Alway enjoy your articles!
Kelli H.

Brent said...

Hey! I sell above ground pools.....oh wait, yeah....they're cheap.

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