For a few months now, it had been broadcast, far and wide, over the airwaves and through airy heads, that Los Angeles would be vehicularly incapacitated by the partial destruction of a tall bridge over a wide freeway occurring on a long weekend.
For surely the closure of THE 405 was truly a great emergency, predicted as cataclysmic by experts who described it in cinematic destructiveness, coined with a biblical neologism, Carmaggedon.
So into action the officials sprang, as politicians, Caltrans, LAPD, LAFD and all the fat men who sit inside the city council chambers, urged the motoring public to forestall leaving home and let the great emergency Passover.
And Saturday, June 16, 2011 was a quiet day, a peaceful day. The deafening roar of 500,000 cars stopped. And one stepped out of the house and into the dry, hot, windy air of Van Nuys and beheld a gentler, kinder, slower, less crowded city.
The skies and sounds reminded me of the days after September 11, 2001. I had been working on Radford Street in Studio City, and came out of an office on Valleyheart Drive, and looked up into the sky and saw or heard not a single jet plane flying above. The serenity of Los Angeles, without aerial assault by plane, was mesmerizing ten years ago. And absent automobiles it mesmerized me yesterday.
Civic spirit, civic pride, civic engagement, Los Angeles has all the collective civic energy of a desert mausoleum. In this town, as some call it, the idea that the greater good matters, that people might come together for a single day, and make a success of it, seemed impossible.
And though some were dubious, they stayed home in Westwood and didn’t drive their SUV to Encino to meet for baklava. Survivors of the purges of the Shah, who know what sacrifice means, took a day off from shopping and driving. And those who didn’t surf on the beach Saturday, or drive to eat sushi in Studio City, those heroic citizens deserve our applause and appreciation.
Yesterday, many stayed home and many didn’t drive, and in those neighborhoods where discarded mattresses sit in front of buildings where homeless people push shopping carts, and earn money recycling plastic, and some defecate on the sidewalk in broad daylight; where millions are undocumented, and thousands are poorly educated, where health care is withheld and violence administered; along those broad, sun-baked, lifeless, treeless, billboard-infested blocks and garbage littered curbs, the people obeyed and the politicians praised, and something so very minor and so very unimportant stood in the historical record as a great culmination of achievement in the City of Angels.