It’s A Gas Gas Gas

Any resident whose done their time here in Los Angeles recalls fondly the period before and during the 1984 Olympics when a variety of misconceptions and misjudgments left Los Angeles a veritable commuters paradise. There are probably a variety of factors contributing to those glory days, but by and large the easy one to cite is the large enough percentage of residents who veritably fled the city fearing gridlock, terrorist acts, and too many tourists.

None of which occurred, and as a result there was no better time to be an angeleno in Angelenoville. Not only could you proudly bask in the glow of the glorious games, but you could get wherever you wanted to go quickly and easily.

I know this first hand because at that time not only was I commuting from Sherman Oaks to Santa Monica College for classes, but I also worked as a courier for a company located in the Cahuenga Pass, and my route would take me from there to downtown to mid-Wilshire  to Beverly Hills — even to Westwood on occasion.

Speeds between points A and B suddenly increased dramatically. The transportation grid was practically devoid of traffic snarls. In a way it seemed as if some mighty being had gripped the edges of the city and stretched it. The place seemed bigger, more open.

It didn’t take long after the closing ceremonies for the honeymoon to end and Los Angeles to shrink back to its clogged and crowded ways, but for those coupla/three weeks: the city was the autopia it had been envisioned to be. Sing it loud, Randy Newman: We Loved L.A.

I get a tiny sense of that bygone, once-in-a-lifetime feeling each holiday season — especially the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Schools are closed. People are traveling. There’s usually a bit more good will in the air.

This year was no different, but also seemingly augmented positively by the artificially low gas prices, and negatively by the current state of the economy. More people hunkered down this season. Though happy to be buying gas that was $2-$3 lower than it was in the summer,  a lot of people did less, with less.

One rainy night a week or so before Christmas I left work and the 405 to the 10 to the 110 to the 101 was almost as if I had the whole stretch to myself. I got home in an unheard of 20 minutes. And biking? There were streets I’d travel down for blocks and blocks and blocks — streets like Figueroa and Venice and Jefferson — and not be passed by a single vehicle.

It was kinda spooky, but a good spooky.

Now we’re back to the bad kinda spooky. I had my first “Get offa the fuckin’ road!” yelled at me from a car last weekend. Such verbal abuse disappeared when gas sailed past $4 a gallon. Before those astronomical prices, a snark-laden “Get a car!” was something I could count on from passing motorists or their passengers on a pretty regular basis. But with gallons of regular coming in at $4.50-plus that shut those insulters up and all of a sudden it was my turn to gloriously yell “Get a bike!”A victory of sorts, but not a very satisfying one. I’m not one to kick anyone when they’re down.

By all accounts, the surprise plunge in gas prices should have brought the haters back out, but it didn’t really. It certainly put a lot of people forced to explore alternate transit methods back in their cars, but maybe the sudden savings brought relief mixed with a smug but chastened satisfaction and that kept their yaps shut.

Of course that was short-lived. Gas has been steadily creeping back up and now hovers around and above the $2 mark. Any rationalization at how relatively low it still is gets gnawed down by fear that it’ll keep going back up and up and up and up and finally realize that dreaded $5-per-gallon mark.

In conjunction with the post-holiday roadways back to being stacked up, the upward creep of gas costs may be helping to piss people off. In addition to a general increase in irresponsible and inconsiderate driving, it’s highly unscientific but I’m just getting a more negative vibe from more drivers. I find myself cut off more and crowded a bit closer by passing vehicles. There’s greater lack of patience from people behind me.  At the end of my morning commute yesterday I got a slow start at the head of the left turn lane when the arrow went green and the driver of the car behind me laid on the horn. Hard.

A lady sped by me a couple days ago not much more than a foot away and when I gestured the international sign of More Cushion Please as she moved ahead of me she looked in her rearview mirror and just shrugged in a “get over it” way.

Coincidence or fluke? Maybe. Like I said these observations are as unscientific as my low/high average method for calculating how much I saved in gas costs biking this year:

$1.89 (low) + $4.69 (high) / 2 = $3.29 average per gallon x 315 gallons not used = $1,036.35

But as I continue and even increase my biking and gas savings, I’m not going to dismiss the incidents or pretend they’re not on the rise. Instead I’m going to once again realize the honeymoon is over and it’s time to armor up with greater awareness, caution, care and tolerance.

And maybe a stun gun.