People occupy themselves in every conceivable way when they have to spend a lot of time in their cars. Here in LA, we spend more time in cars per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. My former colleague, Roy, had a full-on multimedia system installed in his dash to fill all the hours he spent on his drive down from the far northern Valley to our offices: not just touch-screen playback for radio and iPod, but full-on TV reception, too. Cost him a pretty penny, but the drive occupied several hours of every day for him, so it was a quality-of-life issue.
I’ve been commuting to the same location in LA for 14 years, by both surface streets and freeway, and I’ve seen a lot of great stuff. My personal all-time fave is the women curling their lashes while driving. You can just imagine the awareness and reflexes these women rely on in order to be confident that one moment they can be looking into the mirror as they grip their eyelashes with a curved piece of metal with scissor handles and, the next moment, brake to a stop to avoid a swerving car. I am in awe. Jimmie Johnson himself couldn’t do that at 30 miles an hour with any regularity and not end up under the rear end of some van. Let’s have a special NASCAR championship for drivers who can do that and not end up with a 4-inch piece of metal thrust through his eye. The mere idea of gripping my eyelashes in some clamp creeps me out as it is, without trying to do it in a moving car that I am driving.
For those of us less imaginative, there’s audio in all its forms: AM, FM, satellite radio (which I had for several years and loved), plus music, books and podcasts on tape, CD, iPod and cell phone.
A few times over the years, whatever station I was tuned to has been overridden by something being broadcast by a nearby car. I assume that these people have connected their MP3 players or iPods or whatever to their car stereos via a transmitter that then bleeds over into my system. I once got part of a foreign language lesson in the middle of Wilshire Blvd. near UCLA: maybe someone doing their drills for Italian class.
It happened again this week on El Segundo Blvd. I looked on either side of me. To my right, a FedEx delivery truck: probably not that guy. And there, to my left was Ward, Ward Cleaver in his ’61 Fury, and I mean to tell you he was nodding his head, moving his lips and just bouncing along with some rhythm that I could just barely catch through a lot of static on my own speakers. I pulled the trick that all commuters know, but must use with discretion: I trained my eye on Ward, bending all my attention on him. In a few seconds, he sensed The Eye was on him, looked around and saw me. He rolled down the passenger side window.
“Ward, What’s up?
“Oh. Heh heh. Just listening to a, uh, lecture tape here.”
“You sure? Didn’t look like ‘Advanced TARP Accounting’ to me.”
“Oh. Well, uh, just trying to catch up to what I hear Wally and The Beav discussing at dinner. Metallica, “Enter Sandman.”
“Wally and the Beav are Metallica fans?”
“Well, yes, there are other bands, but this one was easier to locate on iTunes than some other names I couldn’t recognize.”
“Well. So, uh, whattya think?”
“It’s an amazing accomplishment, isn’t it? I mean, that sonic atmosphere … there’s a complete domination of almost every single audible frequency by the combined instruments in that mix. It’s quite a skillful manipulation of all the audible tonal ranges. It’s utterly compelling.”
The light changed, and we had to drive on. I waved. I wondered for just a few minutes about whether Metallica was on the iPods at the Douglas household; I knew it certainly wasn’t in the mix over at the Nelsons’. So it was Wally, the Beav, Metallica and Ward and me. Souls thrust together in the rich highway matrix of suburban LA. I got to work in a surprisingly lighter mood that would endure a lot of beating down.