Fear And Loathing On I-15
July 31st, 2015

A week ago today I found myself stuck in a traffic jam on I-15, near the desert town of Victorville, California. As the procession crept ever so slowly toward San Bernardino, it occurred to me that I would soon run out of gas or even sooner die of thirst. So, Anne and I decided to get off the Interstate and make an end run over the San Gabriel Mountains to Glendale, where our son resides. Ignoring the frantic cries of Ms. Garmin, or as my wife calls her, “that recalculating bitch!”, we headed NW toward Pearblossom on route 18, thence SE on route 138 and thence westward on route 2 into the national forest until we came to a roadblock. So it was all the way back to I-15, where we rejoined the bumper-to-bumper procession for the remainder of the afternoon.

I later learned that traffic jams are the rule and not the exception in Los Angeles—especially on Friday afternoons. Didn’t I KNOW that?

I suppose I should have, but—truth be told—there are some things about modern life that are just too unpleasant to think about, especially for someone like me, who as a boy growing up in rural Utah had the whole wide world all to himself. Back in the Fifties, all I knew about Southern California was that it was the home of Disneyland, the Mickey Mouse Club and Annette Funicello. In the summer of 1956, my dad drove us to Disneyland in his brand new Mercury Medalist. It was my first crossing of the Mojave Desert, and what I remember about the trip is being stuck like glue to sweltering hot Naugahyde.

In the summer of 1964 I made my second crossing of the Mojave, in the same un-airconditioned Mercury. My plan at the time was to move in with my older brother, who had taken up residence in Pico Rivera. Once there, I spent a whole day in a futile search for the Pacific Ocean, but never found it. All that came of that trip was this picture, which to my mind captures the essence of Santa Fe Springs.

Santa Fe Springs

After I became a parent, I made the trip once again—because Disneyland, aka Mauschwitz, is the price you must pay for having children. You fight the traffic, you stand in line for hours, and you wait and wait until finally you catch a glimpse of that damned mouse. You take a picture of your kid standing next to the mouse, and then you go back to Utah and pray that you never have to drive to Los Angeles ever again.

Alex with Mickey

But then what happens? Alex gets a job at the Jet Propulsion Lab and marries a woman who works at Caltech. Good for them—but WHY, pray tell, are all the good jobs in Southern California?

Perhaps I should have stayed longer back in 1964. Who knows? I might have landed a job writing for television. I might have found the ocean. I might have met Annette Funicello.

However, it’s too late now for someone as old as I am to start over. I’m told that writers older than thirty have no place in Hollywood. We don’t know what’s current, who’s hot, or what’s happening now. At 72 I’m ancient history, same as the dinosaurs. Speaking of which, I spotted quite a few prehistoric reptiles alongside the highway. Almost all were in disrepair, and each appeared to be making its way toward a Nineteen-Fifties-themed restaurant. Why do I notice such things? Probably because I have more than a little in common with those extinct lizards from the Plastercene Age.

-Richard Menzies