I wrote this a while ago for an online magazine that in the end didn’t materialise. I figured i should post it up here instead. They had asked me to write a weekly piece about living in LA as I find myself living here a lot more over the course of the year. What’s written below was to be the first of many. Does part of me worry that the poor writing style of what follows is one of the reasons the magazine never got off the ground? Yes.
To Live And Drive In LA
For a large part of the last two years I have lived in Los Angeles. Also I don’t know how to drive a car. To tell someone in LA that you don’t know how to drive is like telling them you don’t know how to boil an egg, or order a def-caf latte. When I tell people this it elicits some strong and even extreme reactions. From shock: “You don’t drive a car?! How do you get anywhere?”. To pity: “Aw, maybe one day though, maybe one day”. To outrage: Seriously someone at a party turned away from me in disgust and started talking to someone else. Last time I go to the Driver’s Ed christmas party. By the way I don’t lead with it: “I’m Gary, I don’t drive. How do you do?” I’ll only mention it if if comes up in conversation. And in LA it always does.
You see for those of you that haven’t been to LA it is not really a city. More a sprawling network of kinda towns connected by long surface streets and freeways that during rush hours are so filled with traffic they more resemble parking structures than motorways. For the uninitiated rush hours in LA are from the hours of 6am to 2pm and then 230pm to 10pm. If you want to get anywhere it’s best to leave in the middle of the night and sleep at your desired destination in your car. Of course not owning a car to sleep in myself how would i know, eh? Why, I say why, would you even want to drive in this city? Most times I find myself in a taxi or a friend’s car it takes 2 hours to go 20 miles. Even still, LA is a driving city. In most of the towns that make up LA you very rarely see anyone walking on the pavement (sidewalk? potato/potAAto). In some LA communities there simply are no pavements. The local council no doubt deeming it not worth their while even putting one in as no one would use it. So this is the environment which makes my ‘not driving’ an anomaly. Or at the very least peculiar to people.
If I haven’t made the person turn away from me after I tell them I don’t drive and if I can get the smelling salts to their nose in time I’m able to tell them I live in Santa Monica which is certainly one of the most walking friendly towns in LA. We have the beach. You can walk on that. A natty promenade. You can’t even drive up that. A rickety pier. You’ll make the whole thing collapse if you drive up that. Seriously people can we fix it? I’ll help. And you can even walk the whole way down to Venice Beach. Another walking friendly beach front town full of, ok let’s call them, colourful characters. Saying I live in Santa Monica usually makes people soften a little: “Oh good” they’ll say, “But…”. Yes there’s always a but, “How do you get into Hollywood? Or Silverlake? Or Downtown?”. If I venture inland it is only if absolutely necessary, for example to see a band as there aren’t many gigs on the west side, or to visit friends, or to get my Thetans flushed at the Scientology centre - I’m kidding about the last one - I’ll get a taxi. But day to day I’ll mostly walk.
I love to walk. I’ll put my headphones on and stick the latest albums I’ve bought on my iPod and walk for miles listening. That’s one of the great joys of life in my opinion and something people that drive everywhere are missing out on it. Although recently my friend and producer Jacknife Lee told me that driving alone and listening to music is one of his great joys of life and I should learn if only for that. I have to say it’s been the most compelling argument for me learning to drive I’ve heard yet. That and if I ever get married and have kids I’m gonna need to drive my pregnant wife to the hospital. However as I don’t have a girlfriend and haven’t even had a date this year chances are that’s a few years away yet. But of course it’s bad form for a pregnant woman to drive herself to the hospital but if the time comes I’ll have to learn.
Although driving never interested me I was, like most human teenagers in the western world, offered the chance aged 17. It just never took. My aunt Jean bought me vouchers for driving lessons for my 17th birthday and they sat on the kitchen cabinet so long my sister used them two years later on her 17th birthday. When I left home in Northern Ireland for university in Dundee, Scotland the campus was so small that very few of my classmates drove and I started Snow Patrol around that time too so that when I left Uni I went onto the tourbus. At every turn I was disinclined to drive until now I find myself here in Los Angeles, the most drivingest city in the world, a non-driver confusing people at parties with my wacky ways. Maybe I’ll give in and learn one day soon but then they are building that new train from Santa Monica to Downtown LA, so maybe not.