Southern California Sojourn - SoCal Sojourn

The Los Angeles area is a great place to visit--but would you want to drive there?

Steve Temple Mar 8, 2012 0 Comment(s)
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Bearded university savants opine that Southern California is the center of car culture. We humbly beg to differ.

SoCal is actually a nexus of automotive worship. Dazed acolytes jam endless expanses of concrete, consuming countless gallons of fossil fuel in search of mechanical enlightenment--or at least a fleeting moment of vehicular prestige.

That might sound like a sacrilegious harsh on their mellow, but having thrashed my way through so many crushing rush hours on SoCal freeways, I've become a bit jaded. And this attitude helps to resolve my emotional dissonance over relocating from the balmy climate there to the cold and blustery high Sierras of Northern Nevada.

Even so, upon returning for visits, as I did recently with my wife, Tina, for our anniversary celebration at a couple of tony Hyatt resorts, we find ourselves transfixed at times. As transplanted SoCal residents, we suffer from the same weakness as Lot's wife. Having fled Sodom and Gomorrah, we look back longingly, paralyzed by the vision of a pagan landscape chock-full of allurements.

That's the decadent core of this rambling story of what a Corvette enthusiast can expect and enjoy on a visit to SoCal. But before delving into those enticements and attractions, we should touch on a few practical aspects of getting around.

Comedian Johnny Carson once quipped, "If you stick to the speed limit in Southern California, you'd better have a ramp on your roof, because they'll drive right over you." Of course, Corvette enthusiasts rarely linger at leisurely velocities, so no big worry there.

In addition, keep in mind that SoCal drivers haven't figured out how to use turn signals yet (or maybe they employ some sort of automotive telepathy when changing lanes). They also have difficulty handling anything other than direct sunlight, so be advised when there's an occasional layer of moisture on the pavement. On the other hand, the sunny climate there makes it an ideal location for driving a convertible, Corvette or otherwise.

A greater challenge is finding uncongested roads for stompin' the loud pedal. But when you do, the expanses of smooth pavement are utterly compelling. The temptation of driving a Corvette in SoCal is like letting a binge drinker loose in a liquor barn--so many lanes, so little time.

While avoiding commuting time frames is just common sense, it's no guarantee that you won't encounter a snarled collection of cars on either midday or late-night drives due to a drive-by shooting (or a movie shoot). Which begs a question--why so many damn automobiles?

As famously--albeit apocryphally--depicted in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, at one time Los Angeles had a fairly efficient streetcar system. According to the movie plot and conspiracy theorists, however, it was eviscerated by General Motors, along with tire and oil business interests, in favor of buses and private conveyances. In reality, other factors of human frailty accounted for the demise of SoCal's mass-transit system, such as simple convenience and a proclivity for self-indulgence.

After all, who wouldn't prefer to man the wheel of a convertible Corvette on sunny Sunset Strip instead of schlepping along in a lumbering trolley? How can you ogle those budding starlets (insert your own euphemism here) from the splintering bench seat of a tram? Let alone impress them with your ostensible credentials as a movie producer?

So San Francisco can keep its quaint cable cars and efficient-yet-sterile BART trains. We'd rather be romping the throttle with gusto on the Ventura highway in the sunshine, headed for glory at several waypoints of special interest.

To wit, after picking up a canary-yellow C6 courtesy of Chevrolet at LAX (where you can also readily rent a Corvette if you're not driving your own into the area), we started our SoCal sojourn with a graphic contrast to the surrounding urban environment. In downtown Los Angeles, just east of the intersection of the 110 and 101 freeways, near Union Station, is Olvera Street. It's a short, shaded block of Mexican vendors, sort of like a minuscule sample of Tijuana, but without any little kids hawking Chiclets.




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