Lesson #99: Make Lemonade, Avoid Lava

traffic map of la

Dear Blue and Wheels,

An LA-based traffic reporter has the easiest job in the world. They come on the radio all the time, and every time, they report the same exact traffic on the same exact freeways. All you would have to do to have that job is just say every freeway in the area, and then say “Yes” after each one. That’s the traffic report every day in Los Angeles.

Traffic sucks. I hate it. Hopefully by the time you are all driving, you are not driving because your cars are driving for you. But just in case you do have the opportunity to mindlessly press pedals with your feet and occasionally turn a wheel, I want to impart some wisdom on how to deal with traffic.

This past summer, I had to drive to training every day on the west side. Training was from 8-5, so I had the awesome opportunity to travel through the most congested areas of one of the most congested cities during not one, but two of the most congested times of the day. And I got to do it in my ’96 Honda Accord. Blue, you know this car. It’s “dadda’s car”. You have never set foot in dadda’s car, because dadda’s car does not have A/C. Nor does it have functional door handles on the back doors. It is not long for this world, and your hot wheel collection is probably worth more than dadda’s car right now, Blue.

At the time, it did not have a properly functioning coolant system as well, which meant that in July in Southern California, not only did I get to sit through gridlock for hours every day, I did so while blasting the heat on my face to keep my engine from overheating.

Because I’m clever, I quickly deduced that if I continued to sit in traffic every day, my car would eventually burst into flames. So I studied google maps every day, trying to find the golden route, the one route that would allow me to get across Los Angeles in under an hour while keeping my car from giving itself a Viking burial. As I came to find out, it’s virtually impossible to get from the west side to the east side of LA in under an hour. At 5, every street in every direction is a wall of red.

In its own unique and gut wrenching way, this become something I looked forward to every day. I pretended the red streets were lava and tried to avoid as much as possible. The best route took me across Venice, up Alvarado, but then offshooting on a tiny sidestreet just before Sunset to avoid the crush of traffic merging from Glendale to get on the 2. From Sunset, I hung a left on Portia St, climbed up the hill to Stadium Way, wrapped around Dodger stadium, and then hopped on the 110 until I got to South Pasadena. From there, I took Huntington all the way.

It wasn’t the fastest route, but it did have a lot of green and by going through Silver Lake and San Marino, I was able to avoid sketchy areas to break down in. That was key.

My point is, Blue and Wheels, if there is a point to this rant, is that it’s imperative that you find ways to entertain yourself in traffic. If you can’t do that, then I don’t know.

Maybe the proceeds from this blog will be able to fund you a chauffeur. Compound interest and all.



Lesson #98: ‘Remember when’ is always worth the price


Dear Blue and Wheels,

This past week we took a family trip to Joshua Tree National Park.

It’s a hidden gem of Southern California. A little more than two hours east of LA, and perched on a plateau above Palm Springs, it’s the overlooked cousin to the more glamorous parks like Yosemite and Sequoia up north.

We love it there. The rock outcroppings make it feel like you’re walking on Mars, and at night, the sky is so clear you can actually see Mars. There are all kinds of trails, but there are also plenty of stop off points for just playing around on rocks.

Which is exactly what we did after almost three hours of driving in the car. Wheels, you were great. You traveled well. Blue, you were fascinated by the “choo choo” we saw along the 10 freeway, and could not stop talking about it for the rest of the trip.

A quick rule of thumb for traveling with children, guys: be prepared to spend twice as long getting there, and half as long staying before you come back.

We had planned to stay there through the late morning and into the early evening before heading home. Instead, this is what happened. We arrived at Joshua Tree around 11:30, bought a pass, and then drove into the park. We drove for about ten miles and then parked near a huge outcropping called “Hemingway.” People like to climb it, which we proceeded to do as well. Blue, you had a great time exploring a boulder and attempting to illegal pick federally protected wildflowers.

After about a half hour of exploring, we all piled back into the car.

Mom says, “I’m sore. I don’t think I can walk anymore.”

Blue, you take one look at her, yawn, and then promptly crash in your car seat from exhaustion.

Just like that, our foray into Joshua Tree National Park is over. Good thing I scored plenty of good shots at the first stop.

In my younger years, I might have been a little frustrated. And by a little, I mean very. We just spent 3 hours and $20 in gas to get here. We did not get our money’s worth. As I’ve aged and hopefully matured, however, I realize that you can’t measure the value of trips by how much something costs versus how much time you spent doing it. Instead, the value of any experience should be measured by the quality of the experience itself, and what I find to be true is that the quality of experiences is rarely connected to how much time was spent on it or how much it cost. What it is connected to is the people you spend that time with, and even the most fleeting of experiences can be incredibly valuable if it stays with you.

The power of “Remember when…” is all that should be measured on any trip. If you have at least one of those, then you have had a good trip.

So, remember when we drove 2 and a half hours to spend a half hour climbing rocks before you fell asleep and we came back home?

Of course you don’t. But we do. And it was worth it.


Lesson #94: Diversity Is More Than Skin Deep


Dear Blue,


We live in Los Angeles. Until it breaks off into the ocean or we run out of water and we’re living in scorched wasteland overrun with rabid coyotes and rattlesnakes curled up in the car pool lanes, we live in Los Angeles.


And since it’s not a scorched wasteland yet, Los Angeles has the reputation as one of the most diverse cities on the planet. Cultural diversity. Biodiversity. Unidiversity. Every kind of diversity there is, LA has it. It’s an amazing place. I hate the traffic. I hate the trendiness. I hate the house prices. But this place really is one of the most unique and vibrant places on planet Earth.


Still, diversity is a word that get’s cheaply thrown around there, as if somehow because we live in a diverse place we are naturally diverse, like diversity is something that’s in the air.


Nope. That’s car exhaust.


Living with diversity isn’t just about living around people who come from a different culture than you. Ethnic diversity can look like diversity most of the times, but it gets kind of watered down when everyone gets the same kind of education at the same kind of colleges and makes the same kind of money working the same kinds of jobs.


True diversity comes with diversity of opinion, and one of the most impactful experiences I had with this was not in Los Angeles, but in Washington, D.C.


So let’s go there.

It was 1998. I went with a group of students from our AP US History class as part of this program called Close-Up. The intent of the whole trip was to get a firsthand look at the way government works. We met senators, toured the capital and did all the other things you do on a class trip to Washington, D.C. The best, and most genius part of the whole trip, however, was how the trip coordinators ensured that we could experience a different slice of America other than our own.


They started by pairing us in hotel rooms with kids from other states. All I remember about this was that I was rooming with two kids from Nebraska, and they liked Cake. The band, but I’m assuming they liked the baked kind, too. Nothing else about them was in any way different or extraordinary.


What was, however, was when we would all gather in one of the hotel ballrooms for discussions on current issues.


It’s all well and good to talk about diversity when everyone is excited to share their own culture and you’re enthusiastic about hearing your side of some irrelevant bit of popcorn trivia about your home. It’s not so cool when opinions diverge and a ballroom suddenly is on the verge of turning into Murderpit: The Reckoning.


As we gathered in the banquet hall at those big tables with the poofy red chairs that inhabit seemingly every ballroom in the country but nowhere else, we were given a question to discuss and take a side on. The very first question we received was “Should peyote be legal?”


Being suburban white kids from Kentucky, our drug lexicon was fairly limited at the time. All we had to go on was the quick summary given to us of the issue at hand. All we knew was that it was a hallucinogen that altered someone’s state of consciousness. Some said cool, but most said not cool, and thus our group can out strongly in the illegal camp.


No, a plant that can cause an altered state of consciousness should not be legal, our DARE trained brains concluded.


It seemed like a straightforward answer.


Our representative spoke confidently, outlining a concise and seemingly bulletproof defense of our position. Man, it sounded good. WE sounded good. This was America, man! Saying what you think and watching things get done!


You know that part in Return of the Jedi, when the rebels think they’re approaching a completely defunct Death Star only to realize at the last instant that is in fact, not defunct, and is instead completely able, ready and willing to annihilate them?


Yeah, dude, this was totally a trap.


Almost as soon as our delegate finished his last word, there erupted a loud voice of dissension from the back.


“You can’t make it illegal! You don’t even know what it is?”


“Do you?”


“Of course!” and that’s when the dude stood up. He said he was from a reservation somewhere, and that they used peyote in their culture and that it had significance to their culture and that we should rethink our answer. He wasn’t just saying this. He was yelling it. He was saying it so strongly his mouth was voluntarily getting rid of saliva to make more room for the words, and he had that look in his eye that made it abundantly clear that the thought of murdering our delegate had crossed his mind, and while the idea was clearly absurd, he hadn’t fully dismissed it at that point. Behind him was an entire banquet table of the same pitiless stares.


Which all of us sitting at the table avoided as we counted the number of threads in the carpet like good little non-confrontational white children. Our speaker tried valiantly to debate our position, but it was no good. He was abandoned by us, and without the spirit of conviction, it was a lost cause.


I don’t remember how the debate ended. I just remember feeling so stunned that our position was not the popular one by default, and that people had thoughts on the subject that came out of a realm completely outside my own understanding, which was so ignorantly limited.


It was a powerful lesson in diversity, Blue. You don’t get to say you appreciate diversity just because you live in a diverse place. True diversity comes from tolerating a diversity of opinions. With that, however, it’s not always enough to simply acknowledge that someone thinks differently than you on an issue. It’s important to realize that if you live in a diverse place, you also have the opportunity to grow from the conflict that results from dealing with diversity.


But you have to be ready for the unexpected. That’s diversity, Blue. The unexpected.