Los Angeles is a strange place. For those of you who have never been there, here is a quick guide to help sort out the myth from reality.
The airport is called LAX. I don't know where the 'X' comes from. The White Zone (Airplane, Joe's Garage) exists. We loaded and unloaded in the White Zone. We did not park there.
LA gives new meaning to the term urban sprawl. Take all the buildings in the Boston financial district and scatter them around the Hilltop Steak House. Now take all the homes in Brookline and scatter them in between the buildings. Now extend this scene until it uniformly fills the entire area within route 128. This approximates LA.
The best radio station we could find was "California Classics", AM 600, broadcasting out of San Diego. Its play list was about halfway between WBCN and WZLX. The FM dial was a wasteland.
The metropolitan area is crisscrossed by a huge network of interstate highways. Five lanes in each direction seems to be the standard. There are probably more miles of interstate in the city center alone then there are within the entire Boston 495 area.
Ventura Freeway (America, CSN)
We drove on the Ventura Freeway. It has 5 lanes in each direction. At 7:00 PM on Friday night, 30 miles out from the city center, there were enough cars to slow traffic to 30 MPH.
The Pacific Coast Highway (various detective shows and movies)
We drove the Pacific Coast Highway. The mountains come right down to the water's edge: on one side of the road is beach, and on the other are mountains, typically rising at 45°. There are no building or people in sight. In short, this road goes from nowhere to nowhere. Nonetheless, we encountered a traffic jam on the Pacific Coast Highway at 9:00 PM on Friday night.
As you approach the city from the air, you can see a brown haze covering the entire area. It extends from the ground up to about 1000 feet. Every day, the Los Angeles Times publishes a series of graphs. They look something like this
| ==================== |
| ************************ | ==== NOx 2 = unsafe for everyone
| ........... === | **** CO 1 = unsafe for some
| ...... ....... | .... ozone S = federal clean air standard
7 9 noon 2 4 6
There is one graph for each of 6 different areas of the city. Apparently, the air quality was quite good the day we were there.
We flew out at night. As the plane banked away from the runway, I saw the city spread out before me, ablaze in lights. Street lights, house lights, billboards—everything lit up.
About half the land area is flat, like the surface of a lake. The other half consists of small mountains. Each mountain is perhaps 1 mile across and 500 to 1000 feet high. Their sides are deeply creased with gullies, eroded by rain water. The mountains are scattered about the landscape in clusters, apparently at random. They rise abruptly out of the plain, with no foot hills or other warning.
Los Angeles is a desert. Nothing grows without irrigation. However, it rained all day on Friday. Next to our hotel was a canal for carrying rainwater. It was 10 to 15 feet deep, and 20 to 30 feet across. After an entire day of steady rain, it had 1 or 2 feet of water flowing in the bottom of it. I can only imagine the rainstorms that fill it entirely.
According to our map, we drove near Beverly Hills.
We didn't see any.
Steven W. McDougall /
1987 Feb 16