“…as if God is playing Tetris on this strip of highway.”

stories

110 South
Julio Frayre

Julio was born in Los Angeles, California, to Mexican immigrant parents. His main interests are playing guitar and reading about a variety of topics, from John Lennon to Abraham Lincoln, and John Milton to the Vampire Lestat. He enjoys literature, music, traveling, and sports: soccer (Manchester United Football Club) and boxing.


I turn the car stereo up and roll the windows down, hoping to breathe in some “fresh” air; quite impossible on an L.A. freeway, I might add. Guns n‘ Roses’ “Sweet Child O‘ Mine” is blistering in the background.

“Where do we go? Where do we go, now?” Axl Rose politely asks.

At the moment he breaks into his infamous shriek, I’m frantically looking to my right for space. Cars. I gulp, my throat searching for moisture. To my left. Central divider. Take a deep breath. I can’t move forward but for a few inches, and can’t move to my right or my left. There are brake lights everywhere. Behind me, the line continues to form, as if God is playing Tetris on this strip of highway. I am in a complete state of panic.

“Oh, me. Where do I go?!”

It’s become difficult to breathe. Nausea. I don’t think I’ll live to see the next exit. I’m blanking out. “Sweet Child...!”

***

It wasn’t always like this. When I first started driving it was all very romantic, actually, like falling in love for the very first time. A new air to life in its freshness. The keys to the road. Freedom. The paths to our destinies, carried on four wheels and gasoline!

Insert key and turn on the ignition, roll down the windows, and sway to the sounds of the music on the radio. Brake, accelerate. Brake, accelerate. Chills running up and down the body. What a thrill! It’s good to be alive. Where to go, what to do? It’s in my hands now.

My first independent drive was as menial as picking up my kid brother from school, but damn I felt a new man. Those invisible borders that once existed dissipated. I don’t have to go back home. Kid brother and I could drive forever and never come home.

Cruising the Strip, we got pulled over for the first time because kid brother made a face at an LAPD officer near Tommy’s on Hollywood Boulevard. He was ticketed and I was not, all because we wanted to see the lights. But it was good.

Living in California, it was a goal to conquer as many In-n-Outs as possible. Twenty-nine was my final mark, and yes, they all have the palm trees crossed out in front. When all else fails, there’s nothing like an In-n-Out burger and animal-style fries.

Driving...wow. Everything a short distance away on a highway. How refreshing, this life, y’know, with just the road to traverse, in solitude or accompanied.

Road trips were the best. Perhaps the best time I can recall is driving up Pacific Coast Highway, the 1. California is a state in which, because of its vastness, all manners of terrain and climate are encountered. Rocky cliffs overlooking the most scenic ocean views imaginable. Check! Dark forests, pitch black in the night, with nothing ahead and nothing behind but trees and the wilderness. Check! Sandy beaches. Check! Sand dunes on the Central Coast. Fields of grass and cows. Oh, the smell of the grapevine. And how can I forget the incessant rain while venturing through the vineyards of Sonoma Valley?

Miles covered, life being lived, all the while the mileage taking its toll. How was I to know? It was all an adventure at the time. There was that really nice man at the Lamplighter Motel in Eureka who recounted a story to me about the Beatles and how his brother’s Indian group once got to hang out with them. I’d never have seen him without the road.

There was the other time when I stared into the eyes of a brown bear as he crossed the road. We stared at each other as he got to the other side. I, of the non-camping type, and he, of the why-must-they-camp-here type, with the snow sitting on the side of the road. It was as if time stopped. We had a moment between Yosemite National Park on the road to San Francisco.

Driving, I loved staring out of the windows into a world that seemed so far away. How did our Native brothers make good use of this land? Imagine the plentiful bison roaming these long grassy fields, as a tribe of men go out in search of food and clothes, all long before this highway was built. And what did this place look like long before our “technological advances” took over the landscape and took the natural out of nature?

Oh, and there was driving through the 14 and hoping the “Big One” doesn’t hit. My youth wanted to witness the San Andreas Fault, but getting to drive through it brings no end of anxiety. Let’s just speed on through and hope the freeway doesn’t collapse.

And there was Zzyzx Rd. Exit...a road as random and obscure as its name; where am I, again? Chinese Camp, next exit. Mad Greek’s surprisingly good strawberry shake....out in Baker, the middle of nowhere. It all seems so random. And why do these cattle look so sad?

But where am I going? Those fresh drives through mountains high, through snowy climbs, are not the norm. They’re sandwiched between bumper-to-bumper lots and smoggy air. Wake up at 6 just to get on the road by 7 and be at work by 8:30. Every day. On and on, for the rest of my life.

Nearly every day to grind. Originally it was just the 10 West. Every morning and back in the afternoon. 10 West in the AM. 405 South in the PM. Grind. Brake, accelerate. Brake, accelerate. Brake. Fifteen minutes turn into an hour-and-a-half. Forty-five minutes into three hours. I thought I had all the patience in the world. My mind had other thoughts. But slowly but surely, driving that road that seemed like complete freedom, like the driveway into heaven, became the most dreaded time of my life. The memories of my joys are faint amid the frenzy. Breathe!

***

Air. I need air. The frantic movements made to make my way to the exit endanger the placid scenery of cars. It barely makes a difference, one more car off the grid. From atop, Dodger Stadium looks at me with disgust.

“Breathe, man, breathe,” I tell myself as I feel an invisible power envelope me. I think I’m free at that moment, but I’m not. Every time, like Pavlov’s dog, the highway strikes me down, invoking that panic that disables my driving ability. That which I loved, which gave me the sense of freedom, only really gave me loss. I put in so many miles and only really scratched the surface. The wonder remains, but I’m physically impaired. Driving down the 110 South every day, I lost my love.