Friday, December 02, 2005

California - Here I Come

California. What a great place to send a newbie driver – especially on one of his first trips. I had been there twice before with my trainers, but this was a solo experience.

I picked up a load of chicken in Kentucky and headed to LA. There were three drops on this load, two in LA and one in Garden Grove which is south of LA, on the way to San Diego. My first drop was on Sunday night, the second early Monday morning and the third on Monday afternoon.

I-40 to I-15 then onto I-10 to I-5 to exit 4. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But traffic into LA on a Sunday evening is not an experience that I want to repeat any time soon. Six lanes heading west, all packed with speeding vehicles. Plus, someone had removed the sign signaling the entrance to I-5. I happened to guess where it should have been, but was headed in the wrong direction.

I realized there was a problem when a sign sprang up in front of me that read, “Wilsher Boulevard – Next Right.” That and the facts that three more lanes were merging in from the San Bernadino Freeway, there was a three-lane exit ahead and I was surrounded by what appeared to be downtown Los Angeles.

It was panic time! I slid my truck into the “V” between the Freeway I was on and the exit ramp, pulled on my flashers and set the brakes. With three lanes of fast-moving exit traffic on my right and the six-lane freeway on my left, I realized that even if I discovered a route to my delivery point, there was no way to get out of my “safe harbor” without killing someone.

My immediate solution was to light up a cigarette. “When in doubt, smoke.” I checked my Atlas, but the city map for LA was rather sketchy, so I had no real clue where my exit was in relation to my position. I tried my CB, but I had seen no other trucks since stopping – another indication that I was probably somewhere that I shouldn’t be.

Next, I took some pictures. I figured I wouldn’t be back there again so I might as well immortalize the moment. Then I had another smoke, thinking about Cris Rea’s late 1980’s song, “The Road to Hell.” One line in particular kept running through my mind:

“On your journey ‘cross the wilderness
from the desert to the well
you have strayed upon the motorway to hell.”

In my mind, the wilderness was Oklahoma, the desert was Arizona and the well was the Pacific Ocean. It all made perfect sense at the time.

My rationale was, if I sat there long enough a cop would stop. I mean, here sat this 70-foot long tractor-trailer in the middle of a busy Interstate with its flashers on and its driver chain-smoking cigarettes and looking bewildered. Somebody had to notice.

So I sat – and smoked – and smoked – and cussed – and sat some more. And smoked some more. And cussed a whole lot more. Nothing! I ended up sitting there for about two hours chain-smoking and cussing watching sheriff’s cars go by.

At about 2000 hours, I glanced in my mirror just in time to see an LAPD car slip in behind my truck with its flashing lights on. Since I was very close to the road on the driver’s side, I slid over to the right-hand seat and rolled down my window. A cop was actually coming up beside my truck and his ticket book was not in his hand. Maybe I wouldn’t get a littering citation for the pile of cigarette butts beside my truck or for being an eyesore on the chic LA landscape.

“What’s the problem,” he said when he reached my window.

“Well,” I said, “At first my problem was that I was lost. Now it’s not only that I’m lost, but also I couldn’t get out of here even if I knew where I was going. If I pull out to the right, I’ll lose sight of traffic and probably kill somebody when they run under my truck at 70 miles an hour. If I pull out to the left I’ll probably kill myself because there hasn’t been a break in that traffic for two hours.”

“OK”’ he said. “Let’s start by getting you unlost. Where is it you need to go?” I told him. “You didn’t miss it by much. Your turnoff is only about a mile from here. The problem is to get there you need to be going the other way.”

He proceeded to give me directions on where to turn around at an exit about three miles down the road. “Thanks”, I said. “Now, how do I get there without killing a dozen motorists?”

The next thing I knew, he was on his shoulder microphone. “Escort - what’s your 20? OK. I need you to slow traffic up here so I can get a big-rig back on the road. How long ‘till you can get here?” Then to me he said, “Be an officer here to assist in about three minutes. I’m going back by my car and wait. When you see my flashlight shine in your driver-side mirror, haul it out of here.”

Within three or four minutes, I saw his flashlight reflect in my mirrors. I looked in my right-side mirror and to my delight and amazement, there was nothing - no traffic at all. Those two cops had completely stopped traffic on a busy section of LA freeway, and I was outta there – fast.

Believe it or not, I was still early for my appointment. But the adventure had just begun.

More on the LA saga soon.


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