LA-To-Portland and Back: Rage, Calm, Legal Weed, and Loaner Cars


Cars in L.A. don’t drive, they wait in line.

I’m in a rented 2014 Toyota Corolla LE. The CVT transmission is holding a sustained 5,000 rpm shooting for a gap as we merge onto the 5 Freeway. Escape from L.A. Escape this horrible traffic. There’s a gap between a semi-truck and an indecisive GMC Yukon. The accelerator pedal is pressed into the floor carpet. Most rental cars don’t come with floor mats since Enterprise Rent-a-Car is afraid people will steal them. In the “gotta-get-mine” attitude of Los Angeles, I can’t blame them.

For buckwacking Pennsylvanian Coal-Crackers like us, the West Coast is an assault. The mountains were formed by an emotional-support child with Play-Doh and road salt. They roll on one another. The mountains fight for my view on each side of the highway. Locals call this “The Grapevine.” A Suzuki DR350S dual sport motorcycle would rule these hills.

The hills get taller. The hills get steeper. We are driving north. The 5 rises to meet the hills and the semi-trucks slow. Drivers with nerve move left and accelerate, damning fuel-economy. Higher! Higher! Deliver me from L.A.! Our rented Corolla’s radio is tuned to the AM band. An audibly fat divorcee is warbling about Jesus.

The mountains fall. The mountains die. Like a dying relative giving into the inevitable. The future becomes a void. Before our CVT Corolla, lies Purgatory: a desert. I’ve never seen a desert before. Technically, L.A. is a desert but it’s a populated desert with services.

A GMC Safari Van speeds past on the 5 as if the driver is on “strike-two” with his boss. The rear van doors are cracked open. In the distance, a helicopter hovers over an unrelentingly irrigated farm field.

Lots of wind turbines appear north of Sacramento, some are very old. They are bare metal lattice frames like a murderous carnival ride. No sleek white new towers like back east.

We make it to dinner in Lafayette, California. Lots of Teslas here. I can tell this is a Northern California restaurant; there’s no dance music playing. The male waiter has a tan body, popping biceps, very handsome. California is in a drought but the fit and huggable waiter is playing fast and loose with the water refills.

We’re rising out of the Bay Area of California. The hills are turning into mountains and desktop backgrounds. Passing cars change from German to American. Native American Casinos fly ads to delight Wisconsin tourists.