No Wonder I’m So Cranky

Traffic Jam

Dear Will:

Forgive me if I sound a little cranky. I AM cranky.

I work in Playa Vista, a newish, high-end enclave on the west side of Los Angeles. Look it up. All kinds of ad agencies, tech giants, and other trend-setting companies have set up shop there, leading some to refer to it as Silicon Beach. Sounds pretty cool, right? And it would be . . . if not for the fact that Playa Vista sits 47 horrifying miles from my home in Orange County.

What that means from a practical standpoint is that unless you come and go in the middle of the night, when you live in Orange and work in Playa Vista you can pretty much count on a miserable commute. I wish I were exaggerating when I tell you that the final 15 miles of my drive can take 60 minutes or more. I’m not. Surely, you say to yourself, it would be faster to take another route; but trust me when I say this: I’ve taken them all, and none of them work. Ever. It’s simple math: Too many vehicles + not enough road = 405.

Allow me to illustrate: Put all 53 members of the Los Angeles Rams in a single, standard-issue hot tub. With their pads on. Now swim across. For two hours. That’s what my commute is like.

My original solution to all of this was to purchase a used Honda Civic that runs on compressed natural gas. I knew a CNG Civic would be an inconvenience, but its ultra-low emissions would qualify me to drive in the carpool lane, shaving valuable time and more-valuable aggravation in the process. With white HOV stickers slapped on the Civic’s haunches, I could (sort of) forget about my drive, and just settle into a good podcast. (Or three.)

But on January 1, 2019, the California Legislature canceled the magical decals that gave me and 200,000 other low-emission drivers carpool-lane privileges. And so for two months now I’ve been diverted into the scrum with the rest of you. I have been defrocked, demoted, cast out of the court and tossed into the courtyard. It has been awful—awfuller even—now that 200,000 carpool-lane refugees have made traffic in all of the other lanes worse than ever. One morning it took me two-and-a-half hours to reach the office. That’s 150 butt-numbing, soul-sapping minutes. One way.

So yes, I’m cranky. I now sit to the right of the express lane, watching longingly as car after car cruises past in the left-hand lane, new stickers gleaming. Except for that one car there. The one with all of the people in it. What is that? An actual carpool? Who do those people think they are?

Imagine that. A high-occupancy vehicle in the High Occupancy Vehicle lane. I’m reminded that the point of an HOV lane is to have fewer cars on the road, not to provide first-class passage to anti-social elitists like me. Somehow we have allowed a lane designed to create community to be a reward for those aspiring to increased isolation. How did that happen?

And so I sit here, feeling put upon while knowing that, except for maybe 199,999 other similarly put-upon Californians, no one is going to feel sorry for me. Fair enough. Because even as I make that observation, I must also confess—a bit sheepishly—that I have never seriously considered earning access to the HOV lane by adding a little HO to my V. Here I am, a guy who goes to church on Sundays and talks about gathering together, bearing one another’s burdens, being of one heart and one mind. Community. Family. You and us—not me. And yet I have chosen to spend three or four hours each day in my own little isolation pod, cut off from everyone around me. Flying solo . . . or crawling, I guess.

Hmmm. No wonder I’m so cranky.

PW

Not Out of Place at All

Dear Will:

If you had stopped every pedestrian on Broadway you could not have found a single person who would have sized us up and declared that we fit in. We were out of place, out of our element, clearly from out of town. Although we didn’t get lost as often as we did the last time we visited Bryn in New York, we still stood out in all of the ways you don’t want to.

Then on Sunday, it seemed to get worse. Following up on something we had read, we decided to attend church in Harlem. We took the subway from our hotel on the Upper West Side and walked a short distance to the chapel. We had arrived over an hour early, so you can imagine our dismay when we saw the line of visitors stretching down the block and around the corner. And it was raining.

Feeling ill-at-ease and bracing for a drenching, I asked one of the men in charge of crowd-control if this was indeed the line for the Abyssinian Baptist Church. What happened next was astonishing. “Are you from out of town?” he asked, as if it weren’t embarrassingly obvious to everyone in the tri-state area. When I confessed that we were, he led us past the long line of tourists and, without explanation, ushered us to the main entrance reserved for local members. Within a few more minutes, we were inside, huddled in the vestibule with a handful of the faithful, waiting for the 11 a.m. service to begin.

We were dumbfounded. With dozens waiting outside in the rain for the chance to sit with other visitors in the balcony, why had he escorted us to this preferred location? Before long, we were invited to enter the main sanctuary where we took our places among the regular congregants. We sat there admiring the setting while feeling (I admit) the sort of self-consciousness that comes from being an Orange County Mormon sitting in the wrong pew in a Harlem Baptist church.

Even so, the members of that church could not have been more gracious. We heard beautiful, rousing music from an enthusiastic choir. There was an appropriately reverent interlude in which all were invited to partake of bread and wine in remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus on behalf of sinners everywhere. The pastor gave an outstanding sermon—a passionate reminder of something the choir had sung earlier: that although God does not always come when we ask, He always comes on time. As Abraham learned on the mount, he told us, the Lord will definitely provide. Affirmations of faith and testimony reverberated throughout the sanctuary, and I found myself reflecting on the ways in which God has consistently been there for me when I need Him most.

As expected, the Baptists did things a little differently than we are accustomed to, but we enjoyed the service nonetheless. Near the end of the two-and-a-half hour meeting, the members around us turned and warmly shook our hands—a simple but fitting gesture of welcome. It truly felt as if our common bond of faith in Christ had at last made us “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).  We were far from home, in someone else’s church, but in that moment, anyway, we didn’t feel out of place at all.

The following Sunday we were glad to be back in California, sitting at ease in our own Santiago Creek Ward chapel. It felt good to be caught up in the warm embrace of familiarity, surrounded by the finest people we know—people who have made us feel like family since the day we first arrived in Orange over 15 years ago. We were delighted to be home where we truly do belong, worshiping God together with others who share our faith and beliefs. As I sat there enjoying a wonderful service, I was once again reminded of what Jesus Himself had taught: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Which is, of course, why we gather. And why your life would be blessed, as mine has been, should you one day choose to gather with us. I’ll be there to make sure you get a good seat.

PW