Monday, January 25, 2010

# 21 Hollywood Freeway

#30 Hollywood Walk of Fame
#29 Yamashiro
#28 Hollywood Billiards
#27 Genghis Cohen
#26 Piano Bar
#25 Shmutzville
# 24 Loteria
# 23 The Griddle
# 22 Proximity#

21 Hollywood Freeway

This is a weird one. This is one of those symbolic appreciations for something that it is at once mythical and an everyday nuisance. Perhaps akin to New Yorkers' appreciation for Broadway or white America's obsession with macs, my love of the Hollywood Freeway is kind of stupid.

In California, the freeways are interwoven as part of our lives more than anywhere on Earth. For this reason, and to the why-the-fuck-do-you-care annoyance of the rest of the world, we refer to our freeways with the definite article "the" placed before the freeways titular number. Telling someone to take "the five" to "the one oh one" seems like the only way to give directions, to the point where I have often accidentally told friends that my parents' house is off "the two seventy one." It's just the way it is. Then, Californians go one step further by giving each freeway a geographic name to inform people of where they MAY be going. However, the logic behind this naming process is baffling. Sometimes, a freeway is named by direction such as the ten, which going west-bound is "The Santa Monica Freeway" but east-bound is "The San Bernadino." Sometimes the freeway is named independent of direction like 710, which is always "The Long Beach Freeway." Sometimes a freeway is named for it's terminus, such as the aforementioned Long Beach, or the aforementioned Santa Monica, but sometimes it is named for a minor city it passes through despite an incredibly small percentage of drivers actually exiting in that city (the Santa Ana freeway). There are funny idiosyncrasies, like the 405 being named the San Diego Freeway despite ending 80 miles north of San Diego, or the 90 being the Marina Freeway, despite being 3 miles long and stretching from outside the Marina to the Marina. But curiosities and incongruencies amongst the LA freeway system also give way to mythology.

No freeway, perhaps in this entire country, is as romanticized as the 101. The 101 leaves downtown LA, travels up the pacific coast, hops on the Golden Gate Bridge and keeps going until it rounds the Olympic Peninsula in the top left corner of the country. It was immortalized in America's "Ventura Highway," and has been mentioned in countless songs and films. But to me it's meaning is a something a little different. Living in Long Beach, south of the city, and coming into Hollywood was always intimidating for me. Getting through downtown on the 110, and rounding onto the busiest interchange in LA was always scary. But then you hop on the "Hollywood Freeway" and I always felt instantly like part of it all. The Hollywood Freeway lasts for exactly twelve exits, and about eight miles before it turns into the Ventura Freeway. But amongst those exits are the most exalted streets in America: Melrose, Santa Monica, Sunset and Hollywood. The stretch included sights of the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, and the Capitol Building. Here's where I mention that this stretch of highway is almost ALWAYS jammed up, going both ways, at almost all hours. It is almost always to be avoided. However at dusk, read: evening rush hour, the view of the Santa Monica Mountains dotted with the lights of millionaire's houses is breathtaking, and the towering San Gabriels behind them remind us of our little corner of the country that without them would never be as temperate and desirable as it is.

From the other direction, coming into Hollywood through Cahuenga Pass, past Universal City and into the lights of Hollywood is equally as breathtaking. For romantic purposes, the sign as one passes Barham on the 101 that reads "Hollywood Next Eight Exits" is a beautiful and almost novelty reminder. And for the last eighteen months, I have been lucky enough to take one of those legendary exits on my way home. This may sound like the ultimate pain in the ass, but I assure you it's not. Five years ago, I lived in Washington, right off the 101 (although up there is was just called "101"), miles before its northern terminus, and now I've lived in Hollywood, miles before its southern start. My new exit off the 110 will be equally as bothersome, but not nearly as romantic.

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