It’s starting to become a serious joke in my family. I’m getting famous for getting lost on the Freeways of Southern California. I’ve sort of hinted at this here. But now that I’ve come clean about my latest adventure to my family, it’s time to share the story on the Blog for my public humiliation.
Last Thursday, my daughter and I headed down to Disneyland for one last hurrah before the end of winter break. Now, I’ve lived in SoCal for three decades. I’ve been driving to and from Disneyland almost just as long. It’s incredibly simple.
At least… it used to be…
I was feeling pretty confident last Thursday. After last month’s major car repairs and with a full tank of gas, I was secure in my transportation. We had a wonderful day. We met up with some friends. Rode some rides. Ate some dinner. Bought a souvenir. And then it was time to head home.
What you have to understand at this point, is the last two times I’ve driven home from Disneyland, I have at one point or another missed a turn and ended up misdirected. It even happened to my friend. I’m not the only one! But I’m pretty sure I’m the only one it happens to every time.
So this time, I looked very closely for the freeway signs. RIGHT LANE TURN ONLY. Awesome. I’ll turn right, get on the freeway, and make tracks for home. It’s also worth noting at this point, that my loving attentive daughter questioned this decision as she was aware we were on a different street than we usually first take out of the Park. She wasn’t as confident (or, as she says I was, “cocky”) about the route we were taking.
After a few minutes, I began to think I missed my first merge. I’m pretty sure I got on the wrong freeway. But it’s the 5-North, a very well known freeway, and I know I was in the general area so I didn’t worry. It was all part of my Daring to Be an Awesome Orange. Since it was, in fact, just a few hours earlier I chose to be an Orange, I honestly thought I was invincible.
Except that darned interchange that I was looking for never appeared. And I’m starting to remember that I don’t ever get directly on the 5-North straight out of the Park. There was supposed to be a different freeway first… wasn’t there? Maybe the 57 North? Maybe skip the I-5 altogether?
This thinking, and my driving, continued for another 15 – 20 minutes. I should turn around. I should head back. I should. But I didn’t. I was brave. And smart. And conquering. And invincible. (You just keep thinkin’ that, missy!)
So I kept driving.
And then I saw more freeway lanes. With more traffic. And taller buildings. With bigger billboards.
This is so not the way to the desert.
The buildings grew closer. The billboards grew neon lights in a foreign language.
I should definitely turn around now.
South is definitely where I want to head. If I can get on the 5-South, I’ll end up back near Disneyland and can easily, easily, find my way home from there, and only be about 45 minutes later than planned. I took what looked like a friendly exit off the I-5 and pulled into a gas station. I checked the GPS on my small cell phone screen. I had a vague idea where I was heading, but couldn’t make sense of the two-inch map I was looking at. With no small amount of vocal trembling, I asked directions to the I-5 South.
The ensuing language barrier led the conversation to be peppered with words like “What?” “Where?” “How far?” and more “uhmmm”‘s than I care to recall. Easy enough. I’ll get back on the 5-North and get off at the next exit.
This one was better. With a fake confident smile, I again asked my question. “You want to go west here then north.” (Heavy accent… I’m so not close to home…) I asked for left-or-right clarification. Please. I implored him: it’s dark outside and I don’t have celestial navigation. So please. Left. Or. Right. ??? “Yes.”
Ughh. I asked what street do I get on. That part was clear. So I got on the street and kept going. It should be here any minute now. Any minute… now… any. minute. NOW.
So not getting home in a timely manner.
Every time I thought I saw a stoplight and overpass indicating a potential on-ramp, it turned out to be just another street. Another dark, crowded, unknown street.
With no freeway entrance in sight I can’t even get back on the 5-North. Even though that was the wrong direction, at least it was (fairly) known territory. At this rate, I’ll end up at my brother’s house five hours north before I find my way back home.
I’m almost confident that although it felt like I had driven a good ten miles away from the freeway it probably was only inches, maybe a foot. Definitely not truly as bad as it felt. I was *gulp* almost confident of that.
One more gas station. An ARCO. By this time, I had a pretty good idea of where I was. And the GPS confirmed it. But what does a two-inch cell phone screen map really know? Stupid piece of technology. Except it did show that I was just a mile away from a huge interchange. And when I say huge, I’m talking Paul Bunyun huge. There had to be a way to avoid that.
I walked to the clerk and meekly pleaded, “How do I get to the 5-South, please?”
He was wonderful. He was tender, and could tell I was lost, and offered compassion and directions. Good directions. He told me street names and distances and left-and-right navigation. And then he pointed behind me. “There is a tow truck driver. They know all the streets even better. Go ask him, he will help you.”
I looked. Into the shadows. Past the gas pumps where this incredibly large, full bodied-tattooed gangbanger looker of a guy stood smiling at me. He wore overalls with the name FABIAN stitched on them. His license plate was PEPE 13. 13! As if things couldn’t get any worse, let’s throw in a superstitious number, too. Well, I thought. I had a nice life…
I approached him with what little courage I had left, praying all the while with confidence that within 30 minutes I’ll know exactly where I am and be able to breathe better. But right now… ugh.
I explained that I was not only lost, but terribly lost and afraid of the upcoming freeway interchange. I asked for directions to get back toward Disneyland.
I was taken aback when his demeanor didn’t live up to his appearance. I guess that late at night, where I was, looking the way he looked, I expected someone rough. Vulgar. Difficult to understand and unwilling to help.
He was none of those. He immediately put me at ease with his attention, his smile, and his knowledge of safe streets.
But he’s a tow truck driver. He didn’t care where I came from. He wanted to get me to my destination. So when I explained that I’m looking for any safe freeway that will easily get me to the desert north of San Bernardino, he let out a slow, low whistle. Not kidding. Just like when someone gets bad news in a movie. And my already trembling legs bent a little more.
He said the only way back to the freeway was (in his words) “that really big joint freeway interchange just up the road.” I’d have to take this side road for a mile, get on the 5-North (again), find the 60-East, travel a bit to the 710-East then stay on there til I get to the 10-East. It sounded complicated.
And I was getting a bit dizzy from all that clean Los Angeles air.
I offered to pay him to tow me to the 710. Once I hit that, I knew my way. But freeway interchanges – huge freeway interchanges – in the dark? I think I’d rather not.
“Well,” he said. “First of all, relax. You’re fine. You’re out of the area -”
“I know,” I gulped.
“You’re not in the best part of town, but you’ll be fine. We’ll get you back on track in no time. You’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” I didn’t really know if I should believe him. I wondered if Daring to Be an Awesome Orange meant not ever showing fear, or just conquering it.
“Do you know where you are?” he sort of smiled, tilting his head. I don’t know why that comforted me, but it did.
“I have a general idea,” I said, holding up my worthless two-inch map.
“Yeah…” he nodded. Then said those words I was trying to avoid.
“You’re in East L.A.”
So he smiled again, reassured me again, and told me to follow him. We’ll stay in the slow lane. We’ll go slow in the slow lane. I don’t have to make any lane changes. Just follow him and he’ll get me where I need to get.
As soon as I agreed, he ushered me back into my car. “It’s not the worst neighborhood, but you don’t belong here.” I waited for his lead.
As promised, he led me carefully through the streets of East Los Angeles, onto the first freeway. It was then I noticed that his headlights were incredibly bright. They lit up the entire freeway sign. And then it dawned on me. He was using his Mag Flashlight from inside his cab to show me the signs so I knew where to go in case I lost him.
When we hit the second freeway interchange, it went just as smoothly. His MagLight lit up the sign. No cars got between us. There was no significantly merging traffic.
When we got to the 710 split, he took left and I took right. I turned my lights off and on twice in rapid appreciation and he lit up his siren lights for two seconds. In less than ten minutes, I was breathing easy back on the 10-East and I don’t know where he was.
It’s quite possible he was just an Angel in Disguise teaching me a lesson about appearances and trust with his Orange Lights.
Thank you Fabian, for guiding me home.
And Frankly, My Dear… that’s all she wrote!