My first job out of college was in Orange County. I moved into an apartment, sight unseen, when I arrived from Michigan. I drove up to Los Angeles every weekend. There is an active alumni group of my university there, and I kept meeting more people and making friends. After my summer sublet ended, I had to decide: have no life with an easy commute, or have a life with a brutal commute. I chose the latter.
Public transportation is hardly an option unless you’re near Union Station, where you can take the Orange County Metrolink. I lived in Hollywood, so driving my 2002 coupe was my only option. Gas was hovering at $4.50 a gallon. The 33 miles to work crawled by, stop-and-go most of the way, if I didn’t leave by 5am. I started calling people I hadn’t talked to in months, just to pass the time. I knew where every bump on the freeway was. I even started recognizing cars that drove my route the same time each day. On a good day, I could travel one-way in 45 minutes. On a bad day, up to two hours. I accepted it as a price to pay for living in LA, and at first, it was worth it.
My mechanic was located near where I worked. He replaced calipers, brakes, tires, and more during the two years I worked in Orange County. The commute was taking a physical and emotional toll on me and my car. One day, I calculated the approximate amount of time I had spent commuting in a little over a year. It added up to the equivalent of spending 17 straight days in my car. I knew I had to find a new job—one that was as close to me as possible. I was ecstatic when I found one a mere ten miles away, with zero freeways involved.
Even so, the traffic continued. Driving became increasingly frustrating, which started affecting my mood at work. There is no good way to get from the east side to the west side (when’s that subway happening?). When you’re stuck at a long traffic back-up at a light, there’s nothing you can do but wait. I tried taking the bus, which eased my stress level, but was slower than ever before. I even thought of riding my bike, but the non-bike-friendly streets of Hollywood changed my mind. How did my ten mile commute become even more stressful than my 33 mile one?
Something had to be done. So, I gathered up a down payment and bought a new cherry red Vespa-like scooter. With a mighty 50cc motor and a top downhill speed of 40mph, I was ready to go. I hardly had a clue what to do when I drove it off the lot, desperately trying to keep my balance. However, I got my motorcycle license (a necessary evil in California), an obnoxiously huge full motorcycle helmet, and started scooting around town.
Now my commute is a cage-free ride, always different and always enjoyable. It’s a challenge to go between cars in long traffic lines, and it’s also made me a more cautious driver in general. I’m much more aware of my surroundings, and get to see more things happening around me. Parking is no longer a problem—anywhere. I also meet other riders when we stop at lights. My favorite thing is to jokingly ask people riding big motorcycles if they want to race me.
But perhaps, the best part of all, is filling up my 1.1 gallon gas tank for only $4.00. At about 100mpg, in one day, my little scooter will pay for itself. So, if you’re living in LA and feeling like you want to pull your hair out while driving, consider investing in a scooter or motorcycle. It has changed my commute, my mood, my stress level, and my bank account for the better.