Carmageddon Shaping Up as Big Nothing


Rush hour traffic was light in Los Angeles Friday, in the final hours before closure of Interstate 405 for a few miles brought on a steel-and-rubber stampede of rich drivers that experts claim will destroy all intelligent life in California. The 405 itself was nearly empty around 7pm, when popular opinion held (incorrectly) that the closure would begin. Nor had ancillary congestion occured along some expected high-density corridors. San Vicente Blvd. was clear: 

Wilshire Blvd., supposed to be one of L.A.'s busiest corridors, was sparsely populated: 

Empty was Olympic Blvd. going east…

… and going west: 

Beverly Glen Blvd., presumably an overspill route for traffic diverted from the 405, was quiet: 

Sepulveda Blvd., which parallels the 405 within a block for most of the route slated for closure, awaited only the arrival of Chuck Heston, Anthony Zerbe and Rosalind Cash to an unpeopled nightmarescape: 

Surely this surface street desert isn't showing the full story. An intrepid photographer would jump a fence at the intersection of the 405 and Interstate 10, climb up the embankment and discover the true bumper-to-bumper depravity that our car-crazed late-capitalist culture has driven us to: 

Perhaps all these people got the hell out of L.A. because they thought the closing would occur at 7pm, which was the popular favorite time. In another example of the expert malpractice I reported on the other day, road authorities have done a lousy job of making it clear to the public what time the closing of the 405 would begin. All week, highway LED beacons have given only dates of construction, not times. Today, they finally put in a correct time on this LED sign that was almost entirely obscured from drivers by shrubbery: 

VHS ALERT: I'll be appearing on KTLA Channel 5 News at 7am tomorrow to discuss my prediction that Carmageddon would be a "big nothing." Will I have to eat crow? It's a little after 10pm now and my local newshawks are showing a live feed of an empty 405.

As commenters Rob McMillin and Fire Tiger have noted, there is a public-outrage angle to Carmageddon, involving the unnecessary overscheduling of this work, a bunch of NIMBYs, and general incompetence. While I appreciate that angle, I have been more fascinated by the spectacle of big government and big media taking an easily resolved problem (alerting people that a handy stretch of a major highway would be closed for 53 hours) into a condescending exercise in lifestyle hectoring. In La La Land, making it clear to drivers what time the work would begin and end took a lower priority than having William Shatner and Lady GaGa tweet about what they'll be doing instead of using cars this weekend. 

In the meantime, Kiewit, to which commenter sloopyinca gave a rave review the other day, seems ready to execute: 

I have no idea whether sloopyinca is on Kiewit's payroll, but I do know Carmageddon was producing more media than news right up to H-Hour: 

And local entrepreneurs are still doing what makes this country great: 

P.S.: Speaking of local TV news, I'm dismayed to see that the great John Schwada has been given the royal order of the boot from Fox KTTV. Schwada showed the excellent taste to interview me a few times. More memorably, when he won his lifetime achievement award at the L.A. Press Club recently, Schwada launched into a wonderful stemwinder about the joy of getting into trouble and kicking people's asses that got closer to the actual attraction of journalism than a hundred Pulitzer citations. This has been Schwada's quizzical, irreverent M.O. in a medium that doesn't exactly exude wit, skepticism, or heterodox views. I don't want to make light of the loss of mainstream media salary and status, which can be pretty damn depressing. But I hope Schwada will bounce back in the brave new world of troublesome and ass-kicking media that is not produced in massive, zombie-proof studios with security guards. 

Post-Midnight Update: Here's evidence that I am not just making up that business about how nobody knew what time the shutdown would actually start: In a Los Angeles Times blog post that required two bylined authors, Myung Chun and Robert Gauthier have the shutdown beginning "Promptly at 7 p.m. Friday." But just three hours later, in a Los Angeles Times blog post that required three bylined authors, Irfan Khan, Ari Bloomekatz and Dan Weikel announce that midnight is "the official start of a planned 53-hour closure of the 405 Freeway." This is why, when we go to war with Eastasia, I'll only trust the L.A. Times to know how long we've been at war with Eastasia.