A recent article in the Hollywood Reporter reported that Beverly Hills is courting the manufacturers of self-driving autonomous vehicles as a way to reduce traffic congestion and to be a beacon of modernity to the nation… And I just don’t trust it. I don’t trust it at all.
Here’s the thing: People in LA are called “Angelenos,” those residing in Santa Monica are “Santa Monicans,” but people living in Beverly Hills are… “people living in Beverly Hills” which makes me wary of this whole “self-driving car” thing.
Angelenos (and I’m including all residents of metro LA) have a special relationship with cars, and more specifically, car culture. In a recent un-scientific survey of conversations I’ve overheard in the past 72 hours, 77% of the content of those conversations involved 1) traffic, 2) how to avoid traffic, 3) how the traffic was unavoidable, and 4) how bad traffic will be on the way to the next place the people are going. The remaining 23% of the content covered gym workouts and diets. I rarely go to the gym, and I don’t diet, but I do have a car — you do the math.
A big part of LA’s car culture mythology is the demise of the Red Car, and how it is basically to blame for all of LA’s ills:
High gas prices? “They wouldn’t be high if we still had the Red Car.”
Traffic? “If we still had the Red Car we could get from downtown to the beach in 7 minutes.”
High cholesterol? “If we still had the Red Car, I’d probably have to run to catch it, which would keep me fit and then I wouldn’t need my statin drugs… Please pass the brie.”
Lacking a common language (ever try to talk to someone from Venice?), the hatred of traffic is what keeps us united as a people. New York has pizza, we have traffic. As a matter of fact, I’m so sick of people complaining that our pizza isn’t as good as New York’s, that anytime I go to NYC I make a big show of scoffing at what they call “traffic” (which, actually, is ridiculously horrendous).
But, I digress…
The thing is this whole self-driving car idea would destroy the one cultural bond we Angelino’s have. And let’s say that we did get self-driving cars, what type of world would we be living in? As it is now, we tailgate, we stomp on brakes to show our displeasure of being tailgated, we make last minute lane changes that slow down everyone else on the freeway, and then we complain when other people do it.
Texting while driving has led to slower driving speeds, innumerable missed green lights (because the guy in front of us is tweeting), and erratic driving that completely messes with the flow of traffic — such that, we are guaranteed to be in horrible moods when we finally get to where we were going. And upon arrival we can talk about 1) traffic, 2) how to avoid traffic, 3) how the traffic was unavoidable, and 4) how bad traffic will be on the way to the next place the people are going.
And now Beverly Hills wants to upset the apple cart. What could they possibly be getting out of this? And then it hit me: A lot of the people living in Beverly Hills spend a lot of time at the gym… and they diet.
You know, this wouldn’t be happening if we still had the Red Car.