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The Knack

How To Survive The LA Traffic

Five tips to see you through the gridlock without ending up like Mr Michael Douglas in Falling Down

One of the secrets about life in Los Angeles is that the natives rarely discuss traffic. To outsiders, it’s a plague, and they are aghast as to how anyone can spend 104 hours a year on average idling in stop-and-go monotony – more than any other metropolis on the globe. To visitors and newbies, traffic is the fundamental fact of the city, the first thing you notice, as it is in the first scene in La La Land, (a film, notably, written and directed by an adopted-Angeleno raised in Princeton, New Jersey).

If you’re from this sun-split, palm tree-consecrated, cultural mosaic – or here long enough – you eventually become one with traffic. It becomes as elemental a fixture in your life as the taco truck down the street, the diamond-clustered Pacific at the end of the land, and the urban coyotes and mountain lions that remind you just how wild the West is. Almost a half century ago, Ms Eve Babitz succinctly summed it up: “You can’t write a story about LA that doesn’t turn around in the middle or get lost.” That’s as close as you’ll find to a geographical philosophy undergirding this immaculately fractured city. But at least now we have Waze – a free, community-based GPS. Here are the keys to the city.

01. Take Fountain


On an otherwise long-forgotten episode of The Tonight Show, Mr Johnny Carson asked Ms Bette Davis for her advice to aspiring starlets trying to get to Hollywood. She famously quipped, “Take Fountain”. It’s a sound way to avoid the gawking hordes of tourists that clot Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard, but also a metaphorical skeleton key to understand the city. LA’s deepest charms only reveal themselves to the initiated, where you pull the candelabra, the wall rotates, and you’re suddenly in another world within seconds. It’s streets like Pico, Olympic, Crenshaw, Rosecrans Avenue, Whittier Boulevard and Fountain that reveal the quirks of the civic character.

02. Know where to get the good eats


In the case of Fountain, it features some of the city’s most clandestinely delicious restaurants. Run by a husband and wife team, Wat Dong Moon Lek serves up marrow-healing Thai chicken noodle soup, shrimp and pork dumplings, and spicy tom kha udon. The Kitchen, a tiny canteen at the edge of Silver Lake has a god-level bacon turkey burger as thick as a bodybuilder’s forearm. Not to slight 55-year-old Casita del Campo, either, located as it is in a charming twinkling-pink Spanish colonial building, and featuring heaping platters of burritos and enchiladas. Founded by a former dancer in West Side Story, it might be LA’s best traditional fresh-Mex sit-down restaurant. And lest you start to drag mid-commute, Dinosaur Coffee at the intersection of Fountain and Sunset does the artisanal Angeleno coffee drip as well as/better than the chains.

03. The playlist


If Los Angeles was the news media capital of the US, its musicians would be routinely valorised with more depth than the usual tropes of LA: you know, sun and smog, surf and hair spray, guns and palm trees, and simplistic joys of being mellow. Forget the Eagles and amiable Laurel Canyon suffering, LA nurtured the roots of hardcore punk (Black Flag), the Our Band Could Be Your Life DIY ethos (Minutemen), psychedelic rock (Love, The Doors, The Byrds), gangsta rap (Ice-T, NWA, Death Row Records, DJ Quick) and, more recently, the punk thrashers that got their start in The Smell venue, players in the city’s Beat Scene who made their mark at infamous night Low End Theory (which sadly wrapped up its decade-long run just last night) and a street-rap renaissance that might be the country’s most compelling. Here’s a nine-hour playlist of the best music to emerge from the concrete jungles to the bucolic canyon hideaways and everywhere in between. It should at least get you from San Pedro to Chatsworth at rush hour.

04. Don’t forget your mantra


The single most irritating stereotype, perpetuated by shoddy East Coast parachute profiles, is that Angelenos are all flaky lotus-eaters desperate for enlightenment, who quaff $27 activated-charcoal concoctions while giving themselves botox injections. And sure, West Hollywood Equinox is a real thing. So is the consciousness racket in parts of Venice. But most of its four million people live their lives as far away from those scenes as possible.

However, going insane in an overly crowded, exorbitantly expensive metropolis is a very real threat. So there are things like the David Lynch Foundation, an organisation dedicated to helping adults and children get into transcendental meditation – a vital bulwark against your commute turning into Lost Highway. The Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in the Pacific Palisades is a gorgeous and bucolic escape not far from the beach. There’s always The Getty Center, a Mr Richard Meier-built eyrie smack dab in the middle of the city. Not to mention that there are plenty of therapists who do phone sessions should you want to multitask on the 405. It’s also worth noting that as soon as your car is sedentary for the evening, marijuana is now legal in California. My personal favorite is Mota in Silver Lake…

05. Go for a hike


Perchance you have heard of a little thing called Instagram and thus inevitably have seen 742 million photos of impossibly beautiful and basic people feebly flexing in yoga pants in Runyon Canyon. It is corny and played out, yes, but this is a valuable diversion for the rest of us in the city. By creating a Valencia-filtered vortex for the part-time model set, these people have opened up wide swaths of the city for the real citizens of the city who don’t have a FitTea sponsorship. You can go to the Bronson Caves, where the TV show Batman was filmed, or Lake Hollywood. Griffith Park can be overly crowded, but its sheer vastness allows for solace. Same with Elysian Park, just in the shadow of Dodger Stadium. And if you’re looking for one of the best views of the city, Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood is refreshingly low-key and happens to feature the recently restored Hollyhock House, designed by Mr Frank Lloyd Wright and available for tours if you time it right.