If you’re the news media who has been spending the last 3 months obsessing over a sensational trial in Florida that came to an end with a great big thud last week, there was a huge news void this past weekend. That is, until someone invented the mythic term, Carmageddon and declared that all of Southern California would become an apocalyptic, impassable traffic war zone with the closing of the 405 Freeway for two days in July. Or not….
With an office in Encino and a home in Westwood, I was on the front line of this conflagration of automotive terror that all of us here in Los Angeles were told would descend upon us this past weekend. So I headed out on Saturday into the wild of the Sepulveda Pass to see for myself what this whole Carmageddon thing was really all about. I went looking for some good photos to post on “The Beat,” and instead found myself in a surreal, once in a lifetime, world late Saturday afternoon on the 405.
Paralyzed with the fear that I might actually have to walk, ride a bike or even take a bus to get around this weekend, I stocked up with more supplies than I would have needed to ride out a natural disaster. Spurred on by CNN reports showing empty L.A streets I braved the wilds of Carmageddon to the gym. What I found was a Los Angeles more deserted than I have ever seen it. Maybe only the 1984 Olympics rivaled the lack of automotive activity I observed.
Smelling a rat I decided to grab my trusty Canon Camera and roared up Sepulveda Boulevard heading north to the site of the demolition of one of the two bridges spanning the Sepulveda pass expecting a log jam. What I found was the most delightful driving experience I have ever had in this city.
Passing Wilshire Boulevard there were City Traffic Control Officers at all the major intersections. Teams of CHP and LAPD motorbikes were pre-positioned up and down critical spots in West Los Angeles. LAFD Fire units could also be spotted here and there. What I did not see were…..cars. How do you get Carmageddon with no cars?
Further on, and heading towards no man’s land I may have seen all of ten vehicles as I crossed Sunset. Could this be true? Was the terror campaign so successful that literally no one in California dared to approach the Sepulveda pass? The resounding answer was yes.
I was able to get glimpses of the abandoned 405 from spots on the way up to Sepulveda, but the Department of Transportation had closed off any possible spot where a looky loo, like me, might park and take a photo. Blast! The Getty lots were closed. The Skirball lots were closed and there was nowhere to park and get my shots. That is, until I got to Mountain Gate, that pristine enclave built on a methane laden landfill, that sits at the top of the Santa Monica Mountains with unobstructed views of the 405 in both directions. Here I found two other intrepid photographers who had the urge to get out and view the apocalypse through their viewfinder. We got some great shots; well I know I did.
Further on I made it to the site of the demolition itself and had no problem parking my car in the massive media camp covering this non-event, wire to wire, and snapped a couple more pics of the actual demolition. Perhaps there were another 15-20 folks up there snapping photos and that was it.
My mission complete I made my way back across the one open bridge and discovered that the City had been holding out on us. The Southbound ramp connecting the Valley to the City at Mulholland and Sepulveda was wide open. The damn freeway was open and no one was on it. I mean no one. The laid back blond haired CHP officer, straight out of “CHiPs”, manning the on ramp chit chatting with the neighbors invited me onto to the ramp which would bring me back to the City. I froze.
“But wait! You guys told us the freeway was closed in both directions!” Not so fast, this was a massive deception. So I tepidly rolled onto the 405 bound for home and found myself the only vehicle on the freeway…..period. After about a mile, I began having a panic attack thinking I had been set-up. This can’t be, no one else is here. No Cal Trans. No CHP, just me and 8 lanes of highway. I saw a CHP squad car starting to roll up behind me and I thought, this was it, I’d been had. I’m going to jail. But he just kept on rolling, and I snuck off at Sunset with the glee of a bandit who had just successfully knocked off a bank.
I did manage to find one Cal Trans vehicle who I trailed for a bit to make myself look a bit more legit. You know, because Cal Trans is known to stock its fleet with Mustang Convertibles. The whole thing was eerie. Though my ride on the empty 405 lasted all of 10 minutes it was one of the most surreal Los Angeles moments I have ever had. No doubt only myself and a handful of others got this chance to drive on the wide open 405 by oneself. This highway that handles millions of cars a day, was all mine. Thank you Carmageddon. Next year I am going to Plank.
So in the end the City and the media did it’s job, maybe too well. The demolition ended a day early, and sadly, the 405 is open and it’s business as usual again on the streets of Los Angeles. But for one glorious day in July I owned the road and it was great!
Brian Michaels is a lawyer, photographer and writer. His photos from Carmageddon can be found on his website at www.brianmichaelsphoto.com in the Los Angeles section of the portfolio.