Thursday, October 11, 2007

My Trip to the Yukon*

(*Avenue Undercrossing)

“Truth,” as they say, “is the first casualty of war.” This is a maxim that stands from the very top ranks of generals down to the lowliest footsoldier. With that in mind, you may choose to believe the events I recount here or not. Only God and the 405 northbound will stand as my witness.

Between the smoldering refineries of Carson and the megalopolis surrounding LAX there is a place they call Torrance, a vast, unknowable labyrinth of suburbs, strip malls and apartment complexes. Through the heart of this strange land runs a freeway called the 405: twelve lanes of some of the densest traffic in the world. Surrounded entirely by concrete soundwalls, those on the freeway have no clue as to what might lay beyond. It was just before noon and I was heading northbound for LA when I saw it: a small strip of fence right next to the northbound lanes: the Yukon Avenue undercrossing… I knew in an instant that I had to make it mine.

I knew from the start it wasn’t going to be easy: the next exit wasn’t for another mile and a half, and there was no telling what sort of hell awaited me on the surface streets. They don’t call it “Torrance” for nothing. But a piece of fence like that… well, that’s one of those things a freewayblogger lives for.

In war there are three kinds of engagements: skirmishes, battles, and slaughters. As any soldier lucky enough to survive will attest, when a battle is going to become a slaughter, you know it from the start, and the Artesia exit from the northbound 405 was no exception.

The moment I got on the offramp I knew it was a mistake: instantly I was forced back under the freeway, and then to a massive intersection with no U-turns allowed. I decided to go straight, hoping to seize my first opportunity to turn around, but was thwarted at every turn. Feinting right, then left, I found myself on roads from which there were no exits, boulevards as hopelessly divided as the country I was trying to save. Within minutes I was hopelessly lost, cursing myself and my damnable hubris. I could’ve just kept going, safe on the 405… but no, I just had to find that fence.

As had many a soldier before me, I tried to imagine happier times to come, grandchildren on my knee. “Were there really U-Turns, Grandpa?” they’d ask… “Were there really dead-ends?” “Yes,” I’d tell them, “there were U-Turns and dead-ends. There was even one point where I had to cut through a gas-station to make a right…” “Wow…” they’d say.

After what seemed like minutes of driving, and probably was, I saw an onramp back to the 405, the large green sign beckoning like the sirens of yore. Call it weakness, or maybe just the instinct to survive, but with one simple turn of the wheel I gave up my quest for Yukon Avenue and found myself safe again on the 405 heading north.

It seemed impossible, but somehow the streets of Torrance had dragged me even further south than I’d imagined. Again the soundwall broke to my right, exposing the stark, maddening linkage of the Yukon Avenue fence: So close I could almost touch it.

For the next mile and a half I tried to banish it from my mind. Choose your battles… I told myself, try again some other day… But when the Artesia exit reared it’s ugly head, something took hold of me and I cranked the wheel to the right. Again I found myself sucked down into the streets of Torrance.

Whether it was luck, insanity, or some divine guiding light, when I reached that first large intersection I did the unthinkable: I turned right, heading even further north of the Yukon. Immediately I saw a spur road cutting off to the right and back under the freeway, intersecting with a road known only as Redondo Beach Blvd. Inspired more by madness than method I made another right and three blocks later I saw it: the shining path of Yukon Avenue.

I drove down the avenue slowly, as if in a dream, coming to only in time to size up the embankment next to the undercrossing. It was as perfect as I’d imagined it to be: twenty or thirty feet of mild, sandy slope was all that stood between the sidewalk and the fence. The nearest parking was about a hundred feet away, and after parking I shut off the engine and collapsed against the wheel. Some fifteen or sixteen minutes had past since I first saw that fence, but believe me my friends, in the heat of the struggle it seemed more like twenty-three or twenty-four.

Steeling myself for this last, most crucial part of the battle, I walked to the back of my truck, picked out a small sign and a couple of bungees. Folding the sign discreetly I walked a hundred or so feet down the sidewalk and scrambled up the embankment to Glory.

Many, many more battles were to be fought that day: all of Los Angeles lay yet before me. Fences, overpasses, side streets, frontage roads… each of which could’ve easily led to my capture or doom. Such is the lot of the freewayblogger. Whatever lay ahead though, I knew in my heart that the 405 northbound through Torrance was mine.

At the end of the day, as I wearily drove back south, I glanced to my left across twelve lanes of traffic and saw, like the Star-Spangled banner that inspired the anthem of our nation, that my sign was still there.

That is my story, only one of many thousands in this humble signposter’s dossier. You can choose to believe it or not – such are the vagueries of narrative here on the internet. The truth of the matter will only be known to God and the commuters on the northbound 405.

Update as of October 21st: Still There!

9 comments: said...


Max in Raleigh said...

I love it. I know that highway, it is hell, but I smile knowing that the truth has visited it and is shining bright. Something tells me that in that neighborhood the sign will stay up for a while.


Chris said...

Great read, but it deserves to be read by one of them narrators from Ken Burns' documentaries. Grainy film... harmonica... a little crackle in the voice...

I wouldn't be able to hold back the waterworks.

Rick Hegdahl said...

Awesome story my friend. I haven't seen you up this way since we did signs in North Seattle last year. I bought a used overhead projector recently so now all I need is to make some overlays for it. Keep up the good work!!


I am Sime in the UK said...

An epic adventure told with great humour (yes, that's humour - I'm english!). Thanks for sharing and good luck with your future battles, my friend.

::mwah:: said...

"boulevards as hopelessly divided as the country I was trying to save."


“Were there really U-Turns, Grandpa?” they’d ask… “Were there really dead-ends?” “Yes,” I’d tell them, “there were U-Turns and dead-ends. There was even one point where I had to cut through a gas-station to make a right…” “Wow…” they’d say.

Cuz our kids will be driving flying cars :)

Let me know when you're "flying" back to Sac again.

the dissident said...


that was pure poetry--really engaging, and that dry wit... very inspiring! got some work to do. ;p

Sparkle Plenty said...

Wonderful. As I read, the voice inside my head was Ken Nordine's.

United We Lay said...

Very, very nice!