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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Drivers Get to Me Here

Having lived in Colorado for the majority of my life, I was taught at a young age that there is no such thing as a stranger. Although a big city, my mom has repeatedly told me stories that end in, “what a small world.” Something as simple as talking to the check-out lady at a grocery store could end in an outlandish connection she has with one of your good friends. And week after week, you see this same lady and your relationship blossoms. The way people interact in Colorado was one of the hardest things to leave behind, because the minute you say hello to a stranger in Los Angeles, they give you that look of confusion that has a way of saying “why are you talking to me?,” that makes me homesick for friendliness.

Moving to Los Angeles, I knew it had its perks, but one of the major drawbacks and annoyances is its traffic. Unless I’m in a rush to get somewhere, I don’t mind sitting in my car looking like a crazy person as I sing aloud to myself. Having someone in the passenger seat makes the ride even more entertaining. It is a time for conversations that people may otherwise be too busy to have. The concept of being an “L.A. driver” is something my roommate and I have discussed at large, and have come to the conclusion that after four years of living here, we too have developed the tendency to drive with a lead foot and a selfish approach.

The use of horns and middle fingers are not uncommon among the cars that crowd the highways and main streets. When someone makes a mistake, it won’t go unnoticed. They are made ashamed of their traffic faux pas and either learn to never do it again or be humiliated once more the next time it happens. When it’s time for me to exit off the 405, I put on my blinker a mile beforehand, hoping that someone will see it and let me slowly make my way over to the far right lane. Every time someone decides to keep their foot on the brake instead of accelerating six feet ahead, I do something most Californian’s don’t seem to know exists. I put up a hand, but not in a gesture that exudes rage. Rather, I give off a simple wave as a way to say “thank you for driving like a normal person should.”

Friends from Colorado recently came to visit me and one in particular noticed that I had fallen into some of the aloof habits that most Los Angelinos are known for. While downtown, I simply ignored a man’s plea for money, instead of explaining to him “I don’t have any right now.” Being that he stayed in Colorado for college, my friend was perturbed by the fact that four years ago, I would have once provided that man at least some words of justification. It had never occurred to me before that I had picked up on the cold patterns I hated so much when I first moved here. Looking back on it, I found that when I make my weekly visits to the neighborhood grocery store, I still have the same tendency to smile and ask how their day is going. But when a stranger talks to me, instead of getting a feeling of ease, I am more reserved, and well, creeped out. I don’t know whether to associate this with the fact that it is a bigger, stranger city than I am used to, or that I have lost that friendliness I was once homesick for.

When driving back from downtown, I made my way through traffic and waved at a particular person who helped me exit on time. That wave did not go unnoticed. My friend looked at me and said, “Well, at least some things haven’t changed.” I am always happy to see when strangers gesture a “thank you” wave to me as I let them in my lane. If I were to keep track of the few that have, I would say the majority of them were cars with out of state license plates. Apparently, the signal of friendliness was not taught to those who grew up in Los Angeles. Hopefully, I can help change their ways, one wave at a time.

--Jackie DiBiase


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