Carmageddon?

“People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles,” or so famously begins Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero.

This past weekend there was construction on a freeway in Los Angeles and for more than a month the media built up terror to the point where people were a) leaving town, b) planning to stay close to home for the entire weekend or c) planning on allowing outrageous amounts of extra time if they had to get anywhere.

Flights were scheduled from Burbank to Longbeach (usually about 45 minutes drive); helicopters were booking people so they could get to Los Angeles International airport from “the valley” (i.e. the wrong side of the tracks in LA, with Mullholland Drive being the winding strip of fancy track atop the crest that separates one side of a hill from another).  I live in the valley and work on the other side of the hill; I work on Saturdays, but my clients were afraid of the traffic so we decided to cancel in some cases or do phone sessions in others.

This potential Jean Luc Godard Weekend became known, and feared, as “Carmageddon.”  My mother called from Chicago, two days before the planned freeway closures so see if we were okay.  I heard people on the street saying things like “people have no idea how bad it’s going to be” (and that was after everyone was talking about how bad it was going to be).

I was fairly certain, in my heart of hearts, that the whole thing was hyped up nonsense and that traffic would be fine.  But in my gut of guts, and for no logical reason other than the power of the collective unconscious, I myself developed intense stomach pain late on Friday night.

Dictionary.com defines “Karma” as:  “action seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation… fate; destiny.”

The definition of “Armageddon” reads:  “the place where the final battle will be fought between the forces of good and evil (probably so called in reference to the battlefield of Megiddo.  Rev. 16: 16); the last and completely destructive battle.”

The UrbanDictionary.com defines “Karmageddon”:  “A portmanteau of ‘Karma’ and ‘Armageddon.’  References ‘shit hitting the fan’ in an extreme way while acknowledging one’s contributions to that event.  Specifically, when all the (usually unpleasant) stuff you’ve done comes back to you at once.”

When Saturday did arrive in our fair city of lost angels, despite the personal sensation that I had a dagger in my solar plexus, the traffic was just fine.  I went to see my acupuncturist and he inexplicably said that he’d been up in the middle of the night with the exact same symptom—and had needled himself for it, crying out in pain as he worked.  I wondered how much we might have picked up on each other’s pain… and on collective pain.  So many people suffer; in fact we all suffer, at some times and in some ways.  What we may not realize is that we are not alone, not alone even in our loneliness and in our despair… not alone even in our neurotic and, often enough, unfounded anxieties.

By Sunday I felt rather well, and I felt extremely grateful to just not feel in pain; and I felt delighted to have a simple walk, to taste Andy’s soy latte, to swim.  Andy looked over at a fly dying on its back beside the pool and said, “it’s dying.”  I said, “Maybe it’s stuck on its back.”  She said, “Things die.”

I realized that to feel like one is in heaven at any given moment, one must have felt like they were in hell at some other moment; otherwise there is no real context or meaning for extremes.

A state trooper said that maybe the reason Carmageddon turned out to be a non-event was because, for once, people did what was suggested:  stay close to home and have a relaxed weekend.

The air was crystal clear—no smog.  The roads were like Andy remembered from her childhood in the valley in the 60’s.  I started to think of the irony that a lovely chill weekend was the unintended, and certainly unpredicted, consequence of a plan to widen the freeway so that more cars could fit on it; I began to wonder whether closing the freeways once a month might be a great, green, way to make life better in LA and not worse.  Maybe it would be great to make the freeways narrower, make it stupider and stupider to drive so much…

But that’s not the way the collective works.  The ebb and flow of the zeitgeist is more powerful, and more inexplicable, than any individual will.  Sometimes we are swamped by tsunamis that have no clear relationship to our thoughts or feelings, much less to our behaviors (at least in the incarnations we are aware of).

And to live and die in LA is to exist upon “fault lines,” yet whose fault could it be that tectonic plates bump into each other and don’t say excuse me?  That at any moment the entire city could come crashing down around us is something about we live generally oblivious… and yet we shudder to think about slow traffic.  We’re funny, us humans.

So, once again, I make the case against fear… or perhaps it’s the case for fellowship in fear.  I make the case for staying closer to home and plugging into our selves and each other… and for also appreciating the speed of the web that allows us to connect across town and country, across world and across the dashed hopes of those great American women, and those equally noble Japanese strikers, of the World Cup.  Didn’t they all show us how to play with spirit, stamina, grace and sportswomanship?  And to think our countries were savage enemies less than seventy years ago, and that they played in Germany (against who we were fighting at that same time in not so remote history).

I had dinner with friends Friday night, in their lovely garden, and a spider started to build her web as the sun set and the trees overhead grew dark.  We stopped our human talk and watched her work, marveling at her industry, her dexterity… at the instinct that allowed her to know just what to do.

Compared to a spider we humans are so new in the world, so variable in how we do things.  How long will it take for us to arrive at instincts so spot-on that they do not change every few years, much less months or days or minutes?

Perhaps we don’t need to run about quite so much, as everywhere we arrive we’re still us all the same.  Perhaps we might cultivate our love and our compassion and our trust so assiduously that it begins to become instinct, perhaps we might realize that even in our darkest dread we are part of something much larger, and in it together with all our fellows, and all our flies and spiders; perhaps we might nurture our instinctive love for all our collective children rather than subverting it with fear of everybody else… and perhaps we may realize that when we expect hell we twist ourselves into knots and sell each other crap no one truly needs (from wars to all manner of “fixes” for our imagined shortcomings)… and instead breathe deeply and find ourselves in a simple and manifest heaven of living our lives and loving each other come what may…

Namaste, BD

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8 Responses to “Carmageddon?”

  1. meaganfrank Says:

    I soak up your perspective, and it unknots any of the potential anxiety that could be collecting in my own center. I appreciate the reminder to look at our existence as a collective, and my role in the energy that is found there. Thank you for today’s thought-provoking post! A great way for me to start my day…any day! MMF

  2. Mark Brady Says:

    Bruce, I think closing down ALL the LA Freeways would be a HUGE improvement for quality of life in the area. In fact, the advent cars and chairs may prove to be the leading causes of humanities decline into eventual oblivion. Ahhh. I love the smell of optimism in the morning.

  3. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    I wonder what would have happened if Carmageddon in LA had coincided with last winter’s Snowpocalypse in New York City. Imagine the TV pilots we’d have in store this fall.

    Your post makes me think of a quiet night my husband and I spent together on December 31, 1999. Warned by the press that Y2K was going to paralyze the city, we huddled in my small Upper West Side apartment, played board games, and toasted the new year the best way we’ve ever done it.

  4. Pamela Says:

    Ah. This post makes me homesick 🙂

    Great words of wisdom. I wonder how much of the current recession has to do with freaking out about the recession. Of course, that is a gross oversimplification, but still.

  5. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I love this post, Bruce, for the elegance in its logic – or at least – logic to some of us. Our non-aloneness. The need for the context and meaning of extremes so that appreciation flowers in the good moments. The possibility that by simple listening, by attentiveness, and sometimes by acting in our own interests (staying home), we actually make things better for everyone.

    Sometimes, warnings heeded are disasters averted. If only we learned these lessons more easily.

  6. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    You are so wise. How often do I gear myself up for the worst, twist myself in knots, and then realize that I’m making my own trouble?

  7. Wolf Pascoe Says:

    It was the same with the ’84 Olympics. It was predicted the city would not be able to support the traffic–things would come to a standstill. Food couldn’t be brought in. There would be riots.

    It was the most peaceful, un-crowded, lovely interval. The pace slowed. You noticed things. Strangers stopped to talk.

    We were all sort of … in it together.

  8. Being Rudri Says:

    The recent headline about Carmageddon reminded me of all of the anxiety surrounding Y2K. Much ado about nothing at all. I realize that sometimes, in my personal life, I am creating anxiety about potential worst case scenarios. Ultimately things turn out to be fine and in retrospect I realize how much of my angst was really created by me and not the situation.

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