Thirteen: Car Tag on the 101

Posted: November 1, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row

After about thirty minutes I woke up and saw Jack bent to the steering wheel. Something wasn’t right. We were going way too fast.

A silver pickup suddenly appeared to the right of us, then broke past our car before hitting a steady speed about five car lengths ahead.

“See this Toyota pickup here, we’ve been playing tag all night,” Jack said as he kicked down on the accelerator, crept up alongside the car and tried to overtake. He was going about 80mph, well over the speed limit.

“Let me teach you about driving, Tom. When you’re in a situation like this where you’re playing tag you’ve got to keep pushing the guy. See, I’m pushing him right now; I’m going to push him all the way back to LA.”

Jack “pushed” past the car, zoomed ahead as if making a declaration of victory and then sat back, watching in the rear-view mirror for the pickup’s next move. About five minutes passed before the pickup saw an opening and calmly overtook us, establishing itself in the lead once again. It was about 9pm and traffic along Highway 101 was heavy but moving.

The game carried on like this until Jack lost the pickup somewhere near LA. I was amazed we weren’t pulled over by cops – Jack drove nearly the whole way from Santa Barbara going at least 10mph over the limit. By the time we reached our exit my sister and mother had woken up, completely oblivious to the car chase we had been playing for the past hour.

Later I did some research and discovered The Car Tag Manifesto online. Urban Dictionary describes the game as an activity “enjoyed by young adults whom have recently aquired drivers licenses (sic)” – there are always exceptions.

We took the off-ramp into darkness and followed a winding mountain road through pitch-black night. It’s amazing how dark it can be up in the mountains, when you are just a few miles away from the enormous grid of burning filament and neon spread over the Los Angeles Basin.

We came out in the northern stretch of Beverly Hills, not far from home. We didn’t know for certain where we were until we spotted actual mansions hiding behind tall hedges. These weren’t the McMansions of the flats – the part of Beverly Hills I was staying in – these were the stately homes of Los Angeles, the buildings which will be bought up by charities and opened to the public after the age of celebrity has ended and Hollywood’s steady decline to nothing is recorded as yet another historical example of an exploitative system based on idolatry withering to dust.

Something about the darkness of these hills changed the tone of the evening; it made me feel like we were driving past living relics desperately fighting off entropy. I don’t know why I got like this. Maybe it’s the craziness brought on by living under two skies: the warm California sun and the cold California stars.

Maybe it’s because serene darkness and jasmine can be worse for the soul than glaring sunlight and carbon monoxide. Maybe it’s like Marlowe said. Maybe we all get like this in the cold half-lit world where always the wrong thing happens and never the right.

Tune in on Tuesday for the next installment of The Road to Skid Row.

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