By Rosanna Ferraro-Jensen
I live in Santa Monica, and have lived here for over 20 years. My husband and I rarely drive in the city during the weekends, as we prefer to walk and avoid dealing with Santa Monica traffic and parking issues.
But last night I decided to drive to dinner thinking ,"What the heck-I never drive to downtown SM. How bad can traffic be? After all, I am only driving 1.2 miles."
Everything was fine, until I reached 5th and Santa Monica Blvd. where the gridlock began.
"Normal for this area on a weekend," I thought to myself.
Little did I know that my turning West onto Santa Monica Blvd. would lead into an ocean of madness and mayhem-imagine the unpredictability of Mr Toad’s Wild Ride in gridlock, surrounded by an ocean of red tail lights, and constantly flowing waves of pedestrians moving in all directions.
"Whoa! Now I know why we never drive in SM on the weekends!" I took a deep breath and decided to use this experience as an exercise in mindfulness, practicing presence and being in the moment…(like a true Santa Monica resident).
All was well…until the "No Left Turn" signs began, "Huh?! When did that happen? I have been turning left here for over 20 years?"
I reminded myself to inhale as I looked straight into the glowing red lights of gridlock ahead, continuing my Sunday night stopped in DTSM traffic.
Practicing patience and breathing, noticing the facial expressions of the drivers all around me, I eventually was able to make a left turn and felt a sigh of relief, thinking," OK, I can do this. Almost there."
Until I saw the next "No Left Turn" sign up ahead,"What the bleep!" (Not the movie reference in this moment)!
I wish I could say that my mindfulness practice continued throughout the next 50 minutes of my "drive"…but the "No Left Turn" signs continued, and my breathing was needed to carry out every imaginable creative maneuver, and brilliant idea, to find a parking spot-anywhere-to make it to dinner on time! (Almost anywhere…that is.)
A "Public Parking" sign appeared as an oasis amid the red tail lights, and hope quickly returned as I turned towards the sign into the driveway. From my driver’s seat I bowed a grateful Namaste bow to the parking attendant as she smiled and proceeded to inform me, "$25 for parking please."
"Oi! Is this really happening? Mamma mia. No thank you!" I turned into the unknown alley where she redirected me and was instantly stopped, greeted once again by (you guessed it) the now infamous red sea of tail lights. The drivers of these cars, apparently people who had also been seduced and redirected by the once hopeful parking oasis sign.
The rest of my story continues in the same manner, as red stop signs (held by pedestrian traffic control people in reflective yellow vests), more street signs, and "One Way" arrows redirected me to take an unsolicited tour circling past, Tongva Park, SM City Hall, the SM Police Station, the 10 Freeway, Sears, and Leaf & Petal Nursery (a true green oasis in our city).
Finally, I was able to make a Left Turn! "I don’t think I have ever felt so happy and grateful to see a signaling green left turn arrow in my lifetime!"
Hope returned as I made it onto Colorado Blvd. and saw the familiar Public Parking Structure of Santa Monica Place, where the first 90 minutes are free. Kindness has returned. A hopeful sign appeared-"62 parking spaces" available on the 4th Level Parking. "Hurray!"
I made it to dinner just a few minutes late, and my friends and I began our conversation sharing our stories of traffic and being redirected, trying to make it into DTSM for a Sunday night dinner with friends. (Think SNL "The Californians")
During dinner at Tru Food, grateful for time with my friends, and my delicious kale salad, I revered the beauty, and richness experienced in the simple joys of life-good friends, good food.
Somehow I felt nostalgic for a simpler Santa Monica I once knew, where the natural beauty and peaceful vibe of the city drew me here to call my home.
I could not help but feel that it is not only the traffic which needs to be redirected in our city…perhaps a redirection of the vision for our city?
August 8, 2016