I was booked to speak at Whittier College in the Los Angeles area this weekend. Even though it was a long way to travel, I chose to drive because flying can be so frustrating and it takes way more time than the flight time would suggest. And then there’s the whole getting from LAX to Whittier…not fun.
Anyway, Los Angeles traffic lives up to its reputation. It’s a gamble every time you venture in, and the odds are you’re gonna lose a lot of time sitting still on a road designed to be speedy. And you’re not surrounded by palm trees and glistening oceans, either. Cement, barbed wire, graffiti, and tail lights--that’s the LA scenery you’ll see. The only time I like driving through LA is at three in the morning. It’s actually really cool to zoom through at that hour.
When it’s not three in the morning, you really have to concentrate ‘cause locals are crazy and not afraid to show it. They zig in front of you only to slam on their brakes before zagging out to do the same to someone else. So it takes concentration and patience to stay out of trouble, and by the time you’ve negotiated traffic for hours, you’re beat up tired, even though all you’ve really done is sit and stress.
Double-anyway, I knew all that going in, so that tells you how fond I am of flying. But a strange thing happened on the way into LA—we didn’t hit any real traffic. There were a few places where we crept along, but overall it was 55-60mph—excellent for LA freeways.
And then everyone on the 101 started noticing a big ol’ plane coming toward us. Not just a big ol’ plane, but a big ol’ plane with two little jets escorting it.
If you had told me that I would get all teared up seeing the shuttle fly overhead, I’d have said, Yeah, nah. But this was close. I’m talking right there. And as we drove along I realized we were timed such that it was going to fly directly over us.
Something about seeing it fly up close and personal really got to me. It made me proud to be American. It made me proud of all the people who dreamt it, designed it, and built it…and dared to fly into space in it. Seeing it fly piggybacked on a 747 overhead was, in the best sense of the word, awesome.
And yeah, I teared up.
I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Right there on the 101 some people pulled over, got out of their cars and cheered. Most drivers slowed down to a creep—one eye on the car ahead, one eye on the shuttle above. It’s a wonder there weren't pileups galore.
In short order it was gone, but right there in LA traffic, surrounded by cement and barbed wire and graffiti, I was given one of the best visual moments of my life.
Glad I drove.