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The 5 and Whine 

To appreciate L.A. properly, do you have to take Interstate 5 to get there? Maybe. Just maybe.

Wednesday, Dec 29 2004
Ah, the holidays -- that joyous time of year when so many San Francisco residents find themselves obliged, yet again, to make the torment-filled trip down Interstate 5 to Southern California. The trek guarantees heavy holiday traffic, a bathroom calamity of some sort, and a stunning dearth of even remotely interesting scenery. Indeed, the 400-plus miles of Interstate 5 between the Bay Area and Los Angeles comprise one of the most unforgiving spans between two metropolises in the United States, a dusty and gusty stretch of few services or towns. But I-5 is fast, especially in comparison to state Highways 101 and 1, and the ability to roar 80 miles per hour (at least) through Central California is often too tempting for holiday motorists. Are you, too, an apologist for the grisly drive known as "taking the 5"? Take our quiz and find out!

1) Imagine the following scenario: It's a few weeks before Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's, and the wife is discussing possible means of transport to her folks' house in Orange County. Airplane tickets are booked or expensive, and a leisurely crawl down the coast will be too time-consuming. She suggests you grin and bear it on Interstate 5. How do you respond?

A) "Sure. Have your lawyer call my lawyer."

B) "OK, but if we break down in one of those 'no service for 50 miles' areas, I ain't knockin' on the farm door this time."

C) "Yee-haw! I'll slap a new 'United We Stand' bumper sticker on the SUV and fill up the tank! We won't have to stop for gas until Pleasanton!"

2) Keeping children occupied in the back seat is one of the most difficult challenges for parents on Interstate 5. What special games do you play during the trip to quiet the kids and prevent them from screaming, "Are we there yet?"

A) 20 Questions -- the roadkill version.

B) I tell the kids to imagine they're Frodo Baggins, a wee hobbit entrusted with the arduous delivery of a magical ring through a barren, orc-populated wasteland. It kills 15 minutes.

C) Do drinking games count?

3) Which of the following unpleasant quotations are you mostly like to hear during a road trip on Interstate 5?

A) "Mommy, what's that in the Porta Potti?"

B) "Jesus Christ, that's a stench! Do they burn cattle at Harris Ranch?"

C) "Rest stop! Crank up the polka!"

4) From 18-wheel trucks to tiny European imports, the variety of automobiles that traverses I-5 is truly astonishing. In your mind, what kind of car is most at home on the freeway?

A) The Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

B) Horse trailers doing 50 in the left-hand lane seem popular these days.

C) Probably my big yellow Hummer that takes up a lane and a half and part of the shoulder. I know the other drivers really appreciate my brights during stop-and-start traffic.

5) Because attractions are few and far between in Central California, drivers and passengers have to find ways to pass the time. What provides amusement for you during a long I-5 trip?

A) Thoughts of suicide.

B) Dirt. (Bonus point for adding: "I also spend a lot of time thinking about fast and efficient rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles that makes way too much sense to ever really happen.")

C) The signs that say, "Speed monitored by aircraft."

6) Many California motorists have a strategy for driving the Golden State Freeway, and a preferred time of day or week for making the trek. What, to you, are the ideal conditions for taking I-5?

A) In the back of an ambulance, deceased. (Bonus point for adding: "But with the sirens blaring, to make better time.")

B) You know those medications with the labels that warn users not to drive or operate heavy machinery? Well, they don't say a word about not driving on I-5 ....

C) Hey, anytime I can roar up behind responsibly driven cars going about 75 mph, make them pull over, and allow jackasses speeding upward of 110 to have free rein, I'm OK. Also, I'm a California highway patrolman.

7) And finally, what's your favorite place to stop along Interstate 5?

A) The Pea Soup Anderson's in Santa Nella. I dunno, I just think it's good for the kids to get an authentic Danish roadside experience in the middle of California whenever possible.

B) The In-N-Out Burger in Kettleman City. If you pull in during nonpeak hours, it's only a 45-minute wait for the lukewarm Double-Double that you'll regret as soon as you're back on the highway.

C) Stop?

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: We know, we know. Next time you're definitely taking the 101.

7-10 points: You're right: Who needs trees and gas stations, anyway?

11-14 points: There's nothing like I-5, is there? Although I hear downtown Fallujah is beautiful this time of year.

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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