Dear U-Turns

13 Jul

Dear U-Turns,

The thing about Southern California is its wide streets. No, avenues. The thing about Southern California is its wide avenues. It really does have them, palm trees lining the partition down the middle if you’re on Coronado, palm trees lining the ocean, palm trees lining the sides of the neighborhood streets.

The thing about palm trees is they have shallow root structures, so when the wind blows, they topple. I once saw a house with a palm tree leaning against it, lazily, posturing, like a teenage girl against a locker.

The thing about palm trees is they’re fairly light, so the roof was intact. Imagine having a tree fall on your house and there not being any damage. Imagine walking outside and setting the tree upright and pushing in some soil around its base like it’s a new gladiolus, and saying, “There, there. It’s all right. I forgive you. Just try to fall the other way next time, ok?”

Wide avenues invite u-turns. They invite abrupt changing of one’s mind, one’s direction, one’s destination, they invite you to park in that open space, even if it is on the side of the street where you are not, because in a moment, with a wide sweep on the wheel, you can and will be.

Perhaps this speaks to the way people in Southern California are changeable, shiftless (two words that don’t make sense together, one indicating changing states of matter, the other a lack of will or energy to change, and yet). It used to be no one was from here. Now, everyone is from here, but not from here: that is, everyone is from California, but slightly north and east of here. Or they are from Arizona.

In Seattle, there are no u-turns. They’re illegal everywhere, and besides, the streets are too narrow. This is why everyone parks facing whichever direction they happen to be facing, whether their car is facing the right direction or not given the side of the street that they are parking on. This is not illegal in Seattle, or maybe it is, but no one cares. It’s a matter of necessity. I did a u-turn once in Seattle and felt a thrilling sense of lawlessness. Even at four-way stops, of which there are many in Seattle, no one does u-turns. A car in front of me once did and I felt outraged. I felt an outsized sense of anger on behalf of the stops that had been left behind.

This is because people stop thoroughly in Seattle and wave one another through the four-way stop, no you go, no after you. This superfluous politeness is maddening and endearing. The exception to this etiquette is the four-way stop at NE 41st St and 48th Ave NE, where everyone rolls right on through even though it’s near two blind hills and is at the corner of the park. People still stop for dogs there, though. Everyone likes dogs.

Or at least, no one wants to hit one.

But in Southern California, when a car abruptly and without signaling begins to arc in front of you, to draw a parabola, to establish their personal and directional freedom, to assert their right to change their mind, their course of life, their career, their yoga position, their eating habits, their religion, their allergies, their self-identification, to suddenly manifest their destiny right there at the very edge of the westernmost coast, you slow down, and you wait, and you think about whether or not you, too, ought to do a u-turn, because that wide avenue invites you to, if you would in fact like to do so. Take up this expanse, it says, lay your rubber all over my surface, establish your space, your personality, your borderless existence at the edge of the ocean. You instantly and abruptly forgive all u-turns in Southern California, because you have just done or are about to do the same, although you still might wonder why it is that we don’t have a signal on our bumpers to indicate such a thing. That would seem safe and precautionary.

Warning, it would say, forgive me, I am going somewhere else now, I have somebody else to meet or be.

The thing about palm trees is that they watch everything and they are constantly applauding.

MM

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