Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

For Carmageddon, a song of the week: "Why'd you want to live here?"

In honor of Carmageddon, and the existential crises it threatens to cause, this week Pacific Swell is reclaiming Death Cab for Cutie's "Why'd you want to live here?".

I'm in Los Angeles today...

It smells like an airport runway.

Jet fuel stenches in the cabin

And lights flickering at random.

I'm in Los Angeles today...

Garbage cans comprise the medians of freeways always creeping

Even when the population's sleeping.

And I can't see why you'd want to live here.

I'm in Los Angeles today...

Asked a gas station employee

if he ever had trouble breathing

And he said "It varies from season to season, kid."

The lights flickering at random are probably the blackouts and brownouts; this song came out on Death Cab's 2001 album, The Photo Album. It works for Carmageddon because of the "garbage cans comprising the medians of freeways always creeping/even when the population's sleeping" (as seen above). And the rest of the lyrics as the song opens reference bad air and fossil fuels: environmental problems that Angelenos share, somewhat unequally, certainly universally (unless you're living in a Michael-Jackson-like oxygen chamber). 

Carmageddon's hype at this point requires it to be the construction project that shook Los Angeles to its very core this weekend, or a waste of overtime for news reporters. In truth, of course, it'll be somewhere in between. 

And that's how it is with Los Angeles. I was born in San Francisco, and when I go home, I get from some people a 45-degree head tilt, and a sympathetic, "how ARE you?" as though I'm in some sort of prison quarry here. LA makes a bigger mess of itself, pollution-wise, traffic-wise, probably otherwise. But it often cleans itself up faster, and on a bigger scale, too. It rewards the curious. And I don't even believe Ben Gibbard really doesn't like Los Angeles as much as these lyrics suggest. These lyrics speak of someone convincing themselves or someone they love that this isn't a worthy destination. Which is also probably easy to do on the 405. 

Maybe you'll be stuck in Carmageddon traffic this weekend. Or in echo-traffic around the Carmageddon mess. Or taxiing the runway on a plane to Long Beach. But you can also walk in beautiful parklands. Bicycle along boardwalks. Swim in your local pool. Sheltering in place doesn't have to suck, not with temperatures in the mid-seventies, and you don't have to buy something to stay out of trouble. My neigborhood's walkability score is in the mid-nineties. I can stroll somewhere to watch the American women's soccer team kick some butt. And if you can't get someplace you want to be without a freeway, if every thought you think about this land is about its lack in some area, if the thrumming baseline of this song doesn't give you the slightest hope or anticipation about something here, if you can't see the possibility of transcendence in the immanence of a traffic's a perfectly great reason to think about what you'd want your city to look like, if you were to make it your own.

Or, you know, move.  

Last week's song of the week.

(Photo of "garbage can" barriers - the kind on the median in Death Cab's song - via Wikimedia Commons.)