Freeway Selfie 2012
This photo was taken while sitting on the median of the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles. At the time I was writing The Dirt That Feeds You, a fictional novel about a young adult who agrees to have his citizen rights revoked so he can live as a legal animal. The book contains multiple scenes where the main character crosses freeways. The concept was inspired after I’d read about a mountain lion that died while crossing the 405.
My journal entry from the night I crossed the freeway:
3:58AM I fuckin’ did it! I just crossed the entire span of the 101 freeway on foot. Where I crossed it’s five lanes on one side and six on the other. I can’t believe I’m alive. Even sitting here in the apartment I still have the feeling of eminent danger. A lot of people might think I’m a fool but it was truly something I needed to do. This freeway nearly wraps around my apartment building and I’m polluted by the roar of cars twenty-four hours a day. It’s something I had to conquer. I want people to realize that this is the kind of danger animals have to deal with on a daily basis. I really want to bring attention to the fact that roads devastate the migration of animals.
I took a nap after the screening and then I wrote for my book. A little after three AM I got dressed in sweats and started stretching. I ran around the neighborhood for a while to warm up and then I walked out and over by the freeway off ramp. Earlier today I noticed a pathway leading up to the freeway which is raised above the street. It was real windy up there. I sat on the far side of the guard rail observing the movement of the cars. From where I was at you could see reflections of headlights and then the vehicles and you’d have about nine seconds before they passed. I waited for a while and started to feel like I might not even try crossing. Then I saw an opening and decided to take it. I stopped at the median and flattened my body. I had to wait about a minute before I saw a nice opening. I thought about people passing by and wondered what they thought of me standing there. I thought about just turning back. Cars going southbound ceased and I straddled over the median and ran for it. There was an incredible rush of accomplishment on the climb back down to street level. It happened so fast I almost didn’t want it to be over. Tonight I feel much more connected to Andre and The Dirt That Feeds You.
7:21PM Last night when I was napping I found it hard to wake. As much as I fought to convince myself otherwise, the thought of crossing the freeway terrified me. While I was looking on Google Maps I zoomed down to the street view and noticed graffiti on the median which made me realize people had crossed there before. I can’t blame the youth of this city for the graffiti they create. They’ve had to grow up in Los Angeles, a city littered with advertisements and you have to admit that has an effect on one’s own craving for self expression. If multi-billion dollar companies have the privilege to litter this city with graphics and ideas then why can’t the natives?
An excerpt from the book:
Although the terrain occasionally blocked my view of the freeway, the stone cold jeer of accelerated metal over took the hum of nocturnal insects. Every few steps the howl of a big-rig would echo off surrounding rocks like a jack knife dragged across sheet metal. The slope leveled out and I slowed my pace to avoid crashing into a fence hidden in the undergrowth. It was your typical four foot chain-link fence with twisted barbs across the top, something assembled to keep animals from mingling with traffic. By griping one of the metal posts I was able to step my legs over the wire without making contact.
I neared the guardrail and a rush of anxiety washed through me as I began to fear someone might see me. So I stopped. Cars were sparse yet constant. I lifted my foot to the small of my back and placed it in my hand. My thighs were sore. I stretched everything out real good and did a few squats. Then I crouched low and waddled up to the guardrail. I stared out across the concrete plane. When you’re riding in a car, you are that car and everything seems so small. Now I felt I was the size of a rodent. I counted five lanes, plus an HOV lane, a cement divider to hop, and then another carpool lane and another five lanes.
Watchfully I stepped over the guardrail and ducked down. If I didn’t move much, people wouldn’t notice me at seventy MPH. My heart began to grasp itself with strong heavy beats, quenching every drop of blood in its valves. I retied my shoelaces super tight and double knotted the bows. I scraped excess dirt from the tread of my shoes. I felt cold, like I was standing on the edge of an ice shelf looking across the Arctic Ocean.
My gaze locked straight ahead waiting for a gap in all lanes. When there was one I counted: One Mississippi, two Mississip―headlights and taillights streaked by as one. Another gap, I counted six seconds. The freeway curved around the foothills and from where I was sitting you couldn’t see the oncoming cars until they were about seven seconds away. The fact that it was night and headlights were in use gave me a great advantage. The light would slowly splash across the guardrail before the cars came into sight. If the guardrail was dark I figured I was good to go. Eight seconds―I felt―was enough time to cross one half. I then focused on the far side. Once there’s a good enough break on that side and the guardrail was still dark, I could go. Gaps emerged and I started to shake. My heart palpitated. My leg muscles were kept in constant motion in an attempt to squash nervous tension. I flexed in a runner’s starting position, checking the grip of my shoes. Tiny fragments of auto-bodies left over from fender benders and multi-car pile ups mixed with the gravel below my feet. Some of the debris was unrecognizable in form, yet you could see an array of color, like coral and sea shells that’d been pulverized into sand. A gap came and I didn’t take it, it was perfect. Then a tanker violently whipped past me, feet from my forehead. Traffic broke on the far side. No light on the guardrail. Before I realized it―BANG―my leg exploded off the pavement, launching me like a bullet.
In the moment before my front foot fell to the smooth grey cement I had a vision of an ice-skating rink. I feared my mind would push my body to run so fast I’d slip. You fuck up, you’re dead. Forcing my mind and body to oblige, I landed and my feet sank deep into the concrete and bounced like it was a trampoline. I leapt across lanes, gripping my toes on big fiberglass reflectors. Ages passed. My arms stretched outward as I prepared to place them on top of the divider the way a gymnast grips the beam. Then I saw a tow truck flying up the far HOV lane. I didn’t hit my brakes but I let off the gas for a millisecond as the burst of wind shook me. I never checked for cars coming in the lane I was standing in, though fluidly I hurled my body over the median. Suddenly I had fears of my glasses slipping off due to the sweat bulging from my pores. I can make it. No I can’t. Fuck it. I landed and energy blasted from my chest to my thighs and I glanced up to see headlights, yet they seemed far enough I’d survive. I leapt from the second HOV lane to the fast lane. I was on a stage, so blinded by spotlights that my molecules became one with the molecules of air. No longer was I cold. My blood boiled like I was walking on fire. Somewhere deep inside of me I knew I’d be fine―is that what birds think the moment before flying into a 747’s turbine? Landing in the last lane I prepared to jump to the safety of the shoulder. Spotlights grew big and bright as I launched off the hard cement, bounced off the solid white line―and I don’t know how this happened, but―the next thing I knew I was in the air gliding clean over the guardrail. Inches above the ground I bunched up into a ball and rolled into a somersault as I hit the grassy hill descending from the freeway. Utterly disoriented I tumbled into a thin line of trees.
I rose to my feet and faced one more fence separating me from civilization. It was chain link, about seven feet tall, with three barbed wires running along the top. I walked along it till I found a flap someone must have broke open with a blot cutter.
Next thing I knew I was standing on a sidewalk. Passing cars looked like incubation capsules. Motorists didn’t even notice me. Making my way through alleyways and climbing over walls I maintained a direct path to my target. No one saw me, not a sole.
My fears of pesky onlookers and police officers ready with catch and restraint poles dissolved. Still I kept my guard up. If anyone pulled a taser on me I planned to bite their fat fuckin’ fingers off.
My arms hung low by the time I reached Center City West. I’d now gone well over twenty-four hours without food. I’d burned all energy reserves. My pace slowed. I feared I’d collapse before reaching my destination. Cockroaches would sweep in and devour my corpse before any person noticed I’d died.
No one was in sight when I arrived at the loading dock behind JBs. Physically grasped by the smell of putrid food I climbed the side of a dumpster, lifted the lid, and squeezed inside. Saliva rushed to my tongue the way tides wash to shore. Greedily I unwrapped and bit into a hard green and white speckled loaf of bread. I stuffed bruised unpeeled fruits into my mouth and mashed them whole with my molars. Stale crackers inched down my throat as an unknown liquid seeped into my shoe. My body was too weak to digest. The food sat like a rock in my stomach. It hurt, but it felt damn good. Slowly my organs tugged at the nourishment, breaking it down just enough to rouse more ingestion. I felt buzzed. Food never tasted this good. Really it wasn’t the taste that struck me, it was a new found sensation of fueling myself.
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