Escape from LA / by Brian Beck

The hardest part of each Man vs. Machine is finding a way to get a vintage car out of LA traffic in the height of summer without overheating. I usually spend some time with Google Maps to plot our route, analyze the expected traffic and then make an educated guess. So far, it’s worked. Morning is usually good heading east, but by late afternoon, it’s gridlock. If you miss the window, the best bet is to leave after dark to avoid the worst of the heat. Parker had a play that ended Friday at 3pm, so we either had to roll the dice and leave immediately after that, or wait until about 7pm, which would have meant arriving in Saint George at around 3am. I knew better, but I was tired and eager to get underway. You guessed it, I chose the mid-afternoon departure.

From the moment we left, the traffic was worse than usual—so bad, in fact, that I contemplated turning around immediately and waiting for dark. But I had a new radiator and I was feeling the call of the open desert beyond all those taillights, so I pushed on. From Pasadena to San Bernardino we crawled along, watching the temperature gauge rise steadily and then slowly fall when we got a little space to speed up. We were hanging in there until we turned onto the I-15 to start up the Cajon Pass. There was a crash about half way up and the traffic had slowed to a crawl, compounded by the uphill grade. I saw the backup coming, and I ducked into the breakdown lane to look for an escape. Just then, the old car coughed, and I knew time was running out. I slipped down the first ramp, hung a right and pulled into a turn out as the temperature gauge hit 250. The engine vapor locked and stalled as I coasted to a stop.

We sat there in the 100 degree heat for at least an hour with the hood up, until finally the first cool kiss of an evening breeze could be felt rising through the canyon. A grizzled biker named Noah brought us some water to pour on the fuel lines and we passed some time swapping old car stories. I finally coaxed the engine back to life around 5:30 and steered her back to the intersection, pausing an extra minute to make my choice. It was only 50 miles back to Pasadena where I could still call it off and throw our gear in the Honda. It would be easier for sure, but good stories require conflict and the conflict is what leads to adventure. There’s nothing romantic about a Honda. You don’t have gas station conversations with strangers about a Honda. Nobody tells you about their memories of riding in the back of their family Honda. I shook my head and looked at the kids watching me expectantly. “Screw it,” I said. “Let’s get back on the road.” I cranked the wheel around and put the hammer down, the engine roaring back to life. “It ain’t even close,” I thought. Bruce Springsteen said it best:

“Now some folks say it's too big
And uses too much gas
Some folks say it's too old
And that it goes too fast
But my love is bigger than a Honda
Yeah, it's bigger than a Subaru
Hey man there's only one thing
And one car that will do…”

We flamed out just off the I-15. iPhone XR.

We flamed out just off the I-15. iPhone XR.