Driving: Los Angeles v. Portland

In Los Angeles, I learned to drive. It’s something I’ve always taken great pride in. If I can drive in Los Angeles, I can drive anywhere, no problem.

In Los Angeles, driving is messy. It’s fast-paced. Other drivers are ruthless. And traffic is constant, not just a phenomenon limited to “rush hour.”

In Los Angeles, there really isn’t an alternative to driving if you want to go anywhere or get anything done. Suburban sprawl.

In Los Angeles, all the lanes are full, all the time. You cut into the one you need to be in at the last possible second. The frustrated honks herald your personal triumph: you’ve bypassed all those losers stuck waiting impatiently behind you.

Los Angeles Traffic

In Los Angeles, everyone is always in a hurry. Good luck trying to change lanes in a pinch. You have to aggressively create your gap, another driver won’t do it for you.

And in Los Angeles, you pump your own gas.

Every woman for herself.

In Portland, I’m learning to drive differently. It’s a humbling process. I can drive here, but there are new rules to observe.

In Portland, driving is refreshing. It’s calmer. Other drivers are courteous. And traffic is consistent: At 7:35 a.m. it takes 14 minutes to get across the Ross Island Bridge from my house. Another eight until I pull into the kids’ driveway for work.

In Portland, there are alternatives: buses, tramways, miles of bike lanes, your own two feet in a pair of sturdy Birkenstocks. And destinations seem much closer and much more accessible.

In Portland, lone cars speed down the empty left-hand lanes while those needing the right-hand one wait, queued up for blocks. You can rush by and cut in like you would in Los Angeles—you won’t meet much resistance. But it feels wrong. Taboo. A hollow victory.


In Portland, even when people are in a hurry, they’ll let you into their lane. On the bridge, eastbound at rush hour, each driver stuck in the traffic you want to join lets in one car waiting hopefully at the on-ramp stop sign. You can always find a gap.

And in Portland, you don’t have to get out of your car to refuel. (Well, I do, because I have to pry open my jammed fuel door with a screw driver, but I’m an exception.) You don’t have to work out the technicalities of the nozzle or worry that you’ll accidentally push the button and buy premium instead of regular. You hand over your cash or credit card, and you’re taken care of.

Life is more communal here.



  1. Jamie · · Reply

    Frankly, I don’t see the negative in “rushing by and cutting in” when there is a long line of cars in one lane but not in the other, as you described. I guess my sense of traffic etiquette is woefully deficient by Portland standards. Oh well, that is probably proving your point!

    1. I did it a couple times, but it just seemed really weird to when no one else was…

      Maybe Portland is peer pressuring me.

    2. Lauren · · Reply

      It’s the driving equivalent of cutting in line. We all want to take the exit or whatever it is, and by cutting in front you’re basically acting like a jerk. I’m not from Portland, but I believe in driving like that.

  2. Ashley · · Reply

    I’m so glad to hear that your tiny fuel door is broken too! (I pull a loose cord in my trunk to open mine). 😉

    1. Twins! I used to have a lever that would pop it (like you’d pop the trunk) but it stopped working. Enter the screwdriver (and rag to safeguard the paint job).

  3. JenTee · · Reply

    HA! This is all true, but you had better believe these gentle drivers are cursing the rude ones from safe inside their rolled-up windows. Or maybe that’s just me…

    1. Probably very accurate…

  4. Ethan · · Reply

    When someone tries to get ahead of a long line like that here, we don’t let them in, because don’t be an asshole.

    I didn’t know places still existed that pumped your gas for you! That seems so archaic, haha.

    But I wish all cities had alternatives to driving. I would hate to drive in LA!

    1. I really wish more cities were more pedestrian/alternate modes of transport friendly.

      The gas pumping thing is state-by-state. I think Oregon and New Jersey are the only ones where the attendant pumps gas for you. It’s a job creation endeavor.

      1. I totally agree!

    1. Ethan · · Reply

      lirl I love that skit

    2. Haha. Thanks, Sarah. Now that I live in Portland I really need to start watching Portlandia…

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