Sunday, April 15, 2012

Greetings, Sons of Sniglets:

Been watching more "CHiPS" lately than one usually does. (Which one should do from time to time.)

One of the great discoveries on offer is that just about the entire show was shot on the same three-quarter-mile stretch of the secret 2 Freeway, between Glendale and Flintridge/La Cañada.



Rollin' 2 style

At least for the first season, every episode features the exact same landscape, continually presented as if it were a different part of the vast L.A. freeway system. It's really something special.
 Anyone living outside L.A. would think L.A.'s freeways were wide and rural and barely used, and nowhere near the center of the city.

"CHiPS"'s groundbreaking shin-cam 


The 2 Freeway has been my favorite freeway for some time now, because it is so elevated it makes your ears pop, and it overlooks fog-nestled foothills and approaches august mountains that evoke Olympus and Middle Earth. It is much wider than it really needs to be, which means it is never crowded (except nearing the southern end, where it dumps into Echo Park). Something about the freeway's elevation, its isolation, and the quality of its surface creates a sense of quiet inside your car. There's muffled peace stuffing your ears as you climb higher, higher, toward what becomes Angeles National Forest. The 2 turns into Angeles Crest Highway and leads to the snow. Maybe that's also why I love it. It is a freeway that leads to trees. It also leads to the stars.

Drive with me to heaven, won't you?
The 2 Freeway is the road you must take to reach Mt. Wilson Observatory, where Edwin Hubble discovered that other galaxies exist outside our Milky Way. Just off the 2 Freeway, Edwin Hubble discovered evidence that our universe is expanding, supporting the ideas of Jesuit priest and astronomer Georges Lemaître, who first posited the Primordial Atom, or Big Bang Theory.

Just off the 2 Freeway, Albert Einstein's life was forever changed.

In the years leading up to that singular day in 1933, Einstein had been somewhat resistant to Lemaître's work. Lemaître was a younger man, a student of Einstein's theory of relativity. And he was an upstart, in a sense, attempting to use Einstein's foundation to create his own, very different and totally wild explanation for the formation of the universe. He described his origin theory as a "Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the creation."

For some time, Einstein resisted. And he also wondered whether Lemaître had been too influenced by his religious training in cooking up this creation story.

But in 1933 Einstein and Lemaître were both in L.A.—Einstein was an occasional guest professor at Cal Tech in Pasadena. At Mt. Wilson, Einstein listened to Georges Lemaître explain once again his theory about the origin of the universe. At the end of the lecture, Einstein stood up and clapped, and proclaimed that Lemaître's theory was


"The most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened."

I love that instead of feeling jealous of Lemaître, or threatened by the leaps this fellow genius had taken, Einstein applauded. (It's especially admirable since this theory must have made Einstein's concept of a "cosmological constant"—which he once called "the worst mistake I ever made"—seem more awkward than ever.)

I love Albert Einstein, because he stood up to praise a rival. Just off the secret 2 Freeway.





A couple eggheads chillin' in Pasadena, Jan. 10, 1933.
As "CHiPS" DVDs reveal, the 2 Freeway hasn't changed in 30-odd years—which only makes me love it more.

It's difficult to imagine any square mile of Los Angeles County could remain unmolested by overpopulation and development in 2012. And yet, when I drive the secret 2, my eye lingers on miles of open, naked mountain forest and undeveloped hillside. My view isn't so very different from what Ponch and Jon saw as they chased hophead bikers and runaway dogs, or from what Lemaître and Einstein faced as they climbed the hills from Cal Tech to Mt. Wilson.

There's a unique power in knowing that the view you see is the same view others have seen for years, decades, even centuries. It seems that today, incremental changes in technology represent quantum leaps in our experience of reality. Yesterday we were regular people living in the real world; today we're hyper-interconnected-technoheads spending much of our lives in some obscure half-lit pseudoreality.

Then again, you see Mt. Wilson, and you know how small that shit really is.

Love,
Kate

PS: Of course, the road to Mt. Wilson in 1933 wasn't the 2 Freeway. The 2 was built in the 1970s. You may be amused to learn that during its construction, it was apparently used to shoot several choice films including Corvette Summer, Death Race 2000, and Earthquake.

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