Chaos Attraction

Driving To Sacramento

2013-12-05, 9:26 a.m.

First thing you have to do is drive onto Interstate 80 East. That's not so bad. I always move into the middle lane of three for the smoothest transitions. You drive along through the back end of town, and eventually hit the causeway between here and Sacramento. The causeway is almost always slow and clogged for some inexplicable reason almost any time you go on to it, so you'll slow down and chug along until the cars speed up again.

Then comes your first problem: the FIRST 80. If you are reading directions off of Mapquest, Mapquest won't tell you that in order to stay on Interstate 80 Reno proper, you need to move a lane over to the right. If you do not do this and intended to stay on 80, you will find yourself In Trouble. Because at intersection number one, your choices are:

(a) Interstate 80 East Reno #1.
(b) "Business 80" / Interstate 50.
It looks about like this.

Right now, if you are a reader who lives elsewhere, you are thinking, "What the FUCK is she talking about?" I assure you, I am not joking. There is The FIRST Interstate 80 East Reno, and then there is "Business 80." Business 80, incidentally, is written in teensy letters above the 80 logo and you can't really even read it until you are driving pretty much directly underneath it. As you passed by, heading on the wrong freeway. I screwed this intersection up on my second Zipcar trip.

On this trip, you are not heading for The FIRST Interstate 80 East Reno, which will take you to shopping areas at Truxel Road and locations farther outside of Sacramento most of the time, such as Roseville. (But do not take it to Folsom or you will cry. That is NOT the way to get directly to Folsom, oh no. No, that exit is towns away from Folsom!) No, you are heading for the inner regions of the city. At this intersection, you take the 50/80. You stay in your lane and have a smooth transition. You will cruise along happily until you hit intersection number two, of which the options are:

(a) 50/80
(b) Interstate 5.
It looks about like this.

If you are not exiting around Old Town or Midtown or. Downtown or whatever the hell it all is down there, you do not need to move over one lane to the right and exit onto Interstate 5. At least this is a pretty easy transition to see and make, compared to the other ones. So for THIS BRIEF MOMENT, stay on 50/80.

Right after you pass intersection two, you'll face the horrors of intersection three:

(a) 50, continuing to your left.
(b) Interstate 80 East Reno #2: YES, THERE'S TWO OF THEM, FOR FUCKING FUCK'S SAKE!
(c) Interstate 99 to Fresno.
It looks about like this.

Most of the time going into Sacramento, you need to make the heinous change to THE SECOND Interstate 80 East Reno. Why in god's name there are two of them with no distinctions for the noob driver to figure out well,, I DO NOT KNOW AND IT MAKES NO SENSE. I have never driven in England and never will to discover how bad their M25 is, but I"m pretty sure Crowley from Good Omens probably had a hand in the design of this freeway as well. My friend L has lived in far more busy, hardcore cities and says this is one of the worst setups she's ever seen.

In order to get onto THE SECOND 80, either to Reno or Fresno (on this trip, you'll be shooting for Reno), once you go over the arching freeway, stay in the far right lane (at this point, the same lane I told you to drive in all the way up here). You will notice that as you drive over the freeway, you will have to merge one lane to your right very soon.. In a hurry. Because at any time, day or night, that you need to drive over here, there is a long, crowded, steady stream of cars streaming into this lane from another freeway. This never ends, and it scares the shit out of me trying to move over. Admittedly, there's a long gap between here and the exits, but given the enormous amount of cars going through there at all times, I worry anyway. And god knows everyone else is also trying to switch lanes ASAP at the same time. Usually what I do is watch for an empty bit of the lane in between all the cars driving on and, cut over to the right hand lane across the tapering triangle bit that you're not supposed to drive through. I'm sure that's not super great, but it means I get in without hitting anybody. Then I just have the looooooong slow wait to finally hit the Reno exit.

When you finally hit the SECOND 80 Reno exit, stay on the left hand lane--the right hand lane pretty quickly turns into an exit lane.. This is another intersection where I feel it is important to move the hell over to your left quickly--again, this depends on the usual crush of cars going on. You want to move over into that lane because pretty soon coming up, the lane you're in will merge into that lane, and it is a lot easier to let cars in than it is to GET in. And there is always yet another slow pileup of cars crawling along to reach your exits--I'm usually either going to Exposition Park or Arden Way.

In this case, I get off at Exposition Park in order to drive onto Arden--yes, this is also weird-- eventually turning onto Howe and eventually finding the Panera where I have writers' group meeting. Getting over there is always....complicated.... especially doing the night time commute rush thing. Can you see how confused I used to be, trying to figure these things out? This is hard won knowledge I am telling you, here. And this freeway area is NOT NOOB FRIENDLY BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION.

But going home? Going home is easy. You find a 50 or an 80-- either way, it'll turn into 80 at some point and you can easily find your way back. I drive along the rest of Howe for a long time, find the 50, find the transition into business 80 and then to 80, then hit the causeway and go home. There's really the one direction back to west, San Francisco, and home. Even the causeway is usually fairly empty by then.

But I love driving on the freeway later at night, after the traffic jams of cars have cleared out. I love not having to worry about the 50 vs the 80 vs the other 80 to figure out where I am going. I love the thoughtlessness I can afford to have then. I love the space and the freedom and the large gaps between me and the nearest cars. I feel safe(r) to run, to speed a little, to change lanes or not with impunity, to whiz along home like I'm on wings, to fly home knowing that I can do it myself alone in the night. I feel smug and pleased and competent.

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