Anyone who has ever lived in or visited Los Angeles knows that the freeways here are not places where you actually wish to spend time.
They are the places we are forced to be while actually on our way elsewhere. Passages to our destinations. Necessary evils and ostensibly the “fastest” way to get from point A to point B in an overpopulated city.
Save for the opening scene in La La Land, in which the city’s freeways were transformed into a fantastical, colorful, lively stage for an optimistic musical number, in reality, they are dreary gray trails choked with snarling lines of traffic—cars upon cars full of impatient, disgruntled commuters emitting streams of exhaust like so many wafting complaints.
It was in such a hopeless place that I found love when my husband, photographer Art Streiber, proposed to me on the Santa Monica Freeway, or as locals refer to it, “The 10.” To be precise, it was at the La Brea exit, where one would get off if they wanted to visit LACMA or The La Brea Tar Pits or perhaps the cool store American Rag.
We had been dating for a few years and were at the time, working together in the downtown L.A bureau of a national fashion magazine and newspaper, he as a photographer and I as an editor/journalist. On this particular day, we were in his maroon Volkswagon Jetta, en route to a fashion shoot.
As we neared the La Brea exit, he nonchalantly asked me to open his glove box because he said he needed his sunglasses. I thought it was an odd request since it was a gray morning (we call it “June gloom”) but I opened the compartment and immediately saw one of those small tell-tale black, velvet boxes—the kind that holds, gulp, engagement rings.
Surprised, shocked, and perhaps a bit scared—I slammed the door shut.
“Uh, I don’t see your glasses,” I said. “Are you sure they were in there?”
Undeterred, he calmly pulled the car over to the side of the road.
“What are you doing?” I shrieked.
Stopping along the side of the freeway, unless maybe you have a flat tire, is not generally a smart idea. But I knew what he was doing, and it was scaring and thrilling me at the same time. I was in a fog as he went around to the trunk. I craned my neck to see what he was up to and saw him remove his camera along with a tripod, and a bottle of champagne.
He popped open the chilled champagne, set up his camera, and then came to the passenger side of the car. When he opened the door, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
He fished the ring box from the glove compartment, got on one knee and said “Glynis Costin, will you please marry me?”
As massive trucks and tiny sports cars sped by us, I tearfully and emphatically replied, “Yes!”
He slipped the classic diamond cut sparkler on my left ring finger and kissed me just as his camera went off, capturing the moment. Admittedly, I had actually found love much before this moment. But the “deal,” the declaration of love, the mutual agreement that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, was cemented in this hopeless place made of cement and concrete, with hoards of strangers whizzing by us as unknowing witnesses.
After he got back in the car and we headed off to our assignment, I admired my new piece of hardware and asked him (through my laughter and tears) why he had chosen the Santa Monica Freeway.
“This is where we spend most of our time,” he answered. “And we’ve had many amazing, deep conversations here. This might even be where I fell in love with you.”
I had to admit, he was right. Being stuck in those traffic jams had given us a lot of time to really get to know each other and have meaningful conversations about everything from music and films to family, religion, and politics.
“And why the La Brea exit?” I probed.
“You’ll remember this moment very time you pass by here.” He smiled. “Which is a lot.” He was right about that too.
Many years and two daughters later, we don’t work downtown anymore. But if I–or we—are headed to say, a concert at Staples Center or a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium, and the traffic is bad, I do at least have reason to smile when I pass the La Brea exit.