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Something to Believe In

September 27, 2014

“If I could just get off of this LA Freeway
Without getting killed or caught”
– Guy Clark, from LA Freeway

Interstate 880 is a forty-mile stretch of pavement on the east side of the San Francisco Bay that reaches from San Jose in the south to Oakland in the north. It’s also known as the Nimitz Freeway, named after Chester Nimitz, a Fleet Admiral in the US Navy, who commanded the Pacific Fleet in World War II. Nimitz and his family were Berkeley natives after the war. One of his daughters, after completing studies at UC Berkeley and Stanford, became a sister in the Order of Preachers at Dominican College in Marin County. Nimitz passed away in 1966 at the Naval facilities on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay.


Nimitz at the map, with MacArthur, Franklin Roosevelt and Admiral William Leahy in Hawaii in 1944.

The freeway’s terminus in Oakland is the MacArthur Maze, which is a spaghetti bowl of overpasses and underpasses to move traffic in every direction to move around in and to start a getaway out of the Bay Area. The set of interchanges is named after one of Nimitz’ WW II contemporaries, General Douglas MacArthur. Nimitz managed a fleet of nearly seven thousand ships in August 1945, when the Japanese were defeated. MacArthur was responsible for the US Army in the Pacific Theater. By standards of a person who manages large enterprises capable of complicated and risky military operations, Nimitz was relatively calm and is generally credited for being a team player. MacArthur, on the other hand, is remembered as a publicity-hungry egomaniac willing to take credit for all the good stuff, including the sunrise if unchecked. There was constant competition between the two for resources and authority to make military strategic and tactical decisions. The two of them overcame their differences to defeat the Japanese dreams of a regional empire.


My other car has Marina. She’s tucked in under the switch for the warning lights. My friend K brought Marina back from one of her breaks at a Pacific Ocean resort and gave her to me when we were driving into Berkeley to have some fun. Marina doesn’t have the celebrity of St. Christopher, but she’s much cuter. It never occurs to me to bring Marina into the Volvo. She belongs where K gave it to me.

These two military men’s clashes and political battles are simulated everyday on the East bay freeways, as commuters suit up for the daily conflict. The road is six lanes of combat squeezed into four lanes on some segments. It’s one of the busiest roads in the country with an average of more than a quarter million cars per day. All of them right there beside me for my commute. Mention I-880 to anyone around here and you’ll get an opinion. Many will say that it’s the worst road in the Bay Area. Others will say that it is awful, but will have their own legitimate least favorite most hated freeway. I have never heard someone call the Nimitz Freeway a joy ride or show the least amount of desire to drive their car over there.

We first knew it as California Route 17 and used it mostly to get to the A’s game and the Oakland Airport, or to start a trip to Santa Cruz. That was a long time ago and it was awful then too. It’s always been a road with rough and broken up pavement, narrow lanes in some spots, not enough lanes anywhere, some sections without a shoulder and way too many cars. With the sea port nearby and other distribution infrastructure in the area, there are also a lot of tractor trailers competing for a piece of the road. It’s not for the faint of heart and there’s no letting up for the driver.

This week, while on a dead stop in the second lane on the right, I looked over to gauge the impact of my fellow travelers joining from one of the Hayward entrance ramps. The lead car on the ramp was a white mid-nineties GM four-door compact. The young woman driving the car was crossing herself as she approached the fray. I thought to myself, “well, that’s one way to get through this.”

Catholics have crossed themselves for almost two centuries to bless themselves and to drive away the devil. All these years later, the church still encourages its participants to practice the ritual and to teach their children the same.

The Cross of Jesus is our one true hope! That is why the Church “exalts” the Holy Cross, and why we Christians bless ourselves with the sign of the cross. That is, we don’t exalt crosses, but the glorious Cross of Christ, the sign of God’s immense love, the sign of our salvation and path toward the Resurrection. This is our hope.
– Pope Francis, in an address at St. Peter’s Square earlier this month

We all need hope out on that dangerous and crowded road. I soon learned that maybe this young driver wasn’t remembering her catechisms just exactly right. She was stretching things with her petitions. Immediately upon the entry to the freeway, she was navigating her car into the second lane. It was a bold and seemingly unnecessary move to squeeze into that small space. Soon, she was creating her own gap between two cars in the third lane. This type of maneuvering is as disruptive as it gets when the freeways are full, because cars all around have to brake and wait for things to settle out.


In the ninth through thirteenth centuries, stories were written about a man who lived in the Middle East six hundred to one thousand years earlier. It was said that Jesus appeared to him in the form of a child who needed carriage across a river. In spite of great difficulty and not knowing the identity of the child in need, the man carried him to safety. Upon reaching shore, the man was blessed and was subsequently remembered as St. Christopher. Today, Catholics think of St. Christopher as the patron saint of motorists. You can buy a key chain, pendant or other small objects to keep in the car at the Vatican’s gift shop. Upon request, the Pope will bless it for you before it is shipped to your mailing address.

It became clear real soon, that this young driver was concerned about something besides safety on the roads. She was late for something – a class or her job, most likely. She had no time for this traffic jam and needed divine intervention and needed it right now. With reckless disregard for others around her, she repeated this squeeze the car in between others method all the way over to the fifth lane. I’m not sure what she was seeing that the rest of us weren’t, because traffic in each of the lanes was moving at about the same slow speed. She was never a car length or two ahead of where she started when she entered I-880.


Here’s where I lost track of the white car on a mission. I turned off to get on a bridge and the white car is still in the far left lane of the freeway.

This fifth lane position wasn’t what she intended. She needed something more than that. Trying to move along much more quickly than the rest of us, she called in big favors and moved into the sixth lane, which is dedicated for car pools, electric cars and buses. Getting caught by the highway patrol without the right credentials is an expensive ride – more than a monthly car payment on the type of car she was driving. I would imagine that there are all sorts of other complications as well. But there she was, solo, and evidently confident that her prayers would be answered. Perhaps she believed that Saint Christopher, the Patron Saint of Travelers, was riding shotgun with her and that the two of them would aptly explain their case should an officer stop them for the traffic violation.

Friday morning commutes are always a little lighter than the other four weekdays. But this doesn’t translate to Friday evenings. It’s always jammed up with the same people who didn’t seem to be on the morning commute and the many others started on their evening out or their weekend getaway. I left the office earlier than usual yesterday, hoping to get a jump on things. My hopes were dashed right out of the gate; I was in the thick of things as normal. In no time, my own devotions came out.

Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry babe
Love’s a gift that’s surely handmade
We’ve got something to believe in
Don’t you think it’s time we’re leavin’

And if I can just get off of this LA Freeway
Without getting killed or caught
I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke
For some land that I ain’t bought, bought, bought
– Guy Clark


Today’s odometer. An oil change ($63) since the last “Check the Glove Box” missive.

  1. Her mission, unknown. I wonder how others responded to her. Horns honking? Silent acceptance? Impressed with her nerve?
    So you take this commute daily? How do you keep calm and carry on?
    By the way … thanks for the history lesson. While of course familiar with both men, I’d not really thought about the fact that they were rivals for resources.


  2. Hi Laurie – it’s a grueling commute. No reason to let it drag me down, however. It’s just the way it is right now. As for reactions to the white car. It caught my eye only because the driver crossed herself before she entered the road. But this driving style is not out of the ordinary, so nobody can react too strongly.

    Some people seem to welcome the slowdowns so they can get back to checking their cell phones to text or whatever else keeps them glued to the things.


  3. Laughing a bit here, Bruce. Not at your dilemma, trust me. I hate crowded freeways with a passion. Thus I moved to my little hide-a-way in Oregon where a traffic jam is defined as more that three cars at a stop sign. I am laughing because once, when I was on my way to a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, we were driving up the Nimitz when suddenly we heard this crash, a semi had tipped over and was sliding up the freeway, toward us, sparking like crazy and gaining. It was floor boarding time. We managed to get out of the way. If I recall correctly, I later read there were only minor injuries. –Curt


    • Well Curt, that was another reason to be on the Nimitz Freeway back then. We went to the GD at the Henry J. Kaiser and if I recall its location correctly, would have had to take 17/880 to get there.

      That’s a crazy incident that you witnessed. Remarkable that there were only minor injuries. That road is so, so dangerous. If you were off to a Dead show, it was likely winter, when dark and wet roads increase the risk.


  4. Freeway driving is a challenge, but like your woman driver who moved between cars I’ve also decided drivers who keep Christ on a cross hanging from the rear view window are an equal danger. There was a harrowing Christmas Eve ride in Mexico with a taxi driver who was in a very big hurry to get rid of us so he could go to church.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rebecca – that’s a funny image. Scary for you at the time, no doubt. There’s always a lot of scrambling that time of the year and you were caught in the middle.


  5. First, we are going to scold you for taking a photo while driving. Bad! Bad! Bad! Then again, we may be jumping the gun. Did you request Divine Intervention before aiming and shooting said photo? My Pub is well acquainted with St. Christopher, as his mini statue, alongside of those of his saintly clique, graced the dashboard of her grandfather’s vehicles.

    Drivers like the one you mentioned create more than frustration. They create hazardous, sometimes fatal situations for others. But it’s all about them, isn’t it? Good piece. May we recommend a book on tape (audio book) to make these rides somewhat beneficial. Check your library. xo, LMA


    • Think “parking lot” instead of “freeway.” I really wasn’t driving, just sitting there. But technically, you are correct. Point taken.

      Our library does have audio books and I have checked some out. Your idea gets me thinking, however. I could go find a LMA book on tape. We could commute together, she and I. Brilliant!

      Liked by 1 person

      • we don’t want to force LW on anyone, We did just finish The House of the Seven Gables. Much better the second time around, versus 10th grade, when you (at least pub) had no idea what was going on.


    • I’d love to see a photo of pub’s grandpa’s car or better yet, the dashboard adorned with St. Christopher.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wish we had a photo. wish we had more photos of Grandpa. We are grateful for his statuary, though as once on a trip to Maine, he drove off the road and into the woods. He has no idea why. My Pub was about 8 but thought maybe it was that his one real eye (other one was fake) was clouded in cataracts, but she kept this opinion to herself and remains grateful no trees were struck, or injuries sustained. Despite St. Chris’s presence, she later opted to ride in another car in the family convey to Sebago Lake. xo, LMA


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  1. I’m Only Passing Through | Ram On
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