It's Friday morning, July 11. I, Gene, and Gene's German freunde Christian have just exited Sunset Boulevard, just past UCLA. Christian takes a picture of an LA Unified School District bus, while I silently wave to Cassie Wu, hard at work at the Getty Center. The San Diego Freeway is at a dead stop. Gene pulls onto the shoulder, gets out the CD player and puts on the excellent "405" by Death Cab for Cutie.
I like it when bands write songs about freeways and bridges. I think people often have close relationships, sometimes even sentimental, with the roads they drive all the time. It can be a very direct concrete association for listeners. Though the the Death Cab song is not about the Southern California 405 - its another 405 that loops into the suburbs of Seattle - I'm glad Gene put it on, because otherwise I would have had the song running through my head at least until Manhattan Beach, if not Irvine.
One thing the song confirmed for me was that the Southern California fashion of referring to highways as "The #" has taken hold in other states as well. Death Cab for Cutie, natives of Bellevue, Washington, are clearly misguided by the 405. In Northern California, the song would simply describe taking _405_ straight down into your center. You can hear this any time you ask for directions in the Bay Area. Going to the Oakland Coliseum? Take 24 to 980 to 880. Wondering the best way to get to Stockton from Berkeley? 24 to 680 to 4. In Southern California, it's different. To get from Redondo Beach to Redlands you take the 405 to the 110 to the 91 to the 215 to the 10.
This naming convention stems from the great number of highways in Southern California. Southern California is like a devoutly Catholic Irish couple with 15 children. Yes, Southern California loves all of its children, but there are an awful lot of them. All of the freeways are strong, wide, and clearly marked. True, they can get a little congested, but what state's major thoroughfares don't have their growing pains? It's not surprising that Southern California takes its freeways for granted a little bit. I bet when the 10 is misbehaving, Southern California often calls it "the 110" or even "the 15" by mistake.
Northern California, by contrast, is like an older couple that was unable to have children until later in life. They don't have as many children, and maybe they're not as well-designed as the freeways in Southern California, and maybe half of the on-ramps are clover leafs that require you to accelerate from 25 to 65 MPH in 2.5 seconds on your merge, and maybe 580 East and 80 West run concurrently for 20 miles, but they still love all their freeways. The highway from Richmond to Albany isn't just the 580, it's their 580.