When I was a little boy they built a freeway in my back yard.
It's one of my earliest memories -- climbing up the hill in my back yard and standing at the edge of the freeway, watching the cars blow by me at 70, 80, 100 miles an hour, sometimes faster than that. I can still see the shocked expressions on those driver's faces ... zooming along from here to there, making time, when abruptly a five year old, blue-eyed blond-haired boy appears at the edge of the freeway, sitting on the railing, watching ... imagining the places he would go.
That freeway was the 60 Freeway, the Pomona Freeway, in Southern California. When I was seven years old my parents moved -- to a nicer house, yes, but in the new house there was no freeway outside my bedroom window. In the new house, I didn't hear cars rushing by in the darkness when I went to bed at night. I couldn't climb the hill after sunset and watch the rivers of red and white lights go streaming by me.
When I was in my early thirties I moved to Greenwich Village, New York. My first night in the Village was a Friday, in an apartment that overlooked West Third Street near Sixth Avenue, a little stretch of road with two jazz clubs at either end, with an astonishing cacophony of noise from all the people come to party: horns honking, engines rumbling, people yelling, music blasting from twenty competing sets of speakers: the sounds of traffic. I went to bed at ten o'clock that night, completely exhausted, with the window open and the sound pouring in, and slept like a dead man ... until at three o'clock in the morning I sat bolt upright in bed and said "What the hell was that?"
A horse had neighed outside my window. In Greenwich Village there are still mounted police. Plainly in my brain, traffic does not include the sounds of horses....
Today I live in Woodland Hills, California, and I sleep fifty yards from the edge of the 101 freeway. You can hear the traffic blasting by, at rush hour, at midnight, at two in the morning on Sunday, a never-ending river of traffic. It's a comforting sound, a sound I know in my bones, and with it as the backdrop to my nights, I sleep very well indeed.
In a novel I wrote many years ago I said that freeways were America's only native art form. Maybe that's an exaggeration ... maybe. My will specifies that when I die my ashes will be spread at the intersection of the 10 and 710 freeways, one of the most beautiful places in Los Angeles, or indeed the world. And there are days when I picture the cars lifting up my ashes and carrying them off down the freeway ... and I imagine all the places that I will go.