LA Speak

“Are you in, as they say, The Industry?” I asked the man I’d just met, my tone of voice putting imaginary air quotes around the term. It’s what people in the movie business call their place of work, and it always makes me smile. I’m from New Jersey. When I hear “The Industry” I think of smokestacks. Not filmmaking. But after eight years, I’m getting used to it, along with many other terms.

Like “big rig” instead of tractor trailer and “crash” instead of accident, and of course “freeway” instead of highway but that last term may be one that’s headed for oblivion now that toll roads are being introduced. (When I was in high school, I was among Girls and Boys State alumni invited to appear on television with the Governor. “What will I ask him?” I queried my family, desperate to not sound stupid. “Ask him how long the tolls will remain on the Garden State Parkway just now being built.” I did and his answer was one that also makes me smile: “Just until the highway is paid for.” Yeah, right.)

When we first got here, the radio traffic reports kept talking about “sig alerts.” “What do they mean by that?” I asked the California daughter. “It means a traffic accident,” she said, her Jersey roots not completely obliterated. But why sig? Turns out the term honors a long-time LA radio executive, Loyd Sigmon who invented a system for speedily reporting news of traffic problems. His only compensation for the invention was having it named SigAlert, according to snopes.

I acclimated pretty quickly when it came to naming freeways, referring to them as “the Two” and “the Five” rather than Route Two or Route Five. And I do avoid such roadways whenever possible by taking what are called “surface streets,” even though that sounds as if all others are elevated.

Another LA habit I apparently have acquired is to give distances in driving time, preferably using the most optimal times possible. “Every time I ask you how far you are from a place, you say ‘twenty minutes,’” a friend back East said. “That can’t be possible.” Well, no, it’s not. But a lot of places are twenty minutes away, give or take some. (In New Jersey, our home was fourteen miles from Manhattan, which could have easily translated to an hour and a half on some days, so I think there you’d rather say mileage.)

So excluding Surfer Dude and Valley Girl phrases that I never come in contact with (I still don’t know if “gnarly” is a good thing or a bad thing), I am learning to talk LA. Now, if only I didn’t have to pump my own gas. (In New Jersey where it’s still illegal to do so, a certain relative with a conservative bent would fulminate about that situation every time he came to visit. “That’s just the unions making work for people,” he’d say, to which I’d reply, “And that is a bad thing because…???”)

OK, enough car talk. Next thing to consider is why sticks of butter here are shaped shorter than conventional butter dishes call for. But that’s a question for another time.

2 comments on “LA Speak

  1. Lewis Dana says:

    Okay. I get (but hate) “The Five” both grammatically and in its physical existence. But that’s beside the point.

    What do you Leftcoasters call those silver rails that run alongside the highways out there?

    Reason for asking: back in the day, they were guard rails.

    Do you people out there call them “guiderails” as I have heard more often than I care to back East?

    GUIDERAILS??? What’s up with that?

    • patnieder says:

      OMG! For a moment I thought you were referring to Jerseys, those temporary things that are actually named “Jersey Bounce” dividers, put in use by road crews when they are temporarily realigning lanes so they can work on other lanes. (Not to be confused with lane closings on the George Washington Bridge !!) Guiderails? Never heard of that. When I ran into one on the Golden Gate Bridge back in the day, it was called, according to the police, a guard rail.

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