His name was Alex, and as it turned out he was quite the talker.
"You f***ing woman!" he screamed at a stranger in a mega-four-wheel drive.
She cut across two lanes and though we were clearly moving, she swept into our path as though our vehicle didn't exist.
"F*** your mother and die!" screamed Alex.
He was a talker, I said, not a poet.
Alex was a Russian with tobacco-stained fingers and a face overwhelmed by eyebrows. You could have split wood on his forehead, and dark hair burst from every alcove of his person.
I'd swear even the palms of his hands needed combing, but he never removed his fingers from the bottom of the driving wheel for me to be sure.
"This f***ing traffic! These f***ing drivers!"
As the woman in the mega-four-wheel drive edged out of our lane, he accelerated aggressively, though the space opening before us was only five or six cars long. He braked aggressively. The car shuddered as it shifted force and I felt glad to have a seatbelt.
It was 30m gained in an expanse of unmoving cars; an illusion of progress, at best.
Alex was a talker, and from the time we first met he seemed determined to give me an abridged life story.
My company was the pitiful reality of his American dream.
For the 16 years since he'd left Russia, he'd sat surrounded by squeaking fibreglass for 15 hours a day listening to Elton John and Kenny G repeats on a cheesy easy-listening radio station where all the hosts pretended to be best friends. Maybe life in the US was an improvement on Moscow.
Maybe leaving Russia for California turned out to be another illusion of progress.
"Look," he turned to me, completely calm, as his car sat back on its haunches. He pointed me to another vehicle parked in the traffic two lanes over. "Ferrari."
"Oh yeah, cool. That'd do 200 miles an hour," I said, pretending to either know or care about cars.
"Not in LA, it won't," said Alex. He stared out at the stagnant lanes before us.
And he was damn right. All of us just sat there, stewing, listening to Kenny G. The Ferrari, the massive four-wheel drive and a stack of cars four lanes wide. In five minutes we drove nowhere.
"Can you believe it?" said the cheesy voice on Alex's cheesy radio station. "Gas today in California officially hit four dollars a gallon."
Alex scoffed. "Obama says the economy's improving. Four dollars a gallon isn't f***ing improvement."
We inched forward. The Ferrari inched forward. The mega-four-wheel drive inched forward. It was then I saw the delay. The narrow channel and orange signs. The road-widening works. Progress.
"Two years!" said Alex. "Two years, they'll close it again. Widen it again. We'll be back here talking the same s**t."
"There's this guy back in New Zealand," I said. "His name's Len. I think you'd get along with him."
"Lenin?" replied my new friend.
"Ahh ... no. No, not quite. Just Len."
"Does Len like cars?"
"No, that's the point. He's more of a train man."
"Same with me," said Alex.
And with that I paid him $13.80 and stepped out of his cab.By Jack Tame