The I-5 Drive

“One man’s trash is another group’s treasured memory”


I grew up in Northern California. Most of my extended family lives in the greater Los Angeles area. So, I’ve done the drive down the Interstate-5 countless times in my life.

Honestly, when I was a kid, I dreaded it. I was often stuck in the middle seat between my sister & brother (I’m the youngest if that’s not obvious). I love them both dearly, but, when you’re shoulder-to-shoulder for a 6-hour journey, there’s bound to be some sibling bickering. I didn’t help the situation when I’d start playing Jell-O without their consent, just to piss them off.

In my adult life, after moving to LA myself, I’ve continued to do the drive many-a-times. However, one in particular stands out.

3 years ago today, I did the drive down the I-5 with two of my best friends, Chris and Shannon. After a fun-filled New Year’s bonanza in Lake Tahoe, we made the trek back to the sunshine of Venice Beach.

The ride was a mix of recounting the trip, 20 questions, and an absolutely electric sing-along playlist. When I think back on the experience, I just remember laughing.

When we finally arrived back to LA, each of us said that we would’ve happily kept driving all the way to Mexico, just to prolong the shenanigans.

At one point, we stopped at a Vista Point to take an utterly hilarious photo together. We were all uncontrollably laughing because the “scenic vista point” was just a mound on the side of the desolate freeway. It was surrounded by commuters’ garbage and a discarded mattress (don’t give that one a second thought). But now, every year, we send that picture from the Vista Point as a reminder of how much fun we had on that road trip.

Our best attempt at “Everybody jump on 3!”

How could something that used to be so dismal become so fun?

It certainly wasn’t the people I was with. My family is equally as fun. They’re always down to play games and tell stories (although they are slightly more reluctant to answer my incessant barrage of questions - in all fairness, they’ve had to put up with it for longer).

I can’t blame it on the jam-packed car of my childhood. On this most recent trip, the car looked like a hoarder’s heaven, as we transported the luggage & gear for the entire Tahoe group. The backseat passenger was playing Jell-O with snowboards and ski boots.

The only difference I can pinpoint was my attitude.

As a kid, it’d become a learned response to detest the upcoming drive. We would make sarcastic jokes about the “beautiful I-5.” If you’ve driven it, you’d know that the novelty of seeing the Central California farmland wears off after the first 30 minutes, so the comments seem to be well-founded.

However, with Chris and Shannon, we were just excited to be spending time together. Our friendships formed & deepened during COVID, so we had a lot of practice sitting inside and keeping ourselves entertained. That excitement, that attitude, bubbled over to completely alter the experience. The situation was identical but the experience was entirely different.

I’d driven past that Vista Point many times before, but I had never stopped to take a picture, because the I-5 drive was always something “to get through.” It wasn’t supposed to be enjoyed.

It makes me wonder…

Where am I missing opportunities to light up the parts of my life that I’d otherwise just be “trying to get through”?

Where am I buying into the story that something should be dreary?

Where am I assuming that a situation can’t be fun?

Where am I passing up the chance to stop and enjoy the vista (if you will)?

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