By Jim Gibson
The New York Times weighs in on next weekend’s pending “Carmageddon II,” the planned closing of a huge stretch of the 405 between the 10 and 101 freeways necessitated by a never-ending Caltrans lane-widening project that will eventually result in grateful Angelenos being able to shave WHOLE ENTIRE MILLISECONDS off their tortuous morning commutes.
There are some nice tidbits — a patronizing Zev Yaroslavsky quote (“One thing about Angelenos, if they are experts at nothing else, they are experts at traffic”), as well as an answer to a mystery that has been puzzling Angelenos for ages: namely, the proper spelling of KCRW traffic reporter Kajon Cermak’s name (that’s a soft “C”) — but the most amazing takeaway from the article is the fact that The New York Times apparently harbors some grudge against the use of the word “freeway.”
Six times in the piece (including the headline), the article refers to the 405 as a “highway;” the word “freeway” (practically synonymous with Los Angeles) is never used once! Now, we could understand, say, “expressway,” or even the charmingly folksy “turnpike,” then just chalk it up to the good old East Coast/West Coast dialect divide. But repeatedly calling the 405 a “highway!?!” That’s like calling New York’s iconic Empire State Building “the official state nickname tower.” Technically accurate, perhaps, but people would still look at you askance then shun you the rest of the evening if you used the phrase at a dinner party. (Oddly enough, the photo caption uses the seemingly taboo “freeway” word — see photo above — but we’re assuming that inconsistency somehow slipped past the NYT‘s usually hawkeyed copy-editors).
So what to make of this? Are they merely trolling us? Is this passive-agressive New York payback for years of simmering resentment at having to pay road tolls? Some weird quirk in the official NYT style usage manual? Or do they really have no idea? On the surface, it seems inconceivable that a paper of the NYT‘s stature would print a piece about Los Angeles that betrayed such a tone-deaf, fundamental misunderstanding of the region and culture. Then again, maybe not: they do, after all, still continue to publish articles about Hollywood by Brooks Barnes….