The Asphalt Jungle: Bad Boy Drive

Thought we’d share Arthur St. Antoine’s paean to LA’s Mulholland Drive from about a year ago (but which we came across only recently). We’ve never done Mulholland, but we think these words – alternating between reverent and cautionary – could apply to any twisty, potentially treacherous local road used by driving enthusiasts as a quick escape from the daily grind. Read on…

At night come the coyotes, and the ghosts. The dusty ridgeline road is quieter now, city lights on either side shimmering below, gentle breeze a perfume of night-blooming jasmine. The coyotes are mostly invisible, silver-fur ninjas prowling the chaparral and the trash bins of nearby gated estates. But the ghosts are everywhere.

Headlamps startle the dark. From around a distant corner a car approaches, engine working hard, beams sweeping like searchlights as the driver tracks the wriggling asphalt. Perhaps it’s James Dean, running-in his new Porsche 550 Spyder just days before, on a country two-lane 200 miles away, he will drive it to his death. Or it could be Steve McQueen, a long day’s filming finally giving way to a rejuvenating sprint in his beloved Jaguar XKSS. Or is it Gary Cooper, the movie idol’s supercharged 1936 Duesenberg SSJ gunning out of a hairpin and nearly nipping the guardrail before roaring off into the dusk?

It is all of them. And it’s every other car-struck film star, Ferrari owner, Corvette freak, Mustang maven, Alfa fan, hot-rod wrench, rat-racer, and auto junkie before and after who also came to wrangle this asphalt serpent coiled above the City of Angels. The fangs belong to Mulholland Drive.

Built in 1924 and named for L.A. Aqueduct originator William Mulholland, the two-lane artery winds and dips and climbs atop the Santa Monica Mountains, a tarmac lace tying together the San Fernando Valley to the north and the Los Angeles basin to the south. Though the entire “Mulholland Scenic Parkway and Corridor” stretches (with some breaks) for 55 miles from Hollywood past Malibu to the ocean, it’s the roughly nine-mile fragment between the 405 Freeway to the west and Mulholland’s eastern terminus at Cahuenga Boulevard that most resembles a playpen for performance tires.

Which is why we come, too. When a Motor Trend colleague says, “Doing a quick Mulholland,” each of us knows the code. Within 15 minutes said colleague will be on top of the city, right foot urging downward, hands busy on the steering wheel, mansions and scenic lookouts and bougainvillea hedges blurring past as yet another test car begins to offer its confession. Over nearly two decades, I’ve driven Mulholland so many times I can narrate its passage from the couch. Like a race circuit, Mulholland has even earned names for many of its turns: Carls and Carls Jr., Sideways, Deadmans, the Identicals.

Forget track speeds; Mulholland is tight and varied enough to learn plenty about a car at a merely brisk pace. Yet many come to Mulholland with Andretti pretensions anyway. And many don’t return. Between 1980 and 1982 alone, at the height of the illegal Mulholland road-racing scene (“events” usually held at night), four drivers were killed and 140 injured. To this day, the impromptu races continue — as do the sometimes cliff-diving finales.

Mulholland is more than a road. It’s an escape from the city-planned grid and gridlock below, a quick fix of rural do-as-you-please, a street without streetlights, a vista to reset the eyeballs to infinity. Mulholland does things to you. R.E.M. sang of their muse in “Electrolite”: “If you ever want to fly, Mulholland Drive…” Director David Lynch’s 2001 dream noir carries the road’s name.

Up here the stars come to earth, although most shine behind walls. Among the myriad celebrities calling Mulholland home: Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, the late Errol Flynn and Marlon Brando (who, when ordered by doctors to lose weight, summoned the McDonald’s far below to come throw Big Macs over his fence). Thus, Mulholland’s alias: “Bad Boy Drive.”

The ghosts undoubtedly concur.

(via Motor Trend)

– Gyro

~ by velofinds on November 2, 2009.

One Response to “The Asphalt Jungle: Bad Boy Drive”

  1. […] Bad Boy Drive is also worth checking […]

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