The South Bay Curve

by Garrison Frost

At some point in the past, a now anonymous traffic reporter looking for an easy way to speed up his or her 30-second recount of highway destruction, arrived at a simpler term to describe the San Diego Freeway between the airport and the Harbor Freeway.

The South Bay Curve.

One could spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out just who that traffic reporter was, or one could just bask in the glory of a perfectly coined name. I knew what it stood for the instant I heard it, as I'm sure everybody else did. The term is wonderfully descriptive – it is in the South Bay, and it is a curve – but it's also got a certain style to it. Everybody likes a curve, the word lends a gentle, organic feel. Curve balls are more interesting than fastballs. Moreover, people from the South Bay are like puppies – they just love to hear their name. Anytime someone on the radio says the words South Bay they are totally pleased.

Given that the South Bay Curve is so important to every single person in the area, it's particularly good that someone gave it a name. It is the South Bay that links us to the outside world. Sure, we have access to the 91 and the Harbor – and the 90 is also in our periphery – but it's really this stretch of the 405 that gets us out of the Bubble most of the time. If not for this little bend in the freeway toward the ocean, the South Bay would really be the sticks. Those multimillion dollar homes on the beach or up in Palos Verdes wouldn't be so multimillion, as few would want to be so disconnected from the real world as to live in them. In other words, the South Bay Curve is a vital part of our identity, a necessary icon on a par with our beach, waves and sunsets.

That said, you would be hard pressed to hear someone from the South Bay speak highly of the South Bay Curve. Sure, maybe 10 or 15 years ago someone might wax sentimental about the "home freeway," but that was when you could drive more than 30 miles per hour on it during daylight hours. Now when one hears about the South Bay Curve on the radio, it's rarely good news. It's usually some kind of fender bender that has traffic backed up all the way back to Sunset Boulevard. Not only is the traffic bad, but the South Bay Curve is a pretty crappy looking stretch of road. For an area that is supposed to conjure all that is best about Los Angeles and California, our signature stretch of freeway looks pretty much like a freeway one would find in Amarillo, Pittsburg or the City of Industry. You can't see the ocean from the South Bay Curve, but you can see about a bazillion billboards, including a 115-foot-tall flashing homage to Fox television brought to you by the city of Lawndale. Want a warehouse store? The South Bay Curve is for you. Looking for a car dealer? You know where to go. Auto body? Construction materials? Light industry? You bet. It's as if we took all the things that we didn't want in our house and dumped them on the front lawn. Really, if you were judging just from the freeway, you wouldn't think there was all that much worth seeing in Manhattan Beach, Torrance or Palos Verdes.

We've even tried to change the name. Not long ago, they named a piece of the South Bay Curve after a Manhattan Beach police officer who died in the line of duty a few years back. It was a nice thing to do. But no one calls it the Martin Ganz Memorial Highway, even though the signs are quite prominent. No, the original name sticks, even though you won't find a single sign on the freeway to that effect.

Sure, an outsider might breeze through this stretch of road on the way to Santa Monica or Orange County without ever knowing the significance of this little bend. No matter, the South Bay Curve isn't meant for them, just like it's not named after their destinations.

(Feb. 14, 2006)

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