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Dinner at 8… MPH On the 405

The Asphalt Jungle

Whenever I find myself consumed by yet another crush of Los Angeles gridlock, I'm always reminded of that sly line by the late Yogi Berra: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

That's the thing about the City of Angels: You could move, but there's too much great stuff here—the idyllic weather, the Getty museum, the window displays at Trashy Lingerie. And so, after a quarter century as an Angeleno, I've perfected driving in a place where millions of others also want to be. I thought it might be helpful to share Arthur's Traffic Survival Guide.

"Try audiobooks," a friend suggested long ago. "It's a great way to catch up on Tolstoy, Melville—all the classics."

That sounded like a fine idea, so I downloaded "Fifty Shades of Grey." Things went OK for the first few miles or so. Then came the part where Anastasia finds herself in an elevator with Christian: "Before I know it, he's got both of my hands in one of his in a viselike grip above my head, and he's pinning me to the wall using his hips. ... His other hand grabs my hair and …"

Wham! I smacked into the bumper of the car ahead of me. The driver got out and walked back to my window. "I'm sorry," I said to him. "I was listening to an audiobook and ..."

" 'Fifty Shades of Grey'?"

"Uh, yes. How did you ..."

"I hit somebody last week," he said with a smile. "It's OK, buddy."

Choosing the right audio book is vitally important. Donald Trump's "The Art of the Deal" works extremely well. I listened for a while, and the next thing I knew I woke up parked in a median. The first chapter was over, and by then all the traffic was gone.

Eating in the car is underrated. I'm not talking about wolfing down an Egg McMuffin while balancing a Vivarin-enriched orange juice on your knee. With L.A. 's glacial traffic, there's plenty of time to enjoy a four-star dining experience behind the wheel.

The first time I tried this, I was southbound on the 405, crawling back to the office after a noontime appointment in the Valley. In previous years, my stomach would have been churning at being stuck in the crushing gridlock. But by now I was eagerly anticipating the five-course lunch I'd arrayed on the passenger seat.

Near Granada Hills, I commenced with a lovely consommé, taking care not to let the bowl spill onto the speedometer. By Van Nuys, I had moved on to the salad, which was so savory I didn't even mind when an overzealous stab of the brakes sent a chunk of goat cheese tumbling down an air vent. The Cornish game hen I ate near Sherman Oaks was also delicious, though it was a bit hard to slice without tipping over the candelabra. All this time, I hardly even noticed the traffic. In fact, after enjoying a leisurely dessert and coffee while crawling over the Sepulveda Pass, I was almost irritated when things began to speed up. Still, I had enough time before reaching Brentwood to smoke a massive Montecristo. Then I got to my office and took a nap.

Your car is also a great place to work out. In fact, a good hour of gridlock can be nearly as healthful as a personal-training session at the gym. You can practice deep-breathing exercises. Bring along some hand weights and tilt your power-reclining seat, and you can perform a full bench-press routine. (If you have a sunroof, you can even do squats.) And the cockpit of an automobile is perhaps the only place where one can use a ThighMaster without fear of being seen. (Bonus: In case of a serious accident, a ThighMaster doubles as a highly effective Jaws of Life.)

Finally, try this: Turn off the radio. Unplug the smartphone. Roll up the windows, and click on a little air. Hear that? It's the sound of you thinking—something we 21st-century automatons don't get to hear often enough.

But keep that little treat to yourself. If the DOT ever finds out that we're all using our cars as fancy isolation tanks, pretty soon it'll start charging for gridlock by the hour.