Los Angeles Local Life and Lore

Before you go to L.A., prime yourself on the local lingo so you never find yourself confused.
By: Jesus Sanchez


Driving is the way of life in L.A. How can you avoid getting stuck in a “Sig Alert” near the “Four Level” if you don’t know what those words mean? Get familiar with the lingo of radio traffic reporters and fellow motorists to shorten your freeway drive-time.

  • Four Level — This landmark interchange of the 110 and 101 freeways rises northwest of downtown Los Angeles. It's not as intimidating as it sounds since traffic is so often congested here that drivers have enough time to figure out what lane they need to use.
  • Grapevine — This stretch of Interstate 5, the state's major north-south highway, rises through a mountain pass in far north Los Angeles County. All it takes is a few inches of snow, a patch of ice and even just a gust of wind to trigger an accident, shutting down the road and leaving stranded truckers and motorists scrambling to find a turnoff or an empty seat at a highway diner.
  • Sig Alert — These are official warnings issued by the California Highway Patrol of accidents or debris that shuts down a traffic lane for at least 30 minutes. They are named after Lloyd C. "Sig" Sigmon, a former executive for a Los Angeles radio station, who developed a device that automatically received and recorded official emergency bulletins for rebroadcast.
  • The South Bay Curve — The news is never good when you hear the term "South Bay Curve" on the radio. It usually means another slowdown where the 405 Freeway takes a relatively sharp turn in the South Bay community of Torrance.
  • The Number One Lane — As in "the Number One Lane is shut down." Lanes are numbered from left to right. So, the far left lane is the Number One Lane.
  • Names or Numbers — Just to make things more confusing, many freeways go by different names even though the highway number remains the same. Here are some examples: 
    — The 110 is known as the Pasadena Freeway north of the Four Level interchange but is referred to as the Harbor Freeway to the south. 
    — Interstate 5 is often called the Santa Ana Freeway south of and east of downtown Los Angeles but many times it’s called the Golden State Freeway elsewhere. 
    — Most people call the 101 the Hollywood Freeway south of the Hollywood Hills and the Ventura Freeway in the San Fernando Valley. 
    — The 10 is known as the Santa Monica Freeway west of downtown and as the San Bernardino Freeway east of downtown. As for the small section south of downtown, who knows?
  • While L.A. is a commonly accepted abbreviation for Los Angeles, most other neighboring cities and neighborhoods go by their full names with some of these few exceptions:
  • Weho for West Hollywood
  • The Valley for the San Fernando Valley
  • NoHo for North Hollywood
  • South Pas for South Pasadena
  • Pedro for San Pedro
  • PV or RPV for Palos Verdes and Rancho Palos Verdes
  • There are two non-traditional holidays in Los Angeles when you can get a table at a hot restaurant without a wait or shop at the supermarket without long lines: Academy Awards night and the USC-UCLA football game.


  • Earthquakes, brush fires and bad air are part of the price of living in Los Angeles. Here are some important terms to keep in mind:
  • The Big One: The mega earthquake that will certainly erupt one day along the San Andreas Fault, registering 7.8 or more on the Richter Scale and leaving the ground shaking for as long as two minutes. In comparison, L.A.'s last major shaker, the Northridge quake, registered 6.7 and lasted only 15 seconds.
  • Red Flag Warnings: These are issued by the National Weather Service to indicate that high temperatures and low humidity have created ideal conditions to fan brush fires. Separate Red Flag Warnings issued by the City of Los Angeles and other municipalities mean narrow, hillside streets must be kept free of parked cars to keep roads clear for fire engines and other large emergency vehicles.
  • Unhealthful Air Warnings: These were called Smog Alerts in the old days. The South Coast Air Quality Management Agency (The AQMD) issues a daily forecast as well as different types of Unhealthful Air Warnings. "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" means people with heart or lung disease should cut back on outdoor activities. When AQMD reports "Unhealthy Air Quality," people with heart and lung diseases should stay indoors and everyone should avoid playing tennis, jogging and other strenuous outdoor exercise for more than an hour. Everyone should avoid vigorous outdoor activity when the agency declares "Very Unhealthy Air Quality."

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