The Value of Reference Points


An Empty Parking Lot at Target- Got to love it.

My second day in town someone told me that if I am smart I’ll find “the shortcuts around 35 and 820 because traffic and construction are bad.”

I had to smile at that because my reference points for traffic are the freeways around Los Angeles. I know traffic and I know what it means to have to be in the car for extended periods of time because you just aren’t moving as fast as you would like to.

And I know what it means to find alternate routes and how sometimes the “shortcut” isn’t any faster but it feels good because you are still moving and that feels better than sitting in a line of cars.

Twenty Minutes

I thanked the woman for the advice and asked her if she could provide more specific details about how long it would take to travel between the two parts of town I had to hit and she said twenty minutes.

That made me smile again but it also raised a number of questions. That is because it is tied into the old joke about how long it takes to go from point A to B in Los Angeles.

The answer is always twenty minutes even when it takes much longer or far less. So when you say it takes twenty minutes I wonder if that is an “LA” twenty minutes or if it is really twenty minutes.

It makes a difference, how else do I figure out when I should leave.

A Horse and A Funny Accent

One of the first questions my daughter asked was if I was going to ride a horse and have a funny accent. I had to laugh and smile at that one too, but I wasn’t surprised because her reference point didn’t come from first hand experience.

It is really no different from the comments and questions I get about Los Angeles about earthquakes, traffic, gangs and movie stars. If your reference point is limited to what you have seen in the movies or heard from others it is easy to be “confused” about the reality of the situation.

The Untourist Rides Again

I suppose that part of the reason I am trying to become the untourist is to create accurate reference points so that I know what people mean when they say “twenty minutes” or other things along those lines.

And I wonder when old reference points will blur against the current ones and I won’t be surprised when I can walk through Costco during the week and find it half empty.

How long will it take for this place to start to feel more like home and not just a vacation.  There is no right or wrong answer to that question or need to rush. It is just something I am curious about.

(Visited 80 times, 1 visits today)


  1. Pingback: How Do You Become A Cowboy?

  2. Tim Bonner February 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I’m sure there’s an Edinburgh twenty minutes too :-).

    I remember when I first moved up to Scotland, I was asked by friends back home if I now wear a kilt and eat haggis.

    Both of which I didn’t and still don’t. The first one because I think that’s really a Scots tradition and not one I want to encroach on (or at least that’s my story) and for haggis because I just can’t get passed what it really is!

    • Josh February 6, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      Hi Tim,

      I hadn’t thought about it, but it makes perfect sense to me that there would be an Edinburgh twenty minutes too.

      Can’t blame you about the Haggis, yuck.

  3. Dan Black February 5, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    I live in San Diego and have driven in L.A. traffic and it can be stressful to say the least.

  4. Craig McBreen February 5, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Hey Josh,

    We have a “Seattle” twenty minutes and trust me, we’re edging up on L.A., comes with our isthmus-like geography, combined with too many 40-year-old Volvos and VW Vans. If I get one more question about coffee or rain, I’m gonna …

    I’ve been away for too long and now I need to catch up with you and your move to the land of people with funny accents 😉 Enjoying what I’ve read so far.

  5. Kaarina Dillabough February 5, 2013 at 6:45 am

    Experiences like this make us realize how much our interpretation of something, and our awareness of it, is related to our reference points and context. Great to shake things up once in a while, to see through clearer eyes and different perspective…and you’re doing just that, Mr. Untourist:) I’m really enjoying your posts. I feel like I’m untouristing right along with you. Keep ’em coming. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Josh February 5, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      Hi Kaarina,

      Very true. Overall I have enjoyed shaking things up so that I can take a look at the world from a different perspective. It has been kind of fun to see how different it can be when you move from the places you have always used as your viewpoints.

  6. Josh February 4, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you. I think there is definitely room for adventure and intrigue. New places, new customs and new reference points- lots of blog fodder and stories to be told, experienced and shared.

  7. Brian D. Meeks February 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    That was a wonderful read and really got me thinking. I would think something as simple as not knowing the customs, like L.A.’s twenty minute rule, could be the catalyst for all sorts of problems.

    Your writing has got me thinking about writing. I love it when that happens.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please enter an e-mail address

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You may also like
%d bloggers like this: