LA Commuters Brace Themselves For 'Obama Jam'

Aug 6, 2013

President Obama is in California today for a short visit that includes an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

His visits cause a bit of panic, with drivers concerned about major traffic headaches, but some say it’s much ado about nothing.


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Well, now to Los Angeles, which has been abuzz during the past few days, with the pending arrival of President Obama today. But it is not the president's appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" that has residents in a tizzy. It's the expectation of major traffic jams - dubbed Obama Jams - that have commuters bracing for a headache. Kajon Cermak is a traffic reporter with KCRW in Santa Monica. And she is with us now. Hi, Kajon.

KAJON CERMAK, BYLINE: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: Great to have you. So on a good day in Los Angeles, the traffic is not great. At least that's the reputation that it has. And I know from experience that, in fact, there is something to that. But when the president comes, tell us about this Obama Jam. What happens?

CERMAK: It's a nightmare. The traffic is so bad. And you think actually that the natives would be used to it, but we're not. It's still something we complain about every single day. So when Obama comes, you can be sitting in traffic for maybe two hours just to go a couple of blocks. So they started...


CERMAK: You can tell the traffic is really bad. You check your Twitter feed and all you see is #obamaprofanity.


CERMAK: So it could be any word you possibly let your imagine, think of. Those are the words they used with our president.

HOBSON: And he comes pretty frequently, right? I mean, he has to come for fundraisers, he comes for events. It's one of the biggest cities in the country. He's there not infrequently.

CERMAK: As a matter of fact, this will be his fourth time on Jay Leno. So, yeah, he does come out a lot.

HOBSON: And what's the response from the city? Have they figured out a way to make it work a little better when he comes?

CERMAK: We have rolling closures now. So they'll shutdown an intersection where he's going to be passing through, say, on a major thoroughfare. It'll be like Wilshire Boulevard or something like that. And they'll shut the intersection down, the intersections as we go, and as soon as he rolls by, they open it back up.

HOBSON: They open it back up, which is what they do in New York City, for example, when he comes through pretty frequently. And they will shutdown a block just for a few minutes while his motorcade goes through, and then they'll open it right up.

CERMAK: Exactly, exactly. But it's funny because, again, if you look at our newspapers, all the headlines are saying the nightmare comes back. And honestly, I can't really figure it out. I mean, there is a little bit of a hassle, but our construction problems here are way bigger than Obama Jam.

HOBSON: So, Kajon, what would your advice be to your fellow Angelenos today in terms of avoiding Obama Jam?

CERMAK: You need to keep up to date, keep your Twitter on, pay attention to where he is going. We do know he is landing at LAX. They do keep things secret as, you know, for security reasons. But as far as we know, he's landing at LAX, and it does look like he might even be taking a helicopter into Burbank and going to the Bob Hope Airport there.

But you just have to pay attention to make sure he's not on the streets. Turn to your - well, I'd like to say 89.9 FM and hear how the traffic is going, keep up, and just make sure there isn't anything more difficult going on. And if you don't have to be in those areas, avoid them.

And we'll have a period of time that we'll be suggesting people stay away from certain areas. But mostly, he doesn't even come in during rush hour anymore. So just pay attention and have fun. It's Obama Jam.

HOBSON: Kajon Cermak is a traffic reporter with KCRW, which, as she said, is 89.9 in Los Angeles. Kajon, thanks so much.

CERMAK: You're welcome. Oh, one more thing, Jeremy.


CERMAK: I do like to tell people to pack a snack just in case.


JAMES TAYLOR: (Singing) Damn this traffic jam. How I hate to be late. It hurts my motor to go so slow. Damn this traffic jam. Time to get home...


Jeremy, it sounds like this might be a job for "The Californians" from "Saturday Night Live."


HOBSON: Oh, the - from "Saturday Night Live." Indeed. Do you pack a snack, by the way, for traffic jams? I don't, but...

YOUNG: If you're driving in Los Angeles, you bring a camper.

HOBSON: You know, when I lived in Los Angeles, somebody told me to keep a bottle of water in the trunk of the car, which I still do, in case of an earthquake. I was like, oh, that will really help me out a lot to have one bottle of water I'm sure. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.