Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

Novemer 25, 2014

Wazed and Confused

I’m not great with time.


Ask anyone.


I cram too much in, I leave too late, I end up reverting to what my husband calls, “magical thinking” when it comes to commuting. “It’s okay, it’s okay!” I protest, “I have 15 minutes to travel what normally takes 30, but maybe today is the special day when there is NO TRAFFIC in Los Angeles!”


I am nothing if not an optimist.


Last week I had a breakfast meeting at 8:45 in Brentwood. I had to drop my kids off at school in Woodland Hills at 8 and yes, in rush hour traffic, accomplish a 65-minute drive in 40. No problem! Waze to the rescue!


For those newbies, Waze is a GPS app that figures in current traffic. “Always trust Mr. Waze,” Brad says, and I do. Waze has steered me through surface streets that, besides having me avoid freeway gridlock, also gets me unto new streets, with new sights, in this city where I’ve lived for so long.


8:00: the squabbling children disembark.


8:01: I give Mr. Waze my address.



Now, for you non-Angelenos, let me explain a few things. I live in the San Fernando Valley. The unfashionable part of town. I tell some snooty folks where I live and their noses crinkle, heads cock. “Really?” they muse. “Hmmm.” (There are a million reasons I love where I live, but a big one is that there are not snooty people like that who live here.)


The Valley is really and truly a valley, meaning at one end are the San Gabriel Mountains, and at the other is the Santa Monica Mountains, with Mulholland Drive on top. The 405 freeway roars like a mighty river through the Sepulveda Pass, leading a driver to Beverly Hills, the airport and to Brentwood where my breakfast date waited. At 8 am, peak rush hour, there are very few sneaky ways that are congestion-free, but lo and behold, Mr. Waze gave me one.


It had me going in back of my kids’ school, through charming neighborhoods that were brand new to me. It had me avoiding the mind-bending gridlock of the 405/101 freeway exchange. And oh, sweet Jesus — it had me arriving five minutes early to Brentwood.


Clearly, there was some Star Trek portal involved.


I followed the route. The road was quiet and cool. The houses were peaceful and unknown to me as I climbed up toward the top of the ridge. “In 100 yards, take the next left,” Waze crooned, and I obeyed, good and hopeful soldier. “There must be another way up and over Mulholland,” I mumbled out loud to no one. “Thank God I have Waze to open my eyes to a new way to go.”


I climbed and checked my ETA, still had me arriving well before 8:45, though now my clock said 8:20. I climbed and noticed a strange icon on my Waze map, flashing something incomprehensible, yet still I climbed. Now I neared the top of the ridge, where Mulholland Drive snakes to the sea, the top of the ridge after which I’d descend into the fertile fields of the tonier West Side and the $17 organic latte that awaited me there. Still I climbed and – what the HELL?


My road stopped. At a gate. That led to an impassible fire road. A fire road that was closed to the public. A fire road that had been indicated by the flashing incomprehensible icon, which should have had a voice memo: “THIS LOOKS LIKE A ROAD FROM THE WAZE GPS, BUT TURN AROUND AMY!” A road is not always a road.


I steamed back down the mountain. I knew I had to rejoin the other shmucks on the 405 and I knew now that I’d be a full 40 minutest late for my meeting. Still, Waze pretended to care: “In 500 feet turn left.” “Make a legal U-turn.” “Turn right.” Waze still wanted me back up on that fire road.


I yelled at the iPhone, “You are WRONG, Waze! You think you know better, but it’s a friggin’ fire road, you stupid disembodied no-nothing voice!” Like Hal in 2001 Waze continued to goad me until I realized – oh yeah, that’s right, I could turn it off. Right about the moment I entered the stream of lemmings on the 405.


Years ago, when I still believed in linearity and coherence in life, I thought that one thing led logically to another and if I planned just right (not easy for a right-brained gal like me) I’d get to where I set out to go.


One autumn I landed a role in a play at Lincoln Center that I’d really, really wanted. Like most actors, theater is the mother lode of fun and I’d gotten myself into a project that not only seemed like a blast, but also would show my theater acting chops, nicely balancing the burgeoning TV and film career. Also, I had two movies in the can.


“This is perfect,” I said to my agent at the time, “I have a tent pole movie, that will do big box office, I have an edgy indie that of course will go to Sundance, and I’m doing a play at Lincoln Center which will cement my New York street cred. So, so perfect.” (I am wincing now as I recount this.)


You know what’s coming. The tent pole movie crashed opening weekend, the indie went straight to video, and the play flopped rather spectacularly (but was still a blast to do.) So much for best-laid plans.


The good news? Letting go of the idea that there is a Master Plan, a formula for success, a career Waze that has the secret that will get me there ahead of everyone else. It doesn’t exist. Our best compasses are our own instincts and courage to follow our own path, for real, and to let our own idiosyncratic light shine on, down one road and then another. Eudora Welty writes:


“Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching — cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized for themselves connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly, a light is thrown back — as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect.”


Over time, only in hindsight, does our path seem inevitable, soulful and uniquely our own.
I licked my wounds after my three flops, took a deep breath, and thought, “Well, screw it. If there is no Master Plan, I might as well do it my own way anyhow.” The freedom I felt inspired me to create Judging Amy. I had never created or produced a TV show before, and no one, anywhere, thought it would be much of a success. Go figure.


A week ago I did the 405 slog to meet my breakfast date, Damon Lindelof who, The Leftovers not withstanding, is one of the funniest people on the planet.
I texted him: “Gonna be 30 minutes late. GPS fucked me.”


He texted me back: “I hope it used protection.”


We get to our destination however we’re meant to get there, in whatever time it takes. It’s sure nice to have friends to text with along the way.