A curious thought buzzed my head the other day, then exploded into a blinding, searing realization of enormous power: every resident of Los Angeles I’ve ever met has had exactly the same freakout.

Now, this is the Kingdom of Freaks, and a freakout isn’t unusual, but it was the manner in which the freakout took form, grew and ultimately immolated the sanity of all those who staked a claim in the City of Angels that excited me. At least once, but often on a semi-routine basis, all of my acquaintances were throttled by a sudden cerebellum vice-grip to hit the highway heading north, east or south away from the city. A few of the grander freakouts had caused more debilitating egresses to the west, directly into the ocean.

In the swoons of mania, these desperate escapees floored the accelerator, minds blank of gas prices or transmission fluids, racing to the misbegotten deserts and beaches that wait patiently on the outskirts of our shiny civilization. Trunks empty, cup holders bare, these urges to flee came without warning and demanded the sacrifice of all rationality – there is no planning and no provision, you see, for a genuine freakout.

Booked hotels and private tours be damned. Family outings and college road trips, gone. My acquaintances, who carry but my personal vouchsafe guarantee of normally outstanding moral fiber and able trenchance of mind, had Lost It. They had, silently and deliberately, stopped whatever they were doing, strapped themselves into their automobiles and headed out of the city, directionless, as quickly as possible.

One friend ended up in Seattle before a shot of espresso brought him back to our terrestrial sphere. Months later his friend left his clothes in the dryer of an all-nite laundromat and booked it to Nevada, where he ended up not on the strip in Vegas but the strip of Extraterrestrial Highway outside the military base “not” known as Area 51.

My former roommate left in the dead of night and was found days later eating grapes off the ground in Santa Barbara. I remember, quite clearly but inexplicably, shoving a roll of paper towel in the freezer, taking the keys out of my pocket and driving to Lompoc where I bowled a 126 to the sounds of a Beatles karaoke contest.

The only conceivable explanation for this brand of lunacy is embedded into the very fabric of this city itself. It’s a busy, hot, smoggy, frequently dirty, forever gilded shrine to the infinite possibilities of the human ego slapped squarely on a patch of desert near the ocean.

Unlike other big, deranged cities like New York – where people cannot escape under their own power and instead manifest their madness by convincing themselves that The New Yorker cartoons are not only funny but sending them secret messages to buy a wheel of Gouda cheese; or Chicago and Boston, where people cannot escape during the unending winter but stave off psychosis by busting their guts with Sam Adams Double Lard Winter Ale; or Atlanta or Houston, where people choose not to escape and instead spend four summer months lying prostrate on the floor drinking chilled nail polish – Angelenos are cursed with dreams bigger than their brains and cars to make the impossible seem vaguely plausible.

So what if the road stretches out from the city with the enticement of fool’s gold – a calm life, clear skies, breezes devoid of police sirens – leading way upon way with a smirk that knows its wayward children will always return. We’re proud of our delusions; we make money from them. We’re proud of our civic infantism, our vanity and our gross disregard for communalism of any kind.

But our apathy produces apoplexy, brain bubbles of a terminal crisis of identity in a city of individuals. We seize, our limbs lurching to the clutch and steering wheel, and we bolt out into nights full of unencumbered stars.

Those foreign stars remind us, however fleetingly, that we are very small, and our problems, accordingly, much smaller. Madness fades, tingling returns to the fingers, and we steer our petroleum bandits back home, confident at least for the moment that heaven isn’t full up yet.