Carmageddon Warnings Scare Drivers Off The Roads as Interstate 405 Reopens Early

The most epic thing about Los Angeles' feared Carmageddon weekend might be the zen blanketing a metropolis known for televised car chases and road-rage.

Instead, the City of Angels seemed to take a long, deep, cleansing breath, grateful for the good car karma as the Interstate 405 opened ahead of schedule today.

"I was expecting to fly into the eye of the storm, but it was just a big pussycat," said Eugene Levy, the bushy-browed Canadian comedy actor (Second City TV, all seven "American Pie" movies), writer and director, as he and his wife Deborah Divine settled down for a relaxed Saturday dinner after flying back into town.

The project was moving so far ahead of schedule that transportation officials reopened the freeway 17 hours ahead of their target of 5 a.m. Monday.

Billboards warning of historic gridlock, celebrity tweets to stay in your neighborhood and stern mayoral pronouncements apparently scared most Angelenos off the road (or out of town) during the shutdown of a 10-mile stretch of I-405, a landmark north-south artery connecting the city to the San Fernando Valley.

The closure turned the city's Westside into a relaxing, sun-dappled play-land where restaurants seated patrons without waits and Angelos made uncharacteristic use of their own foot-power to get around.

At least two intrepid skateboarders dodged police and California Highway Patrol officers staged at the onramps for an unimpeded adventure down the 405, only to be warned they risked arrest if they attempted a repeat performance.

Divine said she and Levy, who split their time between Los Angeles and Toronto, had considered rescheduling Saturday's return flight from the Northwest, but were delighted things worked out so well with their return into what many people had expected might be the eye of the traffic storm.

The couple dined at The Daily Grill in the Brentwood neighborhood of the city, just west of the 405, where they were among such regulars as Julie Newmar, the actress best known for portraying Catwoman in the "Batman" television series of the 1960s.

More than a week ahead of Carmageddon, the restaurant chain reached out by email, Twitter and Facebook to promote a special Carmageddon Survival Menu, offering "select menu items for $4.05 each to help ease the 405 headache this weekend."

Cocktails created for the occasion bore such transportation-associated names as Side Car Martini, Freshly Squeezed Greyhound and METRO-politan. Server Nicole Barreto said the evening crowd was smaller than usual, but "a lot more people came in and asked about the 405 special."

At his window table, Levy mulled the way Angelenos were making Carmageddon weekend decisions about whether to stay or leave town and speculated about whether traffic would be worse on today when the lack of Saturday gridlock might lure wary residents back onto local roads, creating what he called "Sunday, Bloody, Sunday."

"It's a head-game," Levy said. "You're double- and triple-guessing what people are going to do."

At the Hammer Museum in Westwood, a half-mile east of the freeway closure, doors literally stayed wide open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., on Saturday, welcoming tourists and locals alike for a free weekend in its galleries, which contain Impressionist masterpieces in The Armand Hammer Collection of Art as well as special exhibits.

In a stroke of remarkable coincidence, featured exhibits included L.A. artist Ed Ruscha's "On The Road" paintings, a look back at Jack Kerouac's 1957 Beat novel of the same name, both paying tribute to the centrality of the road trip in America's life and imagination.

"I was surprised because people walked here and people never walk," said gallery security guard Katrina Blanchard, 22. "Whole families came out of the woodwork."

Museum attendance also got a boost from the closures of The Getty Center and The Skirball Cultural Center, museums both located along the closed Sepulveda Pass section of the 405, she said.

Halfway into the planned 53-hour shutdown of the country's busiest artery, Angelenos celebrated the uneventfulness of it all – even as news helicopters continued droning overhead along the 10-mile freeway stretch, from Interstate 10 to U.S. 101, closed for widening and for demolition of half the Mulholland Bridge spanning the freeway.

At Arturo's Shoe Fixx in Beverly Hills, known for its expert repairs and restoration of designer shoes and handbags crammed from floor to ceiling, Ari Libaridian, 34, grandson of the store's octogenarian owner Arturo Azinian, was enjoying the easy pace of the weekend.

"I think they did a really good job of scaring everybody," he said.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, just as freeway ramps were closing, he made the trek along the 101, from Encino in the San Fernando Valley to his home in the Hollywood Hills in just 10 minutes. "Never in my life has it taken me just 10 minutes," he said. "There was nobody on the road. It was great!"

Libaridian said he could see the benefit of the open roads on the shop's customers: "They're all in a good mood because there isn't any traffic outside."

Simon Mkrtchyan, a veteran L.A. cabdriver who hails from Armenia, welcomed the relative calm. For a summer Saturday, he said, demand for cabs was slower than usual. He attributed that to the slew of dire Carmageddon warnings.

"People are smart. They understand," he said, speculating that many simply moved to Monday lots of activities requiring driving. Still, he said, by 4 p.m. on Saturday, he'd already driven twice to LAX and been to Brentwood, and he was still smiling. "I know L.A. It's like a family," he said. "They know what they're doing."

Nurses and other medical staff scheduled to work at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center were given the option of overnight housing to avoid long commutes.

About 500 of them took advantage of offers Friday and Saturday nights to sleep either in UCLA dorm rooms or Tiverton House , a hospital-run hotel in Westwood Village, or in a brand-new hospital tower at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center scheduled to open in early 2012, said Roxanne Yamaguchi Moster, director of UCLA Health Sciences media relations.

"We're grateful and want to thank our employees, who are extremely dedicated and committed to providing the highest level of patient care during this Carmageddon freeway closure weekend that turned into Carma-Heaven," she said.

Angelenos love their movie sequels.

So officials can only hope residents won't have become complacent 11 months from now when the remaining half of the Mulholland Bridge comes down in Carmageddon II.