Afterthoughts: The H-1 Lullaby

Steering my way through the night.

Photo: Linny Morris


I live overlooking—or, more accurately, over-listening—the H-1. Our apartment is perched high enough that the freeway isn’t a noisy nuisance; it’s just a background shuush sound, not unlike the ocean. An urban surf.

My vantage point over this asphalt ebb and flow makes me an excellent amateur traffic reporter. I can tell when rush hour is particularly bad, or if the raging car fire tying up westbound traffic has been extinguished.


But with the birth of my daughter, the H-1 has become a trusted companion. No matter how ungodly the hour, there’s motion on the H-1. Taillights glow red in one direction; in the other, headlights are a squinty, golden bright. This stream of cars is a comforting assurance that I am not, in fact, the sole human awake. Where y’all going at 3:17 a.m., by the way? To work, to fish, to party, I suppose. To 7-Eleven and Hungry Lion.

 Our family sleeps in Venn diagrams these days: One adult at a time clings joyfully to a pillow, rarely intersecting with both a sleeping baby and a spouse. During my shift, I linger at the window, counting the vehicles as they pass through the night, and inhale the breeze coming down off the mountains. The middle of the night smells green, like ferns and leaves. The air is almost tangible, a mossy velvet.

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

Shuush, says the green wind.

Orange city lights dot the dark hillside along the H-1. It looks as if a constellation came home late one night, emptied its pockets of loose stars and stumbled off to bed. They lie scattered, these pretender stars, creating a glow perfectly illuminating my laps around the living room. I pace, jiggling 12 pounds of swaddled, heavy-lidded baby. She’s contemplating dozing off—seeming suspicious of rest despite her obvious fatigue. 

Shuush, I say to her.

I attempt a lullaby, but I’m afraid that, at this hour, I can conjure one song and one song only: “Lola,” by the Kinks. “Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand/Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man …”

I can tell when my daughter is falling asleep because she starts to instinctively smile, a REM cycle going through her little brain. And then, if I’m really lucky, she will laugh. Not a giggle, but a deep, almost masculine chortle. Heh-heh-heh. It’s like she is dreaming of being a Catskills comedian, circa 1957.

Or maybe she’s laughing because she just got the punch line of “Lola.”

It’s 5:06 a.m. The H-1 grows busier, the cars more evenly spaced. Through the window, I see my neighbor’s shadow sipping coffee. I hear trash trucks below the apartment, clattering as they back up. I think of the sleep I’m missing, and the bags that are going to be under my eyes, and the 9 a.m. meeting I need to attend.

Shuush,” I say to myself. Soon enough this baby will sleep through the night, then be too big to cradle in one arm, then be too big to carry at all.

So I savor the night and the tiny girl who laughs in her sleep. I listen to the surf of cars on the H-1.