Commuting* with the Los Angeles Elite**
12.06.2013 - 17.06.2013
* Taking the bus
** Maids, shift workers, hobos, weirdos, tourists, clowns
Before long it seemed things were coming to an end like all great things do. I was back in Los Angeles, the city that was the bookends of my North American adventure. The setting was so LA, it was a typically gorgeous, sunny Californian day. I had spent the morning strolling along Venice Beach enjoying the glorious dichotomy; a beach full of beautiful people here, a peppering of hippy surfers there, add a helping of sunburned, overwhelmed tourists with a delightful smattering of stoners and hobos.
I was waiting for a bus in Marina Del Ray to do some last minute economy stimulation in Culver City.
There I was sitting in a dusty garden bed under a palm tree, finishing my Starbucks grande iced latte with the sun beating down on me waiting for the public bus to hopefully roll by and take me where I wanted to go.
This I surmised was the epitome of my experience in LA. Palm trees, sunshine and waiting for transport. The long, waits for transport it seems were just as LA as fish tacos and juice cleanses.
Finally, the bus I wanted approaches. I get on, pay my fare and it goes a block then parks and takes a 15-minute scheduled break.
I had waited almost an hour for the bus.
Ahhhhh LA you useless, rat-faced son of a bitch.
Deep breath. Try again.
Thankfully this wasn’t the first time I’d been bitch-slapped by LA transit and thankfully it wasn’t imperative I get to Target in the next 30 minutes to buy three tubs of Carmex at the America’s low-low prices.
I knew LA was renown for it’s terrible bumper-to-bumper traffic but I didn’t realise that it was because everyone has a car. LA is a driving city. They love their cars and quite frankly, only losers choose to not conquer the city's horrendous traffic daily. There are even carpool lanes on freeways to try and entice drivers with a faster moving lane but still, not only does nearly everyone seem to drive, most cars have only the driver in them. And I'm not taking about someone driving a Barina or even a small Golf if you are wealthy, I'm talking about an empty bar-the-driver Range Rover, Escalade or Jeep road monster.
Because of this love of fast cars and life in the fast lane bullshit, there is little love for public transport. The rest of us schmucks who are visiting and don’t have a car have to take the bus with the city’s other plebs, people too crazy or, heaven forbid, too poor, to own a car.
The bus comes when it comes, there is no timetable and I guess you can’t know its late that way. Then it goes like a bullet down the boulevards, screeching to a halt at an intersection throwing everyone violently forward before throwing everyone back again to repeat the process. If you get high enough in the Hollywood hills you can see why getting around LA is such a nightmare. It is a massive, expansive city. I suspect the cross-town LA bus takes roughly 12-13 days. The other problem with it being a car city is that no one knows anything about the bus, I dare say some have never noticed their existence yet alone know how to get anywhere. The only person you can get helpful bus stop advice from is a homeless person. In San Francisco we couldn't find the bus stop until a man took time out of his day sitting on a corner to point out that the bus stops at a splash of paint on the curb. I mean really, us idiots could have spent all day looking for a signpost like complete fools.
Tourist information workers know that, yes you can get a bus to Santa Monica from Downtown; it's bus 708 it leaves from Bay 6. What they don’t know is only a bloody fool would take the bus because as we soon found out it takes two hours, two hours across the city, two hours getting your senses assaulted, two hours plummeting down a highway to something mere centimetres away from Union Station on the map. By the time we got off the sweaty stinkhole bus we had lost most of our will to live and a corn dog on the pier could scarcely return our joie de vivre.
"A big megacity like LA must have a subway system", you ask, well yes, there is a token train system. It goes every 10 minutes (nice) and links Hollywood Boulevard with the main train station. It's really quite handy the first, and only time, you need to go to Hollywood Blvd. The rest of the city however is completely abandoned. And I suppose if I had a beautiful Spanish-style villa in Beverly Hills I sure as hell wouldn't want a carriage load of bottom dwellers anywhere near my investment.
The suburban service is equally distressing. The Metrolink connects the city with the ‘burbs so you can live the high life in Laguna Beach or the O.C and flit in to the city to Rodeo Drive.
No, no, those people would have cars.
I mean, you can live in Compton and clean houses in Beverly Hills. In the morning they leave hourly until 9am, yes 9am. The last one goes back from LA at 6:30pm. This is designed for people who have no desire to go to Los Angeles at all or their working day takes them to within walking distance of Union Station before the scurry back into the suburbs.
So much of our time in LA was spent waiting for transport. We waited and waited, and got on buses and waited and then ran for connections and waited, and we missed trains and events. We had tickets to the baseball to see the Angels vs Yankees. We missed the train to the stadium on game day. The game started at 12:30. We miss the train by 10 minutes. The next train would arrive at 2:40pm. There is absolutely no other way to Anaheim short of taking a $100 cab fare, which doesn't quite stack up against our $20 tickets. So we wait, sitting in Union Station, deflated, defeated, we had left Hollywood 1.5 hours before and been royally screwed over by every bus and connection. We were going to miss the game, one of the only things I had tickets for in advance (the other a show at UCB theatre which we only made in time after abandoning the bus and jumping in a taxi).
So we trudged onto the 2pm train cursing the beautiful people of LA and their decision to not run more trains on game day. The good thing is baseball can go for 2-3 hours, there was a chance we could catch some, at least take a photo inside, ideally with a hotdog. We arrived 2 hours 10 minutes after the start and expected to see a flood of people walk towards us as the game ended. We walked briskly around the massive arena to our gate then up what felt like 100 flights of stairs hoping the game had a few more minutes. We got to our seats with two innings to go, whatever that means. We took our photos and pretended to know what we were watching, not risking going out for a ballpark hotdog in case it ended. The amazing thing is as we were rushing towards the arena through a car park the size of a city, weaving in and out the cars, evidently the way the other 30,000 people had arrived, we met two Australian girls who were doing the same thing.
“I just figured there’d be a train on game day at least”, the Australian girl said as they power walked beside us.
We had all assumed. And you know what they say what happens when you assume.
Why hadn't we learned our lesson? Just leave three hours before any event, train departure, meeting and just in general to avoid any disappointment.
A few days later we did the same journey from Hollywood to Union Station, lesson learnt, we left earlier and got to Union Station in 40 minutes, less than half the time.
LA just won’t let us win.
Back on the stationary bus, while the driver read the newspaper I looked back across the intersection behind me and Marina Del Ray, lamenting how in the several hours since I began my day, how truly little I had achieved. I finally got to Culver City and spent some quality time in Target. I found my way back to the bus stop and attempted the return trip. I ran for the bus sitting there thinking I’d really done well, look who is as good as a local, I get on, things are finally lining up for this…
...and I’m promptly told I am on the wrong bus.
Ain't nothing gonna breaka my stride. I jump off and get on the next bus, chuffed to have manoeuvred a semi-successful bus journey I sit down with a grin, half expecting a round of applause.
Then I realise seated behind me is a sleeping clown.
A clown, riding the bus, with a trolley full of life possessions, catching some much needed shuteye.
Ah yes, yes, THIS is definitely LA.
Sunny and beautiful but bat shit crazy with truly terrible public transport.
It is a crazy but amazing city. Despite its terrible transport, when you do get on a hellhole cross-town bus rather than drive a black SUV with tinted windows down Sunset, you get to see a slice of real LA life, and real LA is less Kardashian and more sleeping homeless clown.