Thursday, June 17, 2010

Riding the rails

I've always had this fascination with those homeless kids who like to jump on trains and have big dogs and the nose plugs and always seem to be from the great North West. I also HATE driving in LA. It is my number one complaint among many, and I have always thought of our metro system as exotic and foreign. (I mean my best friend was born here and has never been below in her whole life). So I thought I'd take one for the wussy hipster team and spend the day riding the rails ala my fellow blond sister Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels.

I walked the two blocks from my place to the Hollywood and Western Metro Station, took a deep breath, and headed down. I was immediately stuck by two things. One: It was almost empty. Two: A day pass is only $5 ! $5! I spend more on gas every freakin time I drive to Santa Monica. They have these weird passes they call TAP, which LD Hadley could not figure out how to use, so this nice old man helped me out. Realization Three: Everyone on the Metro (especially the Metro employees) are super nice. Like almost eerie nice. I guess it's a way to put their more recognized brothers in NYC and London to shame.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon. The trains run very promptly every 12 minutes. I knew I wanted to go to Union Station so I hopped on the Red Line. Like almost all the trains I rode, it was about half full, this one with Lakers fans on their way to the Staples Center. Everyone's newspaper seemed to be opened to a story about the Dodgers. Men in business suits chatted with young punks about the finals game. On the way there we passed about five of the places I have written about- places it had taken forever to get to by car.

I arrived at Union Station in downtown LA, grand and crowded, and remembered how much I miss the special communal feeling of the hustle and bustle that comes with public transportation. That feeling of importance that everyone has places to go and everyone's in this brave new journey together. I think that's sorely lacking in the LA that I live in. But a seed was starting to germinate in my mind that perhaps the LA I live in isn't the real LA at all.

I decided to go to Long Beach- so another super-friendly lady in a kiosk told me to take the Purple Line to the Blue Line. The Blue Line is heaven for a nervous voyeur such as myself since the train quickly becomes above ground and goes right through all of East LA. You pass right by the Staples Center then on through neighborhoods in Compton, Watts, Firestone, Artesia. The train is slightly elevated so you can see what people are doing in their yards- kids playing basketball, old women watering plants and lost looking guys playing craps. A whole metro culture exist- swap meets and notaries sit right next to stops loudly advertising their wares.

The Blue Line lets out right at downtown Long Beach. I took a walk on the waterfront (where I saw another of my old haunts-the Queen Mary). As I watched a bunch of kids hanging out by the water and fans lining up to watch the Lakers I realized that we Hollywood folk, whether we live in Echo Park or Brentwood, really aren't members of the real "Los Angeles" at all. We are like travelers passing through, making it our own insulated and sadly isolated community and wearing blinders to the vibrant and rough city all around us.

But like all adventures which start starry eyed and exhilarated ("I will always ride the metro, I am getting rid of my car!") it soon became tempered with boredom, vague disgust and disillusionment. I took the Green Line to Redondo Beach and for the first time the train car was dirty and the people were sad. Most of the Green Line runs right through the Interstate, which makes you feel very nauseous and the Redondo Beach stop was not actually at the beach but in the middle of industrial hell.

Depressed, I caught the high speed Silver Line bus (literally in the middle of the freeway) back to the Red Line and was immediately perked back up. The bus driver was very friendly and so were the patrons and we soon became banded together trying to get through the escalating mayhem that was downtown LA during the final Lakers game. Many surface streets were closed and we had to forge our way through the sea of yellow jerseys and police helmets. Regular bus riders were helping the driver figure out streets and a lovely lady kept trying to fill me in with what was going on in broken English and I replied to her in broken Spanish.

It was 8.00 pm by the time we made it to the 7th Street Station and I was tired when I finally headed back home on the Red Line. But then these three adorable but hardened kid brothers in my car began singing a beautiful rendition of "Nothings Going to Change My World." Everyone listened. A couple of people danced and a majority of folk gave the kids whatever money they could. I think this is the "real" LA, the LA that counts- we entertainment types are only here till the mill closes down and stops spewing gold to a lucky few.


Travel: A
Ease: B
Content:A
Subjective coolness: A
Overall: A

For Direction, hours and price: http://www.metro.net/



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