The children are worried….
In this car-conscious city a woman of a certain age on public transportation upsets some and baffles others. It was not my idea of a life well lived either. But times change. Children grow up and leave, return and leave, return and need parental support--need parental wheels. My kids, all drivers now living in other states or far east of LA, were naturally concerned when I reversed course. I routinely drove the often dark streets of LA for more than a decade, seeing little but the dim street lights, traffic signals, faded road striping and finally parking lot 5, missing much of the city I call home. The often troubling morning radio news with its limited charms and all too frequent accounts of major tragedies temporarily yields to the basic logistics of simply getting to work in one piece. I now exercise a different option to reach/serve the esteemed UCLA (whose wise sustainability efforts discount public transportation for students, faculty, and staff—yay!).
Metro to the rescue -- as I recalibrate my compass--but it takes some ‘splaining to quell the fears of these adult children.
Rather than speeding by car past a lively flock of seagulls boldly ambling through a parking lot where fast food discards beckon I get up close and personal with these incredible creatures. (This Midwesterner misunderstood why they remained inland but the benefits of a 21st century culture to their urban survival are now clear.) Running late after lingering at home, I savor my vigorous walk to the bus stop impeded by neither flood waters, ferocious winds, or other forces of nature and shortly board the dependable, but endangered 6:06AM bus, the second of the day for this busy line.
I smell pretty perfumes and colognes (although rainy weather portends a less pleasant experience). Breakfast or packed lunches bring out the culinary detective. There are the caffeinated, of course, and occasionally an un-mistakable whiff of cannabis wafts through the air. Whatever gets one’s day started I say.
Between relishing Kindle e-books like the haughty Virginia Woolf’s brilliant, interior world of Mrs Dalloway; the genius of Salman Rushdie’s Luka…; or old books languishing on my book shelf for want of inclination to pick up—second readings of the daunting War and Peace or Toni Morrison’s Beloved come to mind (I wish!), I glance at massive cranes, like spindly robots waving the stars and stripes, altering the landscape. The orange Metro Local ensuring passengers efficiently get from point A to point B careens past a treasured structure today, destined to be rubble in the morning. Heavy machinery turns the earth, seeding the soil to sprout wooden bones that grow concrete skin, support heavy steel arteries and venous beams. Construction grade elevators ferry workers into the thick-before-dawn air laden with dew and blueprints as hard-hats guide live-giving materials hoisted up the magically appearing stories. Rows of cement trucks line fenced-in perimeters churning and spilling out a creamy, grey paste--cells hardened by the sun into a new representation of human enterprise-- contemporary structures to further define the new west coast entertainment hub and its integrity as a tourist destination.
Crenshaw Boulevard is home to an eclectic mix including surprisingly, a few Buddhist temples. The set-back buildings and tell-tale statuary shield saffron-robed monks who must be in morning prayer as I pass (and whose chanting is obscured by the afternoon’s burgeoning city). A large community garden is hardly awake although heads of lettuce and other vegetables peek through, sure signs of tender nurturing year-round.
Hey wait, mom, this is all well and good, but really mom, the bus?
Song-like discussions of the lively sorority of senoras ensue non-stop as they may head for important, domestic infrastructure jobs where I suspect they keep the upwardly mobile, well-financed families moving through the eco-system of our city. I hazard this lyrical Spanish repartee may be of kinship, current events and common struggle. Grievances of marginalized sisterhood fall on my ears as I sporadically dissect a word, a phrase, lamenting the non-utilized college years studying this romantic language. Use it or lose it! Full disclosure: I do not concern myself with these riders’ immigration status nor the politics of this debate; my contortions of the language spoken by a large percentage of riders don’t get me very far; it is easier for the slacker in me to tune the constant buzz out (of it and other discussions as my trusty highlighter absorbs the likes of Utne Reader and its eclectic mix of articles).
Mom, you’ve gotta admit…what about the public nuisances on the bus?
Petty annoyances are patiently borne: the too-loud-and-way-too-personal cell phone exchanges detracting from the appeal of leaving the driving to the skilled driver, and simply enjoy the ride; the undisciplined toddler allowed to dangerously teeter un-tethered in the aisle as the bus moves; the noxious odors of rare, fare-paying homeless who use the seats as beds. (We grin and bear it reminding ourselves that ‘there but by the grace of God go I.’) And side note, curmudgeons are not only men….
Milestones prompt me to look up and simply observe the goings on, much like E-apps signaling break time from computer focus and strain (Virginia Woolf’s description of reading as a repository for one’s emotions seems apropos here….). A big box store surfacing strut by strut on the same lot a comparable store was demolished less than a decade ago as dwarfed Tonka toy truck-like vehicles gouge out the shell of subterranean parking for the DIY crowd; a quaint rock fountain on Cochran flowing gently some mornings; a friend of a friend’s home where San Vicente forks near Wilshire Boulevard and his new cacti plot with varied greens, grays, and burgundies become fully manifest; the lush park where joggers, dog lovers, and martial arts devotees enjoy the cool morning air—all reminders that ours is a fascinating urban environment supporting diverse live-styles.
A deluxe car lot is now ground zero for what? Neither towering cranes nor signage reveal so I’ll just have to wait and see as days become weeks and weeks become months and new construction becomes another happy part of the city. Growing is yet another annex to that all-encompassing fount of healing and wellness, Cedars-Sinai complex (my oldest daughter’s favorite) anchoring San Vicente for a few square blocks. The new eleven-story edifice springs as tall as the adjacent Beverly Center (my youngest daughter’s shopping Mecca) and will definitely compete for the light. Signs of economic failures in office buildings and home front yards sadden, sigh.
Interesting mom, but….
A most fascinating evolution is the new West Hollywood Public Library opposite the blue, green and in-progress red building of the Pacific Design Center. (the red building with its intermittent rows of uncolored windows flaunting stripes deviates from the checkerboard square design of its green sister and oldest sold-colored blue sister.) The library appears to have dedicated more space to parking than to books, but promises to be a welcome neighbor to MOCA and the small park where my young children, a lifetime ago, honed swimming skills while I searched for my transplanted family’s new home base. I really like the undulating bank of thin spaghetti library stairs like those on prestigious museums and government buildings suggesting the art of longevity.
The famed Sunset Strip with no shortage of high watt signage streams a huge Nurse Betty looming large over Sunset Boulevard today, (preceded by a giant bottle of whiskey reminding folk to drink responsibly) only to be replaced plastic lining strip by strip as a US Bank ad assumes her position on the tall-by-LA-standards skyscraper. Buildings give way to blocks with no traffic lights to encumber our progress as the upper echelon of my adopted city comes into view via the vantage point of rider vs. driver. I recognize the heavily gated home with its unique crested verandas and own citrus grove barrier from recent Vanity Fair article—major campus donors, philanthropists POM Wonderful Resnicks. Like a tourist I gaze (not gawk!) at the mansions of the rich and famous lining the wide boulevard. Does the splendor therein match the exteriors? Do these folks have a different set of splendid woes? Brown men and women exit the bus at these wealthy enclaves in leafy glades of extraordinarily manicured landscaping, stunning shades of bougainvillea, birds of paradise, and vibrant ground cover. Screaming entitlement thick concrete walls provide acoustical cover from the never ending traffic. Organic stands of old growth trees predate the swaths of road now cutting through the echo of their dominance for decades, centuries. I wonder about workers exposed to hushed dynamics the likes of which our low to middling budgets may never know. Or inadvertently inducted, pressed for their humble opinions and values re their employers’ awkward scenarios.
Well, maybe mom, but try harder.
A couple of classic, architectural digest-type homes have been under construction over twelve months now--oil-rich Arab sheikh or new, local money? Who could miss the whimsical bronze community’s life-size energy on Copley, a whimsy which precludes meaningful examination driving briskly down this verdant boulevard? Or the ubiquitous, ultra Beverly Hills Hotel (celebrating its centennial next year) and its legendary pastel pink/mossy green façade with matching flora on balconies that have seen their share of celebrity, royalty and history? More than a few bus riders populate the matching pink, shingle-roof depot seemingly awaiting escort to the hotel where they may witness the intrigues of local and international guests but are savvy enough to leave what happens in the BHH at the BHH.
LA bus etiquette is curious, I admit. Passengers routinely wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before even starting to get up from their seats. Mass transit culture of the mid-west found me, my children and everyone else at the door as soon as it opened! It seems to have made sense. Some prefer the front, others the back, me—the middle. Then there are those riders who share the upholstered, molded chairs seemingly oblivious as the availability of a whole seat surfaces only to remain crowded next to me. Risk offending me by moving, why don’t you? LOL! (Our present-day weight issues are very visible in this realm.) Isn’t a window seat the preferred mode of riding? Odd. So I am not as forgiving, non-judgmental and cheerful as I would like...ah, and the dizzying range of ring tones vying for the air waves, argh!
The disabled in wheelchairs are routinely boarded ever so carefully via Metro’s state of the art buses, buses labeled, “Nation’s Largest Clean Air Fleet.” Cyclists attach their bikes to the bus front and continue on until their bike path re-emerges. Mercifully, Transit TV volume is often low enough for the sleep deprived to doze bouncing up and down with every uneven seam in the always in need of repair city asphalt, and for me to also nap briefly as I try to concentrate on the series of econ books scoured in an attempt to learn why the hell the US, as in us/we are in the mess we’re in today. These complex subjects certainly require much concentration and I find a modicum of successful understanding when in the zone. (At the very least I become familiar with the jargon!) I, like others, memorize boarding habits of the regulars and know who may offer the option of a full seat halfway through my trip. When the modulated Metro GPS announcement of planned stops fails to rouse, as a community we know when a rider should be de-boarding and will awaken her from her morning slumber. If a regular does not show up for more than a typical vacation couple of weeks I wonder if they’ve joined the sad legions of the unemployed.
The children are still not convinced so I persist.
And what do other riders know about this rider? Her media sophistication may extend only as far as the twice weekly red Netflix envelopes she clutches to mail on campus (and her Kindle). The bald, cheerful bus driver shocked her with a lovely Valentine token February 14th. National/campus holidays find her taking four-five day weekends of vacation time. She has worn a dress or skirt no more than a few times, preferring the bus-weather friendly attire of trousers and jeans with business appropriate jackets and sweaters, mostly vintage. Her lean shoulders lug a big backpack (usually containing a well-insulated lunch in its deep pocket). She no longer colors her increasingly graying hair, likes costume jewelry, and jockeys for the exact same seat on the 3:52PM ride home where she often naps after the first page. She predictably dons black/brown non-descript reading glasses moments after sitting down. (She speaks of herself in the third person?! Yikes!)
Listen kids, we, all of us move through this life way too quickly. Driving, I would miss the industriousness of my fellow bus-riding stakeholders primarily interested in as uneventful a ride to their destinations as possible. (At the 6AM hour, before dawn half the year, we mostly get it. Who wants to misbehave this early in the morning I ask you?!) We are not amused by the infrequent disgruntled rider with a bone to pick with whoever will listen. No matter, not much of a thrill seeker these days I take my entertainments where I can get them—tensions, distractions, comedies, etc., etc., etc. Indulging my experience in costuming my attention is briefly directed to the always different headdress and matching skirt of a woman who rides about a mile each morning; the dapper gent in suit and hat and seriously elegant footwear; gone are the exclusively white duds which has been replaced by the neat and colorful uniforms of today’s medical staffers; the avid reader on her lighted Ipad tablet who likes wild but attractive prints; understated business wear to withstand the rigors of bus riding; a vast selection of athletic shoes and apparel stand out on the de rigueur hoodie generation; purposeful paint splattered workers donning the tools of their trade.
But hang on kids, there’s more, so much more.
We endure the woe begotten rider who habitually boards the bus with an expired Tap card and watch the heretofore benevolent bus driver--tension finally exploding, stop the bus, get out of his seat, proceed to embarrass the glorified hitchhiker forcing him to drop a few coins into the fare box. For want of a stronger label, I’ll call the petite elderly lady persnickety as she purred a bit too loudly that the young African American gentleman who deigned to share the front seat with her was inappropriately “touching” her. The man was righteously effusive in his response and she raised no further objections. Smart.
And let me not leave out the memorable, brash rider who asserting he was “looking for a wife” is then given to belligerent ranting and raving for miles. His hysterics challenge and disrespect the bus driver who dared him to “shut up.” I felt bad for the diplomatic driver suffering in silent détente while the rider editorializes on his supreme qualifications as a potential husband. Should this collision of wills result in an alert to Metro Security? The driver thinks not as it does not merit the significant delay it would cause everyone. Good call. Feigning absorption in my business, not his, it was a good a time to flick tawny-colored cat hair from my worn cashmere sweater. The audience sits with an attitude of accepting and/or ignoring the tense performance. We are delivered of the final curtain of this militant theatre when almost missing his stop he de-boards proclaiming, “I’m a general, #?!*&#@+^%!!!!!!!!” A collective sigh of relief is virtually audible and feels like thunderous applause--consensus for his blessed departure.
In this age of uber media and communication outlets keeping many sequestered in their multi-tasking universes of music, sound bites, laptop movies, etc.--wireless and bond-less, is silence golden? Ask the student trying to get a few more minutes of study time or ZZZZZs before an early class.
Well, you’re making your case….
It’s time to get to finish a chapter or section as the bus turns the corner anchored by the renown Whiskey a Go Go and its marquee of rock upstarts and legends. My children vaguely remember passing this monument many years ago as we walked down the steep hill to the park that would be “home” until suitable quarters could be found in this outlandish, new city. I continue my survey of the artful, larger than life guitars strategically mounted in honor of the instrument’s contribution to music greatness. The hip clubs are dark after hosting last night’s chaos.
Parking at my old coveted spot in Lot 5 vs. walking the few blocks from Hilgard to Anderson, this wannabe bird-watcher wouldn’t have scored the unusual sighting of a young hawk being excitedly challenged by a flock of scavenging black crows as they screeched between campus jacaranda trees near Northern Lights. (The crows with their average 28 inch wingspan will be no match for a mature hawk whose wings can be as large and powerful as 57 inches!) Did he escape unharmed before the leaf blower arrives? Probably, I think, I hope. After not fighting traffic or risking injury and damage to my still-running-now back-in-my-possession-car I arrive at my office refreshed. As captive audience I’d had the luxury of a precious hour to also quickly scan email and quietly ponder the tasks that await or problems that require careful reflection and strategy.
It’s been a year now, almost two dozen books, and many sensory responses later since I joined this unassuming bus society (but there were a few random months when my car is available). And a wet year it was. This rain-lover with great rain gear has been delighted by the cleansing air, mostly shallow puddles, a warm, dry bus, but alas, is disappointed that the usual early spring jasmine-scented campus air did not deliciously assault me, an enchantment I could have enjoyed walking for blocks this morning! (Did the blooms suffer too much moisture?)
I look forward to Freddie the cat greeting me at my front door upon the ride home which brings a different cast of characters to observe. What do they do? Who among us returns to stations in life we’ve chosen or to those chosen for us? Will riders return tomorrow? What are their stories? Are the animated antics of all perky summer school student riders universal? Are Westwooders really up in arms about the proposed hotel on campus (bright yellow signs, “Chancellor Block - No UCLA Hotel” seems to suggest so.)? Why does it take about thirty minutes longer to get home on the exact same street grid!? Questions all, but that’s for another time.
A creature of habit--like most, I now choose to drive only on the weekend. And like the benefits of my Yoga and meditation practice the ease of taking one bus to work, now a good habit, is not to be taken for granted. I have emailed Metro Customer Service commending noble drivers. With shifts changing every six months we have time to develop meaningful, symbiotic relationships! The new Expo line may replace this and other lines (neither email, the petition I created and an energetic young Latina circulated, nor the public hearing she and a group of emboldened women riders attended may ultimately not save it.). No social scientist here, and surely an imperfect judge, but I would argue that our public transportation like a mobile commons is a microcosm of the city of angels in all its flawed humanity. In my best Walden Pondese, I “mingle kindly with its souls” as this imprecise research continues to hold my interest. Thank goodness. Left to my solitary devices I would still be driving from home to work to home daily with no additional contact. And, maybe, just maybe this communal exposure ain’t half bad for my aging immune system either as I reflect on the few sick days used this year.
My sons and daughters are beginning to warm up to the notion now.
I register the lengthening of the sun after months of leaving and returning in the dark—welcoming the light illuminating our way in these somewhat dark times. (Strangely, the newsworthy topic of the terrorist, Osama Bin Laden’s demise never came up at the bus stop or on the bus….) I am approaching retirement age and all its uncertainties. For those of us still bent on settling score with all our perceived tormentors, we do well to validate that old saying, living well is the best revenge. A season of relative contentment is worth something, and comfort counts. Grace, plain and simple—or as the devout may believe, St. Christopher, Patron Saint of the Traveler has us well in hand. Today and until our much predicted major natural disaster strikes hindering travel and everything else, thanks to the #305 this empty-nester-pedestrian is present, gets to relax, breathe in new prana, exhale my worries briefly away while people watching, unwinding…resting. Contemplating yet another adjustment should this convenient bus be no more—the cycles of life--in this moment I leave the driving to MTA. As famed yogi Alan Watts, preaches, I’m “digging the jazz.”
The children look at each other. They, although no strangers to public transportation as we often used it in another city, another century, simply no longer prefer it and mount one last stand. My other son, (not his car-needy brother!) had one last question, “Do you feel safe?” I assured him, I do. Yep, I do.