I had originally moved to Los Angeles some years ago to pursue an acting career and, being from Boston, I’m a big fan of public transportation. Like many big eastern cities, Boston has a wide-reaching bus and subway system and, long before being “green” was fashionable, traveling on it was just what everyone did to get around town. “Charlie on the M.T.A.,” the folk song about a hapless subway commuter, is a tune that every Bostonian knows by heart.
I live in Venice now and enjoy all the benefits of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus: cheap, green, convenient, morning naps, etc., etc.. But when I first started working at UCLA four years ago, I was living in North Hollywood and commuting to work on one of those big red Metro express buses. That was a much longer and more complicated commute, but I’d bring a book to read (and generally leave it on the bus when I was finished, creating a sort of free-floating commuter library) and Metro buses even have on-board, closed-circuit televisions with which you can pass the time watching news programs, short features and of course, lots of commercials.
One morning, while I was engrossed in my reading, I slowly became aware that the sound of conversation on the bus had stopped and, in that silence, all I could hear was a strangely familiar voice coming from the television. When I looked up from my book, I saw everyone on the bus was staring at me. I was flabbergasted; what had I done to deserve this attention? Nodded off and started snoring? Nodded off and…made other loud, rude noises? Then the picture on the TV caught my eye: it was me!
An old commercial I had made years ago for a tax attorney was being broadcast on the bus television screens. I was the “non-attorney spokesperson,” looking dead-on into the camera and warning people not to try dealing with the I.R.S. “unprotected.” When the commercial ended, my fellow riders burst into applause and everyone wanted to shake my hand. Some even asked me for tax advice (a really , really bad idea)!
I had come to Hollywood to become famous and, for a moment on my morning commute, I did. So while some stars might walk the red carpet, I found fame on the red bus.