I WAS A LOS ANGELES METRO VIRGIN
I have two cars and four people on my insurance policy, three of which are under the age of 25 and, God help me, one of those is a 16-year-old boy. Yeah. My insurance premium is a million dollars a month. (Note to preschool-applying, college-funding parents of still-in-utero offspring: earmark a portion of your income for the Apocalypse, AKA, teen driving years).
When I was the only one on the policy, I paid around $1,800 a year for full coverage on my vehicle. When my oldest got her driver’s permit, I requested a quote from my insurance company to add her to the policy. Their annual estimate was $7,500.
SEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED U.S. DOLLARS.
I switched insurance companies and significantly raised my deductibles. Thanks Geico. Your ads are funnier, anyway. I have since added two more kids and a second car to the policy. The second car belongs to my oldest who has graduated from college and now lives on her own, so that leaves the remaining three of us with three different morning commutes and one car.
I am in a long distance relationship and on the occasion my life partner’s work brings him to Southern California, we take whatever steps necessary to be together. His company recently assigned him to work in Long Beach, so in order to join him at his hotel on the nights he is here while ensuring my kids the car, I decided it was time to check out the public transportation system. I have now “checked it out” on two separate occasions.
On my first morning commute to work, I took the Blue Line from Long Beach to the 7th Street station downtown where I transferred to the Expo Line, which took me to Culver City. Easy-peasy and only $1.75, yippee! The Uber estimate I looked up the night before from Culver City to my office in Century City was in the $6 to $9 range. Unfortunately, I did not take into consideration the “peak traffic conditions,” so 22 minutes and $22.98 later, I arrived at my destination. Total trip cost: $24.73.
This was not going to work.
There are approximately 37 million monthly boardings on the L.A. Metro rail/bus lines. Los Angeles’ population is 3.8 million. That’s nearly ten rides per month for every single person in this city! At 6:32 AM I arrive for the second time at the Willow Street Station in Long Beach, pull out my tap card and load it with $5.00. (Note to turnstile jumpers, once on the train, Metro employees regularly come by to check your tap card). The Blue Line train is already there, so I tap my card and search for a spot on an already crowded train.
I look out the window at this city where I have spent most of my life and as we ride through Carson, Compton, Watts and South Los Angeles, I am acutely aware of how much of it I have never seen. Inside the train there are people reading the paper or a book, some are talking on their cell phones and occasional passengers are conversing with imaginary friends. There are people selling phone chargers and hand sanitizer and, on this particular trip, someone who clearly wants to share his choice in music with everyone on the train.
After passing the Watts Towers, Staples Center, L.A. Live and the Convention Center, we pull into 7th Street Station and just before stepping off the train, someone taps my shoulder and I grab my backpack, hyper conscious of the location of my wallet. I turn and am greeted by the amused face of a woman in a USC t-shirt. She is pointing at something behind me.
“Uh…you have gum.”
I turn to try to see what she is referring to.
“There’s gum…on your butt.”
I grab my right butt cheek and feel around for the invasion. My hand comes away with a dirty, sticky, purple piece of muck. I look at it, then at her and with a thumbs-up say, “Awesome.” On my third attempt at flicking it into the trash can once off the train, I search for the guy with the hand sanitizer.
At the 7th Street Station, I transfer to the Purple Line, which will take me three stops to Union Station and at 7:30 AM I follow the signs to the bus terminal and find that the cement benches in the waiting area for the 7:40 AM #534 to Century City are already lined with people. I stand and approach the bus as it pulls up a few minutes later, but am blocked by a thirty-something, burly looking woman.
“Hey, there’s a line!” She gestures to the cement benches to inform me that those sitting there had already formed an official “line-up” and I am cutting.
“Sorry! I didn’t know there were rules! I’m new!”
I try to find my place back in “the line” but the nice man in the business suit behind me insists I go ahead of him. The Hawaiian shirted guy behind him smiles and makes a similar gesture. Pitiful newbie.
As I tap my card (transfer is only 50 cents!), I confirm with the bus driver that I am indeed on the right bus and with a ninja-like dance move I narrowly miss sitting in a handicapped spot. I am heading into the next row when my forward movement is suddenly impeded. Afraid of bringing further attention to my clueless movements, I make an attempt at lunging into the row without success.
BUSINESS GUY: “Hey, you’re hooked WAAAAAY back here.”
He reaches behind me to unhook my backpack’s helmet-holding bungee cord contraption from the arm of an aisle handicapped seat, as the front of the bus fills with onlookers.
HAWAIIAN SHIRT GUY: “Orientation.”
ME: “Is there gonna be a hazing?”
An older woman shakes her head and laughs as she walks to her seat. I wonder if these people see each other every morning.
The pretty young woman driving the bus must be tough as nails. Looking through the huge front windows from way back in the second row fills me with the sensation of flying in a helicopter and I don’t know how she is so calmly and confidently handling the bus. I just know that at any moment we are going to side-swipe a car and I keep flinching. Crap! Now we’re next to another bus!
I compose myself and pay attention to landmarks like the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Los Angeles Times building and the spectacular architecture of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. As we pass, I gaze at Frank Gehry’s curving silver sails that appear to be in constant motion and I think of the superior acoustics of its interior, the gorgeous Alaskan yellow cedar stage, and of friends whose concerts I have attended there. Every time I have driven by the incredible structure, I haven’t been able to properly look at it for fear of running off the road.
We arrive unscathed at the corner of Century Park East and Constellation. I walk to my office to retrieve my bicycle I’d ridden to work the day before. It’s Yom Kippur and my office is closed, so I suit up, throw on my backpack and depart for my ride over Coldwater Canyon to Studio City.
Three hours after stepping onto the Blue Line train, I walk through my front door and am greeted by my 16-year-old son, who also has the day off for the Jewish holiday. Three hours is less than it would have taken me to drive from Long Beach to Studio City during rush hour. It would have cost me more than the $2.25 I spent on my commute, it would have put wear and tear on my car and it would have kept me off my bike. I also would not have written this blog post.
I feel empowered. The L.A. Metro is an adventure in itself and a great alternative to driving in this city.
It’s a win, win, win, win, win.