August 03, 2011

Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES—When you say, “Don’t worry about me, I’ll just jump on the subway” to someone in El Lay, you get one of the following responses:

“Excuse me, would you repeat that?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you’d already arrived in California.”


“We don’t have a subway.”

“Nobody rides the subway.”

“Are you crazy?”

“You’ll get stabbed.”

“The subway doesn’t go anywhere.”

“Good luck with that.”

Suggesting you’ll be using Los Angeles mass transit—much less only mass transit during an extended stay in Southern California—ranks right up there with “I love Justin Bieber” as a phrase guaranteed to isolate you socially from everyone you meet.

I’ve told people that I’ll be taking the train into town from LAX—thereby sparing that person from the two-hour reality-show episode called “Picking You Up From the Airport”—only to have the native Angeleno say, “There is no train from the airport.”

Let me repeat that. They’re not telling me that they never take the train from the airport. They’re not telling me it’s a bad train or a slow train or an infrequently scheduled train. They’re denying the existence of any train at all. It’s happened more than once.

I say, “Do I need to send you the Internet link that tells you how to catch the shuttle to the Green Line?”

I realize it’s confusing, because the train station there is called “Aviation/LAX Station.” Unless you know what that means, you would never know that it’s the train station at the frigging airport.

Even worse than someone who has lived in Los Angeles for forty years and still has no idea that a train exists is someone who sort of half-remembers some information about a train from ten years ago that kind of maybe got built. Then you’re likely to get advice like, “Yeah, but they haven’t activated those stops yet. Those are just bus lanes.”

“It’s like the entire city grew so enamored of medical marijuana that they forgot they have trains and buses.”

In which case you have to tell them that you’ve already taken the train three or four times and there were no buses in sight.

“Yeah, but that train doesn’t go anywhere. It just goes, like, to Compton.”

And then you have to tell them that, no, it will take me to the Blue Line, which will go straight north into downtown, where I can take the Purple Line out Wilshire or the Red Line into Hollywood or the Orange Line up over the mountains to Van Nuys. Or if I want to change at Union Station, I could get the Metrolink to San Bernardino or Lancaster or Oceanside. Or if I got really carried away, I could get the Amtrak to San Diego or Santa Barbara or Bakersfield. So starting down this Green Line journey is pretty much the opposite of the concept of “That train doesn’t go anywhere.”

“OK, the trains will be empty, though.”

No, actually, the Blue Line between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach, to use one example, is almost always full.

“OK then, the trains will be dangerous.”

Well, uh, as a person who has ridden trains all over the world, I think the danger level would be described as maybe a “1” on a scale of 10. There are so many transit employees, vendors, and crowds of people that a mugging would be virtually impossible. The people on California trains are, in fact, a little too talkative—you can put that Kindle away—but it’s not menacing talk at all. It’s sort of, “Hey, man, you got smokes?”

Normally I wouldn’t make a big deal about people being space cadets—I’m not a car-hater and I couldn’t care less what transportation choice people make—but we’re talking about the city where people gripe about traffic all the time. New York has equally bad traffic, but it’s not that hot a topic of conversation since it’s assumed that you made that choice for yourself. You chose to get up early, take the Garden State to the Jersey Turnpike, then sit in the Holland Tunnel bottleneck and pay eight bucks for the privilege of driving your car into Manhattan so you can put it in the forty-dollar-a-day parking garage. The reason you’re not gonna gripe that much about how bad the various traffic situations were is that people already know what a douche you are since you could have gotten there quicker and with less hassle on the train.


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