Have You Ridden the Metro Lately?

Let me first establish that I am in fact an extremely lucky person-if one considers bad luck to even be luck at all. So it was as a direct result of this that I found myself in a position to assess the effectiveness of public transportation in that veritable hotspot of public transportation: Los Angeles. Well, I actually live in Long Beach, and it was after I totaled my car that I found mine eye fixing upon the metro station.

The transit website, www.mta.net, informed me that I could take the metro, a short distance from my house, to the major L.A. hub at 7th St. deep in the downtown, and from thence issued a bus that could take me to the very doorstep of the office building which was my destination. Could it get better? Why, yes! These conveyances promised an average time of fifty minutes each, not a heck of a lot longer than it would have taken me to negotiate the freeways in my own car.

The website, after I typed in my itinerary, advised me to purchase a day pass. Not one to immediately commit, I gave that advice considerable thought that evening, eventually coming to the fairly obvious conclusion that $3 was a reasonable investment for unlimited rides for a whole day, and was less than I would have spent on gas for the mileage covered. Next morning I proudly marched to the metro station, conveniently located a few blocks from my hole-in-the-wall abode, and tried to shove a ten dollar bill into the all-in-one money-taking, ticket-making machine. When a veteran rider looked over and saw me staring stupidly at the machine, she must have seen someone pitiful enough to deserve advice so logical that verbal revelation must have been painful: the machine only took one dollar bills, so go get change at the grocery store across the street. I was assured that I could make it in time. I hurried over, and upon entering, peered wide-eyed from side to side until I caught sight of a package of gummy bears. Snatching up my prize, I hurried over to stand in line.

As I exited the grocery store, I was privileged to watch the train rushing by. Ah! But the beauty of large-town transit systems is that one never has to wait long for another bus or train to come. I purchased my day pass, and lo! Another train did appear. I was only ten minutes behind schedule at that point. In my ignorance I stared at the most definitely yellow stripes gracing the sides of the train with no little amount of suspicion. I distinctly remembered being instructed by the website to take the Blue Line, but I did not see much blue. Yet everyone else was hurrying on, and bowing to peer pressure, I got on, too. Arranging myself primly, I stared expectantly at the first sign I saw, waiting for something divine to reveal all of the answers to my most burning questions: was I on the right train? Would it carry me to this mythical hub on 7th St or straight to Hell? If I am in fact on the wrong train, how long would it take me to find out, and would it be too late at that time to find my way back to something recognizable? Would I (God forbid) have toâÂ?¦gulpâÂ?¦ask a stranger for help? But between observations made of the sign and the stations I saw us pass by, I concluded that the term ‘Blue Line’ applied to any and all of the trains on the one track passing through certain stations (including my point of origin), even if it had yellow stripes on it. I was in fact going the right way.

I settled back to enjoy the ride, surreptitiously munching on illegal gummy bears in defiance of the ‘no food or drink’ sign. Upon arrival at the 7th St. Station, I scurried out of the train and scrambled up the stairs without thought, following most of the other passengers. Exiting the station into the wan daylight with a slight shiver for the breeze (I’ve been informed that this phenomenon is called June Gloom; I hate euphemisms), I discovered my next dilemma: I was to catch the #20 bus, but I didn’t have a clue as to where 7th St. met Hope St., at which corner I would find said bus. I looked around, and decided that Hope St. was to my left, so I walked two blocks to my right just to be sure. I then went back to the correct corner and waited expectantly for my bus-chariot to come. Meanwhile, I made my face and body language scream, “If you’re weird and don’t know me in any way, please come up and, while standing really too close for comfort, unload your life story in ten minutes or less!” A local denizen took me up on this offer, and told me things I never thought I’d need to hear. I pretended to be sad when she departed the bus stop on some bus that wasn’t mine.

Finally, my bus came roaring up and I stepped on, only to fumble in my bag for a good five minutes before triumphantly holding up the tiny 1″ x 2″ ticket which proclaimed that I’d paid for a whole day of public transportation/torture. Two hours and forty minutes after departing the 5th St./Pacific Ave. Station in Long Beach, I arrived at my destination on Wilshire Blvd., in spitting distance of Beverly Hills. It’s a good thing I planned on being an hour early. Later on in the day I went in the reverse direction with a much more confident attitude, with only one minor, bizarre hitch: the metro line stopped at the Wardlow St. Station, and didn’t start up again. Are we changing drivers? Pretending to be ahead of schedule? Waiting for a cow to cross the tracks? Then the driver himself unlocked the door and shouted, “This is the last stop! Get off!” What? Well, perhaps that’s what he tried to communicate when the intercom burbled out some very quiet noise which completely failed to override the noise of the train whooshing along. Shooting the driver a look of confusion and utter despair that he really didn’t see, I got up and walked out, thinking, “Well, crap. This is going to be a long walk.” But it wasn’t, because I turned around to see another train sweeping up, going in the correct direction, ready to carry me homeward. Crisis averted.

Emboldened by my relative success in the utilization of not one, but two forms of public transportation, I attempted to repeat the journey several days later. Perhaps the good luck which led to the previous trip’s success wore off when my birthday passed, but on this less auspicious day I again marched to the station, prepared, as I thought, with no less than six dollar bills (in case a few were too wrinkly, or I lost some). But the ticket dispensing machines were not so accommodating on this morning. None of them were accepting $1 bills. So I had again to go to the store, and there I again snatched up some snack food, and demanded three dollars in change. The cashier asked if I preferred quarters. Yes, I did. So she gave me a few quarters, a few dimes, and a large quantity of nickels, which last time I checked, were not quarters. With my sweaty handfuls of change I raced back to the station and began inserting three dollars in small change one coin at a time. When I had twenty-five cents left to put in, ‘transaction canceled’ appeared on the screen and it began to return my change. “Oh, Hell no!” is what I shouted at the offending machine. I started putting the change in again, but in a different order. This time it canceled after I’d managed to put in $2.60. I proclaimed a few raunchy expletives detailing my opinion of the matter, knowing that if I got on the metro sans ticket I would surely be caught. I decided then that the entire experience was an exercise in absurdist reality.

I walked home. Interestingly enough, the third time I took the metro from Compton returning home, sheriffs did get on the train to check tickets. Out of two successful rides on the metro, one was marked by a ticket check. I’ve heard that some people ride free for years and never get caught. Just a warning: if you see me coming, you’d better be abiding by the law, or you might suffer peripheral damage from my ‘luck.’

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