By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But four months ago the unexpected happened.
Larry Flynt liked an idea I pitched him and on the same day made me editor of a new skin magazine he’s launching this spring.
I was so stoked to suddenly have an office in Beverly Hills (maybe I am provincial, but it does have a nice ring to it) that the 80-plus miles I’d be driving every day didn’t really seem to register.
Then I started the commute.
I was suddenly reacquainted with the three rules of thumb any suburban commuter learns to apply to the 10 freeway: 1) If you start your drive downtown between 6:30 and 9 a.m., you are fucked. 2) If Caltrans is working or there is an accident, you’re also fucked. 3) The Pomona 60 and Foothill 210 freeways are just as fucked.
The short version, as every driver on the L.A. freeway commute can testify: You’re fucked.
This truth became brutally apparent when I left Beverly Hills at the start of one holiday weekend at 3:30 in the afternoon, thinking I would "beat traffic." I arrived home in Pomona shortly before 6 p.m.
I skulked through this numbing routine for a couple of months before I finally watched a Metrolink train blow by me one too many times as I sat like a zombie in traffic. Eighteen years of skepticism gave way to my present reality.
It was time, as they say, to "get onboard."
I arrived at the Metrolink station in Claremont early the following morning, forking over $112 for a monthly pass and another $10 for bus tokens — a bargain compared to parking, gas and the other sundry costs of the daily commute.
From stepping on the locomotive in Claremont to getting off the express bus in front of the Flynt building, the first day was like a blind date that went really well. I was delighted to learn that public transportation in Los Angeles actually works.
Not only does it work, but I’ll be damned if Metrolink and the MTA haven’t appeared like two angels to lift me out of the abyss that is L.A.’s freeway system. Every time I look out that train window, coffee in one hand and newspaper in the other, literally speeding toward my destination, I feel like a sinner given deliverance.
I have repented, and I will vote for every bond measure that appears on the ballot to build more rail and add more buses. Amen!
Of course, there are downsides to catching a public ride.
Metrolink trains are clean, seem efficient and run on time. Unfortunately, I’m not always punctual and have missed trains both into and out of L.A., which means cooling my heels for stretches of an hour or more. Still, Union Station is beautiful and comes complete with a bar, allowing for a cold beer or two and a good book between trains.
The subway in L.A. runs fast and frequently, but just doesn’t go as many places as it should. And the way things have turned out with the tunnel under Hollywood, I doubt it ever will.
The buses were my biggest fear and, consequently, my biggest surprise. My impression of them as rolling buckets of bolts that only sometimes showed up when they were supposed to was wrong. Well, sort of.
I take the No. 320 limited from Western to La Cienega on a daily basis, and it can be a rough ride. The windows are often marred by vandals and by the third stop it is standing room only. Then there are the punks who crash the bus from the back door, almost daring the driver to do something about it. Worse, I’ve seen middle-aged businessmen refuse to offer their seats to elderly and frail riders, instead staring intently somewhere else. Rider rage can replace road rage, but it’s just as futile.
Unlike on the train, on the No. 320 riders are in sardine formation, hoping everyone else has showered properly — often to discover that someone hasn’t. At least in the privacy of your car you only have to deal with your own hygiene.
Then there are the cars on Wilshire, which dart about the bus like a mad pack of hyenas. I figure the bus drivers must eat a healthy dose of Prozac to avoid decimating the legions of yuppie scum who swerve through the lanes with cell phones stuck to their heads.
Despite such shortcomings, the MTA’s buses pass the Mussolini test: They basically run on time, get you to where you need to go, and do so relatively quickly and cheaply.
It’s been about six weeks since my full-fledged conversion to public transportation, and I have raved about the advantages to every friend and colleague who would listen.
Most of them have bitched relentlessly about traffic, but still they look at me and smile knowingly before explaining why the MTA would never work for them. They talk about money, convenience and freedom.
I don’t know, but every time I look at the freeways, such comments seem Orwellian.
But maybe it’s better that they stay bogged down in those asphalt swamps, flipping each other off and speed-dialing radio stations. I like to put my feet up on the empty seat in front of me while I read or doze; I’d hate for my train to get crowded and loud.