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
I myself made an appearance at the Compton Court twice. ‰ Once a Sheriff deemed my hand motion too fast as I tried to show him my pass while running for the 121 bus line on Imperial Highway. When I refused to sign the ticket, he handcuffed me in front of the passing passengers and detained me for a while, but eventually let me go with a citation for fare evasion. Another time I was cited for expectorating. Yes, that’s right: I got a ticket for spitting. I was sick with the flu and had to expel some phlegm — not on anyone or even on the platform; I aimed for the distant tracks. Penal code 640(b)(5) reads: “Expectorating upon any system facility or vehicle” is unlawful. But when I went before the judge in Compton, he suppressed a laugh. “In the spirit of justice,” he said, “this case is dismissed.” When I tried to use the opportunity to explain how unjust the citation system was, he had the Sheriff’s bailiff whisk me off.
Compton has five freeways: 105, 110, 710, 405, 91 and the six-lane commercial highway rail system known as Alameda Corridor slicing through the “Hub City.” A demographic change is under way along these routes; Mexicans now account for half of Compton’s residents. As you roll through, you’ll see Mexican flags waving from homes and nopales (cactus) along walls tagged up with “CVTF” — Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats. As the Mexicans threaten to displace the black community, Compton remains one of the poorest suburbs in the United States. The rundown, boarded-up houses and empty lots still resemble South African shantytowns. Stray dogs and homeboys who feed their huge iguanas “hippie lettuce” become the wildlife. Here, tribal warfare comes not from Zulus with machetes but Pirus with MAC-10s.
And just like Johannesburg, Compton is a city trying to recover from economic apartheid, from manufacturing jobs lost with white flight, and competition between blacks and other ethnic minorities for a few poorly paid jobs. As the Ghetto Blue rumbles through Compton, a black homeboy named Charles wearing a Farrakhan T-shirt breaks it down. “See, they want us to compete for the crumbs,” he shouts, “but blacks and Mexicans need to hook up and collaborate! Fuck the bullets and bullet trains!”
The train journeys on through the industrial areas of Rancho Dominguez and Carson between Los Angeles and Long Beach, passing by the main arterial cargo route, the 710 Long Beach Freeway, and the Ghetto Blue maintenance yard. From Artesia and the Willow Station, the scenery begins to change with the population, which now includes Filipinos and Samoans. The east bank of the Los Angeles River runs strong, and this little patch of green nature is like an island — a Pacific island, perhaps. The train fills with sounds of the lovely Tagalog tongue, spoken into cell phones and between men and women, and Samoan aigas, mothers and their children in strollers. In the children playing in the parks and the open spaces along the way, you get a rare flash of natural beauty along the route of the Ghetto Blue.
Most of the time, though, the Blue Line’s human cargo is like a herd of guinea pigs enlisted in a mass-transit experiment gone bad. There is no other light-rail line in the United States that has 47-ton trains traveling at high speeds through a corridor with numerous rail crossings. Similar safety issues contributed to shutting down the original Long Beach light-rail line, the Red Car, in 1961. The 20-foot-long Evergreen metal containers and oceangoing cargo on the 20-mile Alameda Corridor have a better chance of making it to their destinations without killing anyone.
“This will be the end of the line,” the train operator says over the intercom after the 59-minute ride. “We’re a little late, but at least we made it. Thank you once again for riding the Metro Blue Line.”
A young, black-clad Irish lad sitting next to me listening to Slayer’s “Angel of Death” turns to me and sums up his train experience like a stoned theology student. “You see, Christianity and Satanism, it’s the same religion. You’ve all been tricked!” Then a long pause. “People need to smoke more pot.” Call it the blasphemy of the self-medicating, but he does have a point: With its electric wires crisscrossing the horizon looking like stitches across a deep cut, the Ghetto Blue is a microcosm of the city — a huge scar running through L.A. that needs to be healed.