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First Couple of Public Transportation 

Thursday, Jan 7 2010
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Somewhere in Los Angeles, C.R. Stecyk III’s cherry 1980s-era El Camino is sitting in a driveway.

The impeccably hip, much-sought-after vehicle is idle because today, Stecyk, an artist who mines street culture and once bequeathed the name “Dogtown” to a skateboard movement, created its graffiti-inspired skull-and-crossbones logo, is taking the bus.

To be specific, it’s a ride downtown on the Big Blue Bus no. 10 at the behest of his longtime love, Susanne Melanie Berry.

click to enlarge TIBBY ROTHMAN - C.R. Stecyk and Susanne Melanie Berry, aboard the Big Blue Bus
  • Tibby Rothman
  • C.R. Stecyk and Susanne Melanie Berry, aboard the Big Blue Bus

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“Good morning,” Berry greets the bus driver. She has a thing for bus etiquette.

“Always offer a salutation: ‘Good morning.’ ‘Good afternoon.’ ‘Good evening,’ ” she says, eliciting Stecyk’s quip, as dry as vermouth breathing on gin, “Amy Vanderbilt on wheels.”

Berry is not intimidated.

She is tall, surfer-strong and takes the same route to UCLA her mom once did. “That’s cool, don’t you think?” she asks.

Route no. 8 brings her to the university, where, at age 44, she won a scholarship to enroll in the institution’s undergraduate art program.

The bus glides down a block, makes a left and eases its way onto a holiday-season freeway as fast-flowing and wide-open as in the late 1950s — the days of Stecyk’s first forays into public transportation — when he rode the Red Car with his mom. The two would meet his dad at the end of the workday in order to take in a Dodger game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the team’s first home here.

Stecyk will tell you that the Coliseum was designed by John Parkinson, paternal grandfather to none other than the great big-wave surfer Buzzy Trent. And then he’ll add: Parkinson was also the architect of the big daddy of L.A.’s public transportation centers — Union Station. Stecyk’s grasp of history runs deep into microterritory.

What’s it like to debate him?

“C.R. has a photographic memory, but when we’re in an argument, he makes shit up,” Berry insists.

“If you want to say that I’m impossible to get along with, I’m fine with that,” Stecyk replies.

“How did two you meet?” a reporter asks, trying to keep it cool.

“On the bus, actually,” Stecyk answers.

“See what I mean?” Berry says.

Actually, they met at a surf shop.

Berry was on the premises to have dings repaired on her board; Stecyk had history with the owner.

“C.R. was talking about where he was going to go to dinner — a barbeque place,” Berry recalls. “And he didn’t ask me out for a date.”

That was rectified shortly after Berry began her immersion in the carless realm.

Berry’s desire to take the bus regularly is rooted in her time on the executive committee of the Surfrider Foundation’s Malibu chapter, where she noted that of the environmental organization’s 10 board members, seven owned SUVs. None would ride-share.

“Not only were they doing the wrong thing — they weren’t doing what Melanie wanted them to do,” Stecyk points out.

“Some people talk about sustainability, but they don’t back it up,” she says.

Stecyk’s life has long been entwined with the wheel. He grew up among those who expressed themselves with the automobile — an array of custom-car legends, like George Barris. And used them for art himself.

Before video was a household consumer item, he rigged cameras to a car, connected them to a bulky half-inch video reel-to-reel deck and drove cross-country. He edited together subversive, anticonsumption video-art pieces that, in a move that’s pure Stecyk, exhibited in an art gallery owned by an oil company. His work drew the attention of collector and former Atlantic Richfield CEO Robert O. Anderson, who helicoptered in for a tête-à-tête. To that meeting, Stecyk took more street-level transpo, a bus, he says.

Today, he considers the bus a “viable tool” for his work. “If you’re trying to see what the city feels like, it’s a great way to experience it,” Stecyk says, also noting its meditative aspect.

“Walking, you’re on point,” he observes. “On a bike, you navigate. But on the bus, you can zone in and out. People tend to leave you alone.”

That isn’t to say that riding the bus doesn’t have an occasional glitch. Once, on the way to a meeting in Malibu, the engine caught fire. “The driver did an outstanding job of getting everyone off the bus,” he recalls.

Today, however — no drama. The freeway is empty, Grand Avenue the same, the bus speeds along, and soon the couple is downtown. Their plan is to hit MOCA, then walk to downtown’s historic core. Berry, Berry, whose conceptual art work includes a piece titled Wallflower, featuring a bikini fabricated from wallpaper, is working on a piece that involves photographing structures where suicides occurred.

“After looking at the great art of humanity, she feels compelled to find buildings people jumped off of,” Stecyk says.

“I’m acknowledging the people who did,” she explains.

And, so it is, at the Grand Avenue and Second Street stop, the first couple of public transportation slips off the bus.

“I’m hungry,” Berry says.

Reach the writer at tibbyrothman@verizon.net

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