“This one starts like all good bus stories – when you gotta leave two hours before wherever the fuck you gotta go in L.A.”
The audience, seated around the back patio of Stories Books and Café in Echo Park on Saturday, chuckled knowingly. They were gathered for this month’s edition of BUSted! — a storytelling event in which artists, comedians and regular commuters share their experiences of getting around Los Angeles without a car.
The attendees leaned forward in their seats expectantly as L.A. bus commuter Sabrina Cognata began her dramatic retelling of a recent bus trip.
“So it was already weird. I was sitting across the aisle from a guy dressed like a character from Dr. Who, and he was having an imaginary conversation into one of those old-fashioned dial phones.”
Then, she says, a horrible stench made its way through the bus compartment. Someone on the bus had farted. And this was no ordinary passing of gas; it was unusually potent.
“At first no one was really doing anything until suddenly this transgender person leaps up and says, ‘I’m going to find out who it was!’”
The individual began crouching before each person on the bus and sniffing beneath their seat to determine if they were the source. “So between that, and Dr. Who across the aisle, I could not wait to get off that bus,” Sabrina said, laughing.
If her story sounds colorful, that was about par for the course at Saturday’s edition of BUSted! Some other stories told by bus commuters included a man getting pepper-sprayed, clueless Asian tourists de-boarding the bus at Skid Row, and an entire train car erupting into the Sunday School song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
While the details changed from story to story, the general theme was that craziness regularly unfolds on L.A.’s public transportation system. It’s a topic of storytelling that might not work in a place like New York, but it is perfectly tailored for a city where public transportation is so underutilized. There are more than 6 million registered vehicles in L.A. County, and few Angelenos voluntarily choose other methods of transportation. As one storyteller quipped, “I’m only riding the bus because I got a DUI.”
The refreshing thing about BUSted!, however, is hearing many of the storytellers claim they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s a lot of shared humanity and kindness you encounter once you get out of your car,” said cyclist Nona Varnado.
Varnado was the second featured speaker, and the evening’s token cyclist. She hasn’t owned a car since she was 16 years old. Now she’s 34. But Varnado said she’s never looked back. She marvels at the grumpiness of her co-workers when they show up to work each morning after being stuck in car traffic. “Yeah, cycling means I sweat,” she admitted. “But I always carry three changes of clothes with me. And sweating is good for you!”
The different reasons storytellers gave for being carless highlights a charming aspect of BUSted! The humorous and occasionally moving tales become as much a celebration of ditching a car as commiseration over its frustrations. With transfers, long commutes, (potentially) crazy passengers and the element of unpredictability, getting around L.A. without a car is not always glamorous. “But if you ride the bus every day, you get a new story every day,” explained the host, Scott Schultz.
Schultz said he started the storytelling event in February. Originally, he planned to change the theme each month, and “bus stories” was only going to be the topic of the first event. But it ended up being so successful that he stopped right there, and made BUSted! into a regular event.
The tongue-in-cheek, slightly fatalistic stories of what happens outside the confines of a car has proven popular with the book store’s customers. On Saturday, the courtyard was packed with about three dozen people for the free event.
For Schultz, their presence underscores the real advantage of taking public transportation: the ability to meet people.
“I’ve started running into people on the bus I met at this show at least once a week,” he said in a later interview.
They’ve always got some great bus stories to exchange.
BUSted! happens the fourth Saturday of each month at Stories Books and Café, 1716 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 413-3733, www.storiesla.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of one of the speakers, Nona Varnado. In addition, the event is held the fourth Saturday of every month, not the final Saturday, which was originally reported.
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