[Editor's Note: James “Nocando” McCall is a critically acclaimed rapper, co-founder of the Low End Theory and founder of indie rap label Hellfyre Club. Here's his previous piece, about why he no longer battle raps.]
I consider myself a connoisseur of public transportation.
My mother worked for MTA when I was a kid, which kept my young neck draped those in those yearly bus pass lanyards. I took the Red Line on the first day it opened; I was proud that my city had gotten a train. Now, when my family up North talked about BART, I could chime in.
A while back there were plans to make what is now the Purple Line extend to the beach. As far as I can remember, the plan was halted because some Beverly Hills people were worried about underground methane gas pockets that could supposedly explode. But I heard the real reason was because some people didn't want folks not from the area popping up from the underground, like ethnic Ninja Turtles, or Morlocks from the X-Men comics. This is when it hit me that public transportation issue in L.A. was a class issue. Did that mean I, who grew up in South Central, was poor?!
See also: Why Don't White People in L.A. Take the Bus?
As an adult I've traveled all over the country, and to a few different continents. I've taken trains and buses in Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston, the Tube in London, the Yamanote Line in Tokyo, and whatever that pissy-smelling line in Paris is called. I’ve taken buses in Amsterdam, Greyhounds, and random vans with gun-carrying pisas. (The last one a trip to TJ a while ago; never again.) What I learned is that public transportation in other cities isn’t just for the poor. I saw doctors next to school kids, moms next to tech industry brainiacs, next to a sleeping homeless guy.
As L.A.'s public transport slowly catches up to these other cities, the classes will have more opportunity to mingle with each other — or ignore each other, I guess. I saw an example of this last week on the Expo Line.
It was around noon, and the train was at Vermont and Expo. There was an African-American gentleman in his mid ‘50s, middle to upper middle class, with his head buried in a pretty serious book. On the other side of the aisle was another African-American gentleman, also mid-50s, who was working class or below and piss drunk, muttering to himself and holding a flask.
The muttering drunk fellow started to irritate the guy trying to read. He looked up at him with that “niggas always fucking shit up for black people” face. They locked eyes.
Then the drunk guy said “hell,” and started talking to him like they were old friends. The funny part was that he was super faded and didn't have many teeth, so no one could really understand what he was saying. He laughed to himself, pointed out the window, and ended every sentence with, “feel me.”
Finally he barked out a question: “What you reading?”
“The Mis-Education of the Negro, by Carter G. Woodson, brotha,” the sober guy said. Then his look grew more stern. “You should read it.” Ooohhhhh burn!!!
The drunk dude was still in good spirits, mostly because he didn't feel the subtle diss. He muttered some more. Then the other guy started explaining what the book was about, in a condescending tone. He talked about people being “trained” and all that.
Out of nowhere the drunk guy cut him off and began talking about pigeons, which he related to all sorts of different topics: Breeding and bloodlines, nature vs nurture, risk takers, fear of failure, coloration, certificates, and pedigrees. Without knowing it, or even intending it, he was using pigeons as an analogy for people.
The passion with which he was speaking, and the attention to detail, made it an inspiring speech. Dude was an expert on this topic and clearly loved it. Through the subject of pigeons, he touched on class, genetics, and how the group influences the individual. Then, he got off the train in a great mood, leaving the guy reading to look like a dumb, bourgeoisie asshole.
Upitty Niggas: 0
Drunk Toothless Niggas: 1
L.A. Public Transpo: 100
We Angelenos sit in our cars with the AC on and ignore the in-between while we go to and from our destinations. We avoid eye contact with others, and build these surface level opinions about the neighborhoods that we pass through – if we even think about them at all.
The thought of the Expo Line slowly developing toward Santa Monica and the Purple Line extension finally getting the green light makes me smile. It will be great to watch people in this city learn from each other, or at least just piss each other off. A better public transport system will help lessen congestion and pollution, and cut down on DUIs.
But what I'm really looking forward to is some of us becoming a little bit less douchey, and a little more cooth.
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