11.12.2008

METRO MUSINGS

I've been to LA countless times, but this past trip represented my first times riding Metro there. Some musings on my experiences:

* My first trip, from downtown LA to Long Beach, was the most confusing. I knew I'd be making at least four trips on Metro (two round-trips), so I purchased four one-way tickets. Only when I was done paying for them did I realize these tickets were only good for trips originating from that station. Then, I boarded the train without having to give my ticket to anyone; I found out quickly that the Metro operates on the honor system, and the only thing deterring free riders is the possibility of a $250 fine (plus 48 hours of community service) if you're caught. Then I made what I thought was a free transfer, from one line to another, only I was told later in the day that there is no such thing as a free transfer, but rather you're supposed to buy a second, one-way ticket when you get to the station where you're transferring. Then, once I arrived at my destination, I decided to buy my return ticket right away, so I wouldn't have to worry about getting it in case I was running late. Only once I got the ticket I realized it was time-stamped, and that by the time I would actually need to use it, it would have expired. Needless to say, in total I spent a lot more than I needed to, even though I illegally rode one leg without paying. This is a strange system.

* My second trip was much smoother. I took one line from near my hotel to the closest stop to Griffith Observatory, so I could run up the hill to it. I had to stuff my credit card and then the ticket into my sock, but at least I remembered to not buy my second ticket until I actually needed it. Of course, I'm not used to spending $2.50 on my runs, and I got some funny looks stretching in the stations and on the trains; but I can live with that.

* My third trip was the most harrowing. I cut out of a dinner party slightly earlier and walked down the street to a bus stop to take a direct bus to Hollywood for my friend's movie premiere. I ended up waiting at the bus stop for almost 45 minutes, during which time the place got increasingly sketchy. Let's just say I felt a little out of place in my suit in the midst of a growing amount of cussing, smoking, drinking, and even urinating. Of course, no sooner did the bus finally arrive than the driver announced that he would be detouring onto the highway on account of a Prop 8 protest. The detour didn't affect my travel plans, but it did add a surreal element to the trip. What was also surreal was the juxtaposition of riding through posh sections of Hollywood, people dressed to the nines on the streets, while I sat with pretty run-down-looking fellow passengers. On my return trip, I was sandwiched between a scantily clad woman on my left and a potential suitor on my right; they coyly flirted through me as I desperately tried to read my Economist magazine. Good times!

* By the time my conference required all of us attendees to ride the subway to one of the venues, I felt like I had seen it all. That ride was, unsurprisingly, very prosaic. Although it was humorous to me to share a train car with scads of well-dressed yuppies like me, interspersed with the usual Metro clientele, obviously wondering who the heck all of us were and what the heck all of us were doing on the subway. Only in LA.

LA is literally caught between a rock (the mountains) and a hard place (the ocean). And more and more people want to live there. So more people will have to ride the Metro, and more Metro capacity will have to be built. From a convenience standpoint, the system isn't half bad; you can get to a fair amount of places for $1.25, or $2.50 at the most. But because very few upper-middle-class folks currently ride, the experience can feel a little disorienting to newbies. Here's hoping more and more people cotton to Metro; there's clearly enough capacity to bear more riders, and when it comes to riding public transportation, there's safety in numbers.
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