Expo Line!

If you know me, you know I am a big fan of public transportation, and that I hold the idealistic view that a good public transportation could change the face of Los Angeles.  The new Expo Line is the first train to connect the city going east-west.  Eventually it is supposed to go all the way from the Santa Monica (the city closest to the ocean) to downtown LA.  

It is also the first train that has a stop close to my house, and another close to my work, so you can imagine that I was excited to try it out.  At this point I should say that although I am emotionally pro-train, I am not pro-train-at-the-expense-of-buses.  People need to get within a couple blocks of their destination or they won’t (or won’t be able to) use public transportation.  It does greatly diminished good to transport someone 16 miles in 25 minutes by train, if upon arrival, there is no bus to take them the last mile.

Case in point:  The bus I currently take to work, the 550, has for months been the subject of rumors. They say that because of the new Expo Line, the 550 will be discontinued in June, when the routes are revised. 

Currently, my daily routine is to walk the four blocks to my bus stop, get on the bus, and ride it to within a block of my work.  So last Monday,  along with the thrill of riding a train, I was also conducting an experiment to see how I would fare without the existence of my regular bus.

I walked the same four blocks to the corner, and took the 780 down Fairfax.  Although I’d never taken this particular bus before, I knew it went to the Metro transit hub just north of the train station. Since they call it a hub–I assumed that with the opening the station, the buses would now loop around there as well–increasing the “hub-iness.” Not the case! I found myself on a busy corner, waiting for yet another bus.  I thought about walking, but as I was not exactly sure where the train station was, or if there were sidewalks to get there, it seemed safest to wait.

In the end, taking the train took twice as long as taking the bus, and although I am lucky enough to have an all-you-can-ride pass, this is often not the case.  Metro does not offer transfers, so it would have cost me three times as much to use the train: $4.50 instead of $1.50.  That’s one way–so $9.00 both ways. I could easily drive to work and park for less. Had I been a new rider of Metro, the overall experience might have just confirmed all my preconceptions about how it’s not worth it.

LA Metro if you are reading this:  I know that money is an issued, but please do your best to maintain your routes.  When you change your routes, try to feed them to your new train stops when possible.  Offer transfers so that you reward your more frequent riders instead of punishing them and making them look for other alternatives. I’m a supporter, and I want to tell all my friends that you are awesome so that they will use you…but I can’t do that until you are actually awesome!

Bus Etiquette

On this one particular bus, the 728 going east a little after 8am, I often have to sit sideways. I don’t prefer to sit sideways, I prefer to sit facing front, but for some reason, this particular bus has a high percentage of women passengers who take the aisle seats, then put their bags and purses on the window seat, and then avoid the eyes of anyone coming up the aisle, saying, in not so many words but pretty clearly, “I don’t want you to sit here.” It also sounds like they are saying “I think I am better than you, and so I don’t want you to sit here,” which vexes me. What is this, elementary school? And, hello, you’re riding the bus in L.A. I’m a big proponent of public transportation, really enthusiastic about the concept, but I have a grip on reality. If you take public transportation in Los Angeles, unless you are an eccentric millionaire masquerading as a homeless person, you are poor. At least poorer than your co-workers who pay to park their cars in a downtown parking structure. We’re all kinda in the poor boat (or bus) together, so what’s with the putting on airs? This kind of behavior irks me. Especially when the bus starts to fill up, and they still won’t move.

But maybe I’m misinterpreting. Maybe these women are really saying something else, like, “I have an uber contagious disease, and I don’t want you to catch it. I’m looking out for you.”

Tweets I Never Sent

I was going to tweet this morning–not like the early bird that catches the worm, but on Twitter, but then, as I was punching my pithy yet profound thoughts into my Blackberry, the a message popped up suggesting that I upgrade to the new improved Twitter. I thought–hell, why not? What else am I doing on the bus? I have time to upgrade AND tweet, and I’ll be all current with the technology and shit.

This was not true, however. Upgrading literally took half of one bus trip and all of the other, and most of the walk to work, and I’ll tell ya, these days, there is no time to be tweeting at work.
So what I was about to say, before I was interrupted, was that today I saw the bus-driver-who-never-smiles…smile.
Since this is a different venue from Twitter, I think I’ll elaborate, and say that the driver of the bus that arrives at my stop at 8:08 AM, which, despite my best efforts, is the bus I end up on most frequently, never smiles. She also never talks, and pretty much avoids eye contact. It’s not a spaced out vibe. It’s a “Honey, I know you’re there, doesn’t mean I have to look at you” vibe.
Each morning I get on the bus, usually out of breath from having run for a block alongside it to the stop, which I know she must see. I’m not running behind the bus, I’m racing it to the stop, since the only place it can stop is at the stop, and then there’s no waiting for some pedestrian just because she’s running and waving her arms. But whatever. Each morning I pay, with my TAP card–she doesn’t take kindly to people who have to count their change at the pay stand. Each morning I say something like “hi” or “good morning.” She never answers–just looks straight ahead. One say I said, “I like your bracelet.”
She stopped wearing jewelry.
Today though, at a stop light, I looked at her face in the rearview mirror, and she was SMILING. Teeth were showing. And then she was waving, looking in a direction that was not straight ahead even. I craned my head to look out the window as we drove away. It was a toddler, waving.
The busdriver caught me catching her smiling in the mirror and she looked pissed. She looked straight ahead again.
But a few minutes later, two kids and their mom got off the bus, using the front doors. SHE SMILED AT THEM, TOO.
She likes kids, apparently. Enough to smile at them.
Not much to do with this information though.
Except maybe tweet it.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

One of the reasons I take the bus to work is that I have bad parking ticket karma. Of course, I live in L.A., so maybe that means I’m just asking for it. If I want to park my car in peace, I should move to a Dakota.

Today, instead of taking the bus to work, I drove my car, because I wanted to give four file-boxes of office supplies we’ve collected to a local elementary school to use in the classrooms.

I pulled up outside our building and we loaded up the car. I went inside the office one last time to call the school and tell them we were on the way. When I came back outside, three minutes later, I had this ticket. Fifty bucks.

City of Los Angeles tickets irk me because they are over-zealous and often unfair, but I know that, like an irresponsible teenager the City is shitty at managing its finances, and thus needs to extort money from its citizens. USC on the other hand… Didn’t somebody give them another hundred and fifty million just last week?

Penalty Box

To do list for today:

Smog check and send in DMV registration for my car. It’s a month overdue, thus will cost $115 instead of $82, so penalty = $33.

Take back books to library. 6 books x 30cents/day x 10 days overdue = $18.

So far today…

Went with Paul to Little Tokyo (that’s in downtown LA) to look at glasses frames. Missed the parking meter by four minutes. Ticket = $55.

But some good news–yesterday I found my lost pay check between the seats of my car, saving all check-stopping fees.

The thing about being a low-wage earner and the casualness of fines in our culture, is that after a while, it can ground down at your sense of self worth. There’s a lot less wriggle room for mistakes, and when you make them, there is more pressure to think of yourself as a “bad person.” Right now in my life, 1 parking ticket = 4 hours teaching English, or 7 hours working someone’s desk at a TV show, or 3 hours of editing, or 2 hours of copy-writing. Or, 50 hours of writing a short story that sells to a literary magazine. Or, just to give it a little more perspective–at this point in my life, 500 hours of writing a screenplay will not pay for my parking ticket.

I think if one could pay for a parking ticket in under an hour, if I made several thousand dollars per written episode–It would be easier to cut oneself some slack. A parking ticket or a late fee diminishes in one’s consciousness, thus loses it’s connotations of “good” or “bad” morality. A mistake is just a little mistake, not an essential error in judgement for which one must do hours of penance.

Worth is not all about money. But for most of us, our worth is tied up in our value to others. Maybe you don’t make a high salary, but you are a great dad. The time you spend with your kids is invaluable. But if your wage is so low that a parking ticket means you have to spend your Saturday working to compensate, instead of spending time with your kids–then has lack of money managed to erode your worth? You literally are worth less for those hours to your kids–because you aren’t there. So you are back to being worth however much your employer is paying you–and that might not be enough to pay a parking ticket inside half a day. So your highest worth is actually to the City of Los Angeles as a faceless, nameless, source of revenue, which they will budget badly.

For all of it, I’m lucky–although I do my share of minimum wage work, I do occasionally get to make more than that. And I’m not trying to support a family of three, or four, or six, on my income. But even so, the presence or absence of money has an impact on my self-esteem. The fact that I have self-esteem is partly derived from the fact that I used to make a very healthy salary. I can look back at some point in my life and see that I was valued, that there were people who valued my skills, my work, and specifically, the way I did my work. If I had never had that experience, I don’t know where I would be psychologically right now. Would I see myself as an upstanding, valuable and valued citizen? Or would the temptation of doing something that people with more money and less problems deem a crime be too much to overcome?

It’s all pretty depressing–and it can make me pretty depressed.

But to end on a happy thought: I can stay at the library all day (well really two hours if I arrive by car) for free! It’s like a spa for the mind, and you can just luxuriate in it, and it’s pretty great. So my screenplay would pay for indefinite time at the library…as long as I remember to return my books on time.