Where I grew up, the subway was the only logical way to get around. It was frequent, on time, clean, cheap, and got you there faster than a car. I learned to drive, like everyone did, but I never had to.
Then fate landed me in Los Angeles, and now I can say I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.
For a long time, there were no trains to speak of here, and the buses where I lived weren’t great (I didn’t live on the Westside, so, sadly, no Big Blue Bus). The only viable way to work or play or school was a car. Driving alone went from luxury to habit to entitlement.
Years passed, and I moved to Santa Monica. More years passed, and L.A. Metro built a network of light rail lines, including the Expo line which was extended to Santa Monica last year. A year later, Expo carries 60,000 people a day to Santa Monica.
I ride Expo very occasionally. I tell myself it’s because I live a long way from the nearest station and it’s not convenient. That long way is about six blocks.
Today, I boarded at one end of the line and rode to the other, then did it again the other way two hours later. It was great, a million times better than sitting in traffic on the freeway, or hunting for that elusive parking spot and then being late for my meeting.
Sharing a rail car with a hundred or more other souls is enlightening: we’re people from all walks of life, all ages, each unique. Most of us were engrossed in our cellphones, checking email, texting, or lost in music in headphones.
Outside the train, contrasts of culture, architecture, and humanity hammered our senses, not all of it pleasantly, but all of it real. The woman screaming at another on the platform, accusing her of stealing her son’s things. The shantytowns under overpasses and clinging to hillsides; the billion-dollar high rises just built or under construction a few blocks away. The blazing hot blast of an autumn heatwave invading the car when the doors opened at each stop – and blessed relief each time the doors closed.
I know that most cities are more like the one where I was born than the one in which I now live – where public transportation is the default and not the exception.
Here in L.A., this is changing – slowly, but inevitably – with the imperative for each of us to treat our planet more responsibly. It has not been easy for me to commit to the shared transportation experience; I enjoy my solitude and my comfortable car commute too much.
But I really, really need to change.
Join me on the train or bus and let’s make a difference in our world.