Only A Nobody Walks In LA
The warning from my friend was unequivocal - do not make eye contact with anyone. Keep your head in your book and do not look up. The consequences of failing to heed this advice can be dire - a crazy will interpret your gaze, no matter how brief, as an invitation to exchange views on the world and you will be drawn into endless discussions about nothing.
While this advice has gotten me quite far in Howard Zinn's "A People's History Of The United States", I also got on the wrong train the other day because I wasn't paying attention to the stops. Doh! That cost me at least half an hour.
I live in an area of Los Angeles known as the South Bay, which is a utopian, beach-side suburban bubble of middle class SUV drivers who take their cafe lattes with nonfat milk and run on the beach pushing strollers every morning. Work, however, recently was relocated to Mars and the traffic between Mars and the South Bay is horrendous.
So, when my job told me they were relocating to Mars and invited me to come back now that we have shows in production again, I had two choices - find a way to take public transportation or find another job. This was a tough choice, however, as I am a native of this beautiful, yet insane, city and we natives undergo strict indoctrination about the disgrace of taking public transportation. As part of the indoctrination program, the 80's band Missing Persons sang the timeless classic "Walking In LA", the chorus of which goes
I had lengthy discussions with friends. Consulted maps. Checked the timetables. Weighed the costs. And found three compelling reasons to fight the indoctrination. 1) I hate traffic. 2) I am a cheapskate and 3) I refuse to fund another $600 million retirement for Exxon Mobil's CEO.
Walking in LA
Walking in LA
Only a Nobody Walks In LA
So I am a nobody now. I take the train and a bus or two to get to work and I love it. For an hour and some change (depending on which trains and buses I catch), I get to read, hide in a bubble and, if I can monitor the stops without making eye contact, have peace and quiet for myself. I show up to work relaxed and get home relaxed.
Although I mistakenly made eye contact with the chatterbug on the morning bus the other day and suffered through his endless babbling the entire ride to downtown LA, it reminded me of how isolating our cars are. If I went from my suburbia to work and back, I would never have occasion to encounter all sorts of people who do not live in my ivory tower; all the people for whom taking the bus is not a luxury, but a necessity because they can't afford to drive; the teenagers with their babies, the beggar duo who catch the redline with me in downtown and who switch up the stops at which they will spend their day "working"; the crazies who desperately need medical treatment.
The car is one of the most isolating inventions of modern times, second only to the computer. Try giving it up for a day. You would be amazed by how many people you meet; how many people look "scary" from afar and end up being polite and giving you a seat; how many kind people there are who share a laugh with you at the fact you got on the wrong train. We are all connected, for better or for worse, and if we are going to improve our society, it is time to reconnect to everyone whose fates are intimately intertwined with our own.