Sunday, June 11, 2006

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

Walking in LA
Walking in LA
Only a Nobody Walks In LA

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.

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.


"You must be the change you want to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi

22 Comments:

At 6:50 AM, June 12, 2006 , Blogger chad said...

Hey II,
Kudos to for shaking off the disgrace of public transportation. I have been reading an interesting book lately entitled Affluenza which you have probably already heard of. In case you have not, the authors describe how the epidemic of consumerism and pseudo-affluence took over the United States in the last century. (The book was written after the authors produced a PBS special of the same name.)
The long and short of it is: we have been condition by society, and society was conditioned by clever marketing for years to value things that are actually bad for us, but good for business. We value driving big gas-guzzling cars, living on 2 acre plots in 3000 sq ft homes, and we value endless trinkets (clothes, the a bigger flatter TV, etc). However, when you sit down and think about how much these things enhance your life you become aware that, you have been duped. As you have discovered, if more middle class Los Angelinos commuted on the trains, it would not only improve the air quality and the cost of fuel, but might improve the community, as people leave their lonely castles and armored attack vehicles. America sold out the village to seel more widgets and now were are reaping the rewards with a generation of cold self-absorbed disconnected citizens. Anyway, if you have not read the book, it's a must. I'll post on it before too long, and send you a link.
(I know I have been MIA, but I graduated from Dartmouth this weekend, so hopefully things improve from there.)

Embracing the bus,
chad

 
At 7:41 AM, June 12, 2006 , Blogger mrsleep said...

Slightly off topic. "Eye contact with crazies". A story for you, from about 20 years ago.

My Mom and youngest sister (who was about 20 at the time) were in San Francisco doing some Christmas shopping. They were getting ready to cross the street. On the opposite side of the street was a Crazy! The Crazy was 6 feet plus, 200 pounds plus, and shouting gibberish. As my Sister and Mother crossed the street, my Mom briefly made eye contact with the crazy (big mistake). As my Mom reached the other side of the street she sensed a presence behind her, and turned just in time to see the Crazy release a punch leveled at her temple, and she fell to the cement from the blow, slipping her scalp open. For just a second, time appeared frozen. Spectators were in shock, the Crazy was screaming, and my sister, who is tall, strong, and athletic, jumps the wacko, and starts pummeling him. She is now screaming at the screamer as she pounds him. The sidewalk is packed with people, yet they all remain frozen, as my Mom bleeds on the sidewalk. The crazy decides to flee the scene, and my sister goes after him. She chases him a couple of blocks then realizes her Mother is "cold cocked" on the sidewalk. She runs back to my Mom, and finds some US Navy guys tending to her. She ends up with stiches, a black eye, and a slight concussion.

The next day, my Sister, Brother, and Dad spent hours driving around San Francisco looking for this guy. I don't know what would have happened if they had found him, but I think they would have extracted some revenge.

As an FYI, don't mess with my Sister. She's a bad ass.

Ten years later she was living in the Land Park area of Sacramento, having a cup of coffee early in the morning and spied two teenage youths peeking in the car window of a neighbors parked car. She sees them break the window and reach in and steal a purse. She immediately begins screaming at them and races out of the house in a t-shirt, and pajama bottoms and bare feet. The youths take off, and my brother-in-law runs out of the house thinking "what the hell", as he sees his wife racing down the street screaming at the robbers. The kids are scared shitless, and as she's gaining on them they drop the purse and keep running.

Moral of the story, "don't make eye contact with crazies, and don't phuck with my sister".

 
At 7:57 AM, June 12, 2006 , Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

There is no public transportation where I live but people in the country are a bit offended if you don't say hello to strangers and avoid eye contact. The lack of anonymity makes for better behavior and even while driving, I usually have the top down so other drivers are looking at a person , not a box with blacked out windows.

Living urban - where your life is circumscribed by the hostility and insanity of others seems alien to me these days - as does the notion that 3000 square ft is a large dwelling or that 2 acres is a lot of land.

It's probably a flimsy argument, but living in cities sometimes seems the root of many of our problems. Long commutes, traffic congestion, criminals, crazies status seeking and bad air - I don't miss these things a bit.

 
At 1:13 PM, June 12, 2006 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

I can attest that II lives in latte-drinking suburbia. I will NEVER drive to another event at II's house!! The traffic is so terrible on the freeway, and when you get off, the streets are no better.

I only live 4.5 miles from work, so I just drive, but I'd have no fear or problem with public transportation. I grew up taking the public buses to and from school, and I always enjoyed it. But I'm a big guy, so I guess I don't really worry about people trying to fight me too much.

The irony of life is that the more we accumulate, the more energy we have to spend keeping those accumulations in order. Gandhi owned nothing, but was probably 1000x happier than Trump. Feck all this material stuff. I can't stand it.

 
At 1:31 PM, June 12, 2006 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

Chad - Nice to have you back and congrats on graduating. I hope this means you are back in the blogosphere to share your wisdom. Never heard of the book until your brother mentioned that you have been really taken by it. On your recommendation, I will definitely pick it up and please write a review for everyone.

Mr. Sleep -

I like your sister already. A little fire is a good thing. Your sister sounds like my sister. Her friend got mugged in Spain and my sister chased the guy and beat his ass to get the purse back. My dad didn't have boys, so he raised my sister and I as if he did. No such thing as backing down from a fight.

Captain - 3,000 square feet isn't a big house? Is your part of Florida peppered with mansions?

BOB -

You better come to the next event! Although I completely understand about the horrific traffic. We have to find you a new route. :-)

 
At 2:02 PM, June 12, 2006 , Blogger mrsleep said...

II, my sister is an aspiring triathelete at the age of 45.

My commute today is 28.8 miles and takes 30 minutes. I could telecommute but miss the social aspect of work. My wife commutes 55 miles each way, and spend 150 minutes on the road daily. Gas prices are taking a big bite out of our cash flow. We live in a bucolic area, on 3 acres, vineyard, etc. We have discussed moving, but don't want to pay double the property taxes we are paying today. Plus our home has great local views, and has many, many natural trees. It so happens our house IS 3000 square feet. The wine cellar I'm building will add another 200 square feet.

 
At 2:23 PM, June 12, 2006 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

Your wife commutes 110 miles. Ouch. There aren't any trains or jobs closer to home? BART isn't in your parts? That has to be brutal for so many reasons.

 
At 3:52 PM, June 12, 2006 , Blogger mrsleep said...

No BART. We live near Auburn, she works in Woodland. I've tried to get her to change jobs, but she really likes the people she works with. There really is no workable public transportation solution for her. She puts about 35000 miles a year on her car, probably a bit more than that. I tell her she has to make the car last 5 years, that's a LOT of miles to put on a car before we bury it. I'm trying to talk her into getting a VW Diesel Jetta or a hybrid for her next car. We need something that gets better than 35 miles a gallon. The Jetta Diesel gets 45+, plus a lot less engine maintenance. She has a mini SUV now that gets maybe 22 miles a gallon, but she loves it. I chose not to fight it last time, but gas prices will force the issue this time.

 
At 9:10 AM, June 13, 2006 , Blogger Hillary For President said...

If we relly wnat improve are society, all we need do is elect a lady hillary clinton for president.

that is all.

Hillary-for-President.blogspot.com

 
At 10:36 AM, June 13, 2006 , Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

That's the joy of living in the country - space, peace and clean air.

Here along the coast, 10,000 feet is a mansion - and just barely. but they don't sell land by the square inch as in California

 
At 12:39 PM, June 13, 2006 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

In order to secure my attendance, you must provide transportation, and you must pledge not to verbally assault me to my wife (i.e., guzzle Haterade).

 
At 12:39 PM, June 13, 2006 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

In order to secure my attendance, you must provide transportation, and you must pledge not to verbally assault me to my wife (i.e., guzzle Haterade).

 
At 8:49 PM, June 13, 2006 , Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Nobody walks in LA.

Missing Persons, Terry Bozzio and singer Dale Bozzio embodied the truth about LA.

I was there but two weeks ago. And there will never be a substitute for cars.

And for any number of rational reasons, I will NEVER walk in Los Angeles. I would not EVER relinquish my body to the gangs or the crazies or the disaffected or the genetic mutants.

And only genetic mutants take public transit in LA.

Get the hell over it.

BZ

 
At 4:57 PM, June 15, 2006 , Blogger Stalin the Shark said...

Ick!

Are you attracting Hillarybots?

Ick ick ick!

Here in NYC, nobody uses cars; it's a dead giveaway of suburban status. Besides, public transportation is usually cheaper and faster; $2 gets you from the Bronx to JFK in less time (and more comfort) than a car.

:-), StS

 
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