By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com
If you’re in a train station or at a tram stop in Europe and see someone looking around lost, confused, dazed as if they had just been hit on the head with a rubber mallet, scratching their head and finally raising their arms up in a visual and desperate plea for help, don’t worry about them.
They are probably from Los Angeles.
You see, people who live in Los Angeles are clueless when it comes to public transportation. It’s partly because freeways, cars and traffic are part of the lifestyle. (And hey, with it sunny and 70 everyday they have to have SOMETHING to complain about, right?) But it’s also due to the fact that the words “public transportation” do not exist in the vocabulary of Angelenos. That’s because Los Angeles has no public transportation to speak of, so when the people are confronted with it in another country, they are, quite literally, stopped in their tracks.
I know this because I live in Los Angeles. And have attempted to use the city’s bizarre public transportation system.
The first thing you have to know about public transportation in Los Angeles is that it doesn’t go anywhere (example, the Metro train to LAX actually stops a mile short of the airport). Or anywhere you really want to go, so you’re constantly changing trains and/or buses. Often in the worst areas of the city.
And it takes forever, about 2-3 times as long as it would take to drive.
But sometimes, I want to feel as if I’m in Europe. How nice it would be to jump on a train or tram and be whisked to a destination in a quick and efficient manner. So I keep trying to do this in L.A. And I keep getting frustrated.
One recent example was when I decided I would take the train to San Diego. I was covering an event and a friend was meeting me the next day. Rather than have two cars there, it made sense to ride the train. Amtrak’s so-called Pacific Surfrider – how’s that for a Southern California dreamin’ name for you!? – goes right along the ocean for much of its 2 1/2-hour journey.
I had two departure choices, the Art Deco Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, and a station at Anaheim Stadium in Orange County. The most logical place was the latter since it’s south of me and kind of on the way, but it would take an hour to get there in my car and what’s the point of driving an hour to a train when I can keep going and be in San Diego in another hour and a half?
So I chose Union Station. And that started the “arggggg.”
Getting there required a bus from my town, Hermosa Beach, to a Metro station, to another Metro station (in Watts, mind you; that’s home of the famous riots), then to yet another train station.
I did discover an alternative, the Hermosa Beach bus to the train to another bus that picks you up along a freeway. This means you’re standing on a concrete island in between 12 lanes of cars flying past you at 70 mph, which is not the most settling of situations, I can assure you.
That bus, an “express,” was painfully slow. I had 45 minutes to catch the train and the bus stopped every 10 feet in traffic-clogged downtown L.A. At every place, a “ding” would sound and a “Stop Requested” voice came over the speaker. I kept watching the time – 30 minutes till the train departed and still not close to the station, 20 minutes and more stops…
Finally, with 10 minutes to go and with no real idea where I was at the time, I called Amtrak and pleaded with them to hold the train. They would not, of course. Then the bus pulled onto a freeway on-ramp.
“WHAT!?,” I exclaimed! Luckily, a guy had overheard my conversation with Amtrak and casually informed me we were at the Union Station stop. I had assumed the bus would actually pull into the station but here I was standing lost and lonely on a freeway on-ramp. Union Station, as it turned out, was three blocks up the street. I sprinted, dodged construction, raced through the building and down a long corridor dragging my luggage, and finally looked up to see the train above me on the platform.
I pulled my rollerbag up my arm and bounded up the steps. A conductor was at the top, leaning against a railing, and said “you’ll make it.” The name of the train car I was getting on, by the way, was Hermosa Beach!
Sweating and heart pounding as if I had just escaped from a disaster scene in a Hollywood movie, I found a seat and settled into it. Then the train started to move. I had made it by two minutes. This hair-pulling “adventure” took as long as the train to San Diego.
And THAT folks, is why people in Los Angeles don’t take public transportation.
Kevin Wilkerson is a frequent travelers who publishes and blogs for PubClub.com. He resides in Hermosa Beach, CA, a beach town away from the traffic and freeways of L.A. And well out of reach of it’s public transportation hubs.