How bad could it be? I’ll tell you — an hour and a freaking half bad, each way, in miserable bumper to bumper traffic with people cutting me off, honking and tailgating, all the while that freaking Waze app telling me to “Turn right.”
Sure, I’ll turn right from the farthest left lane of Wilshire Blvd. What the hell are you thinking with your “turn right” bullshit crazy Waze lady?
Then, to make things worse, I discover that this particular job does not provide employee parking . . . in Santa flipping Monica, where every street has a “No Parking” or “Permit Required” or “Hipsters Only” parking sign.
So after enduring ninety minutes of hellacious traffic, I get to circle the neighboring blocks for an additional twenty minutes, while my blood pressure spikes.
That commute and the parking nightmare brought out the worst in me and by the time I reached the office I hated all of humanity.
But what seemed odd, and slightly infuriating, was that no one in my new office seemed to mind. What was wrong with these people? Why were they not justifiably outraged?
Then I realized. Most of my new co-workers were millennials, still foolishly optimistic about the trajectory of their careers. They had yet to be beaten down by the daily humiliation of working life.
“Do you use Waze?” one of the perkier ones would ask.
“No, I just arrived on the planet. Yes I fucking use Waze you little twit.”
Okay, I didn’t say that, but I nearly did, because that commute chipped away at my already tissue-paper-thin filter.
And by the end of the day, my hostility turned to dread, knowing that I’d have to battle the freeways again to get home. Not even the dulcet toned NPR hosts could calm me down. I did not like the person I had become.
Then, as I lunched near my office, a shiny new Metro train whizzed by the window of the café. As I caught a glimpse of the blissful urbanites nestled in their seats, the train was beckoning me.
Though the Metro stop was but a few blocks from my office, when I asked my co-workers if anyone had used it, I was met with blank stares, “The Metro? Yah I should do that some day. . . but I hear it takes, like, ninety minutes.”
Oh, that blows. Wait, I’m lucky to make it home in ninety minutes now. What did I have to lose?
I resolved to take the train, yet it took a few days to work up the nerve. After all, it’s a huge leap for a native Angeleno to give up her car. It’s like a part of me. Actually it’s more like a really big purse, stocked with emergency items like snacks and sundries, coats and sensible earthquake-shoes, and of course, a first aid kit and a blanket should I stumble upon a errant shock victim. How could I get by without these items?
A heinous 2½-hour drive home convinced me that in fact I could, and at 8:15 a.m. the next morning, I was headed to the Pasadena Metro station, 15 minutes from my home.
But damn if that train wasn’t leaving the second I reached the platform. Oh well. No need to stress. This is going to be an adventure!
By 8:38 a.m. I’ve got my TAP card loaded and am successfully on board. I take stock of my fellow train commuters, an eclectic mix of business people, blue-collar workers, and students. These are my people now.
Five minutes in, a Metro officer enters our car and announces a TAP card check. Really, they actually do that? Mine thankfully passes the test. The officer turns to a rather drugged-looking gentleman in the corner who admits to having no such card. “You gonna cause trouble?” the Metro officer asks. “No, no,” the man claims.
The Metro officer moves on and the drugged-looking man immediately causes trouble. “Why aren’t you married?” he asks his neighbor, a young professional. “Oh I see your ring. Your husband better be nice to you.”
The woman is remarkably patient. I admire her restraint. I admire it from way across the train where I sat glued to my seat, doing absolutely nothing to assist her.
Instead I remember to share my location on my cell phone with my husband. “For one hour” or “indefinitely” it asks. “For 1 hour” I select optimistically.
Two stops later, a tattooed ruffian boards the train. He immediately zeros in on a cute French girl, a fashion student at FIDM, perhaps? Within minutes it appears a Metro love connection has been made! Or quite possibly an abduction; it can be so hard to tell.
By 9 a.m. I’m at Union Station where I board the Red Line to NoHo. Wait that can’t be right. Darn it, am I on the wrong freakin’ train? I panic. Okay, yes, I do want to go north to go west, two stops to 7th St/Metro Center.
Another, rather drugged looking man comes on board and makes a b-line for the seat near mine. Karma. Suddenly he turns around and gets off. Phew!
It’s 9:36 a.m. and I’m finally on board the Expo line. Wow, what a great, clean train. I settle in for an enjoyable journey sailing over the streets and freeways of Los Angeles, much like the monorail at Disneyland. There’s so much to see!
Look, kids playing soccer, and a guy painting his house, and old men playing cards on a porch, and who knew there was a skateboard park there, and wow there’s some really shocking squalor you don’t see when you’re stuck on the (10) or trying not to get killed when Waze tells you to suddenly turn left.
Before I know it, I’m in Culver City (and isn’t it nice now?) and should be arriving at Bergamont station any second, and it’s only 10:32. Really, 10:32?
I sprint to my office and immediately try to share my Metro experience. But I’m met with more blank stares. My experience is so far out of my co-workers’ reality that I might as well have said that I flew to work on a fire-breathing dragon. “Oh really? I hear they take 90 minutes.”
For the rest of the day I feel strangely liberated not having a car. I smugly watch as my co-workers scramble to move theirs during street cleaning, and there’s a weight off my shoulders knowing that I don’t have to fight traffic to return home.
After work, I approach the train station with the swagger of a seasoned commuter. I easily navigate the hop from line to line, and even offer help to virgin riders.
As my train whizzes past the gridlocked streets and freeways, I smile. “Suckers!” I’m tempted to yell at the cars below.
On the last leg of my journey it occurs to me that what this Metro Train really needs is cocktail service, because oh my God it’s nearly 8 p.m., and I sure fixing for a glass of cabernet.
Finally back home I extol the virtues of my Metro trip, exhilarated from accomplishing my trip crosstown – such a contrast from the anger that I usually brought home.
I go on and on in excruciating detail until my husband reminds me that he once lived in a city with public transit and that riding the subway, for many, is nothing new.
But for me it was new, and so different from my decades of driving in L.A. traffic. Taking the train made me realize some fairly obvious things. For one, L.A. is big. I mean really freakin’ big, and two, there’s a ton of people living here, and three, a surprising number of these people appear to be on narcotics.
You miss these things driving in your car, insulated from the world and focused only on your destination or traffic.
You miss the diverse neighborhoods and the interesting people. But riding the train, past the soccer games and the men playing cards, and sitting with Eastside fashion students and Westside millenials, you feel a part of the city.
Maybe it takes ninety minutes – okay maybe a little bit more – but to not have the stress of driving, it’s totally worth it.