Saturday, June 28, 2008

Metro Journal: June 28 Sleepcommuting

I needed to get in earlier because today was the exam day. The earlier Commuter Express still had seats left. I sat next to a man who was clearly dead to the world. I always wonder about people who sleep on buses. Do they ever miss their stops? I kind of wonder why I don't see some of them wearing signs. "Wake me for 3rd and Flower." This guy seems to have gotten off at the right stop, which was before mine.

I got stopped at the Green Line/Blue Line junction again for a ticket. When I got to the top of the platform, I got to wave bye-bye to the back end of the Green Line as it pulled away. Another one came about 5 minutes later, though.

The exam was timed, so we were kicked out before 3. I was pretty zoned. And again at the Green Line/Blue Line junction, sheriffs were checking tickets.

I got to the Commuter Express stop about 5 minutes before the first scheduled bus at 4:05. Not much else happened. Or I was too out of it to notice.

Some statistics for the week:

Number of Metro Rail rides: 20
Number of times I had my ticket checked for Metro Rail: 3
Number of folding bikes I saw on Metro Rail: 2
Number of times I managed to catch the Commuter Express in the afternoon: 2
Likelihood I would ever want to commute from my current home to El Segundo on a regular basis using public transportation, unless something changes drastically: 0

Metro Journal: June 26 Guitarless Man

In the morning I once again got to commute vertically to the Metro Blue Line station. There was a train there, although there usually is as it's the terminus and they usually already have one in the wings to get into position after one has left. Someone usually goes through and picks up trash at that point. This time as I was going down the steps to the platform, it started beeping and the doors closed! I tried to hurry, but I wasn't really in the mood to trip, fall down the concrete steps, and break my neck, so just as I got to platform, the doors closed and it pulled away. Oh, well. I sat down as the next one pulled into position. Its sign read "Del Amo," which meant it was a short line, but as I recalled Del Amo was still past the Green Line station. I got on and checked the map and I was right, but there's always still that moment of paranoia. That train was kind enough to leave only a couple minutes later. The Green Line was pretty uneventful.

In the afternoon, I got out of the class after 5. I was bone-tired. I hadn't slept well the night before and the long commute along with 4 days of day-long class just got draining. At the Green Line junction, there was a severe bottleneck at the stairs. Most of these stations have stairs for going down and an escalator for going up. There is, of course, also an elevator, but who the hell trusts elevators in public places? The Blue Line runs at ground level, and the Green Line is at the freeway level, probably about 2 stories above. Turns out some dumbass was walking his bike up the stairs against the flow. Geez.

A station or two later, a small man with a gray beard got on and stood at the head of the car I was in. He announced that although some of us knew him as the Guitar Man, he didn't have his guitar because it had been stolen. He said he was hoping to get a new one soon, and said he wasn't a panhandler. He performed for his money. Because he didn't have his guitar, he was going to sing a capella. Then he broke into some Billy Joel. Well, he did sing in key, but he didn't have a, um, beautiful singing voice, but then again, neither does Billy Joel. Some guy near him stuck a bill in Guitar Man's baseball cap.

Did I mention that I was bone-tired? And had a headache?

After he finished that one, he made the statement again about performing for his living, then started on an Eagles ballad.

I really hate 70s soft-rock ballads. I mentioned the headache, right?

Guitar Man got off before the end of the line. I had of course missed the last Commuter Express, so I walked down to the stop for the 81 and then waited forever. Or maybe it was 10 minutes, but there were no benches there and I was, well, really tired.

By then it was about 6:30. I got on near the beginning of the line, so there were only a couple people on, but as we went through downtown, it got really crowded. Lots of people were standing in the aisle. Once we got into Highland Park, it cleared out a great deal, but then a troika of teenage girls, including a Paris Hilton-wannabe-lookalike, got on. I am generally not fond of teenage girls. I was one for entirely too long. They sat in the back, a few seats behind me. The thing about teenage girls is that they generally think the world revolves around them, so when you get several in one place, you either end up with a schizophrenic planet or worlds just start to collide. One of these in particular had the epitome of the loud, shrill, perfectly pitched teenage-girl voice. After about 15 minutes of this, I was pretty sure if I had tilted my head to either side, a token amount of blood would have trickled out of my ear.

It turns out it had taken me about as long to get home as it had the night before, but it seemed like an eternity.

Edited to add: Apparently people with bikes are only allowed to take them on the stairs or elevators, but not the escalators. Weird. Metro bike rules for rail. That obnoxious bottleneck situation still sucked ass, though.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Metro Journal: June 25 Conjunction Junction, What's Your Malfunction?

I apparently forgot to turn on my alarm last night. Oops. I'd been getting up an hour earlier than I usually do for work. So my body was nice enough to wake me up for work, but I realized it was lighter out than it should have been and.... AGH! Talk about rude awakenings. I did make the same bus I had taken yesterday, after realizing yesterday morning that there's a second stop closer to my home that it makes after the Park & Ride stop but right before getting on the 2.

Once again, I was holding on to the luggage rack. I decided I should at least listen to my MP3 player, but the earphone cord was tangled so I somehow managed to untangle it mostly one-handed. Fortunately there were no unsightly accidents to see this morning.

When I was changing from the Blue Line to the Green Line, the transit police were checking tickets. This was the first time all week on either line I'd seen them check. I had to dig out my monthly bus pass, which had gotten buried since I hadn't needed it this week. The Metro Rail Lines are effectively a lottery/honor system. Because they honor the paper day/month/week passes that work on buses where you show them to the driver, they can't really have automated token-fed or card-reader turnstile entrances. If you don't hold a pass, you're supposed to buy a ticket at the station. Not everyone does, since, well, to demonstrate, I was going to my 10th rush-hour ride of the week and only getting ticketed for the first time.

That whole schedule put me in about 5 minutes late after I visited the restroom. Well, to the earlier bus tomorrow. I think I'll just run and set the alarm clock right now...

Ok, done.

During a break in class, I checked my work Blackberry. I had won 20 "studio" bucks from my employer in this week's "please don't use a parking space" lottery! They have this incentive going all summer to promote ride sharing methods, and they're only barely bothering to make it an environmental/street-congestion-reducing goodwill program. Basically, they just don't have enough parking spaces for all the cars for all the productions using the lot this summer, so every week they're giving away lots of real cash prizes and lots of gift-certificate-type-things for the studio store and food market. Every day an employee registered in the Ride Share program takes an "alternate method of transportation" they get an entry card. Last week was the first week of the program and so I won in the first drawing. Whee!

Actually, it's really funny, because early in the week before it started, I had walked into the gate and out of habit pulled out my bus pass instead of my employee ID. The guard made a funny face. The next day the same guard was on duty when I came in and even though I had my employee ID out that time, he said he had to see my bus pass. The last day before the program started, I told him he couldn't make fun of me anymore, because that bus pass could win me big bucks! Or, as has actually happened, moderate fake bucks!

But back to the day's commute. We got out a little later than yesterday, but because of the connection timing issues, I didn't totally write off the chance of making the Commuter Express. Until I got up to wait for the Green Line. Off in the distance, I could see it crawling Very Slowly from the next station. Then someone made an announcement on the PA system from which about the only 3 words I got were "blue," "line," and "delays." Yes, I could see that. When the train finally crawled in and we got on, the driver said that they were having "signaling problems" and we were going to sit there a couple minutes. When we finally got to the next station, someone sat next to me, and after a minute said, "This train is moving really slow." I said that they had said something about "signaling problems," and he said, "What, they can't see each other coming?" I shrugged. We seemed to get back to normal after another station or two, but that had already tacked on another 10-15 minutes to my trip. Luckily I got down to the Blue Line platform just as it was coming in.

I had totally missed the Express, so at the Metro Center I started trudging off to the nearest 81 stop, which, while on paper is only 3 blocks or so away, seemed an eternity. Well, I was pretty tired. I got there just as it did, and it wasn't at all crowded. so that was nice. It ended up going up Hill and then taking a similar route to the one the 90 did that I accidentally ended up on on Monday, even getting on the 110 North and getting off at Figueroa, except the 81 stays on Figueroa all the way until it hits Colorado. I rode it to the end of the line. Travel time, including walking from the training site and to my home, about 2.5 hours. But I did get a lot of crochet done.

Metro Journal: June 24 A Different Kind of Bus

Because I was so early yesterday, even after the unintended walking tour of downtown Los Angeles, I figured I could take the bus that leaves about 25 minutes later and still get there on time. Which might have worked in theory...

I did catch the bus that whipped me around to the Commuter Express stop. I walked up to stop from the opposite direction that of the Park & Ride lot, which most people come from, so I thought it was odd that there was one person standing under the sign and then the rest trailed off in the opposite direction. But people just glanced at me like I Was New Here but didn't say anything. Then a couple minutes later someone else came from the direction I did and walked past everyone who was already standing there. I asked the man under the sign if there was in fact a line and he said yes, so I went to the end of it. It was just weird after the shove'n'trample method of boarding Metro buses. At any rate, the Commuter Express was already almost full when it got there, so most of us were stuck standing. Now, because this is one of those coach tour buses, there just aren't a lot of conveniently placed vertical bars to wrap your elbow around and read. In fact, the only ones are right at the front and then in the middle in the fancy wheelchair lift area. So the rest of us were stuck holding onto the luggage rack.

There's this big, white, old, boring building in what I guess is maybe Highland Park called Ribet Academy. I'd only ever seen it from the 2, but as the bus got off the 2 right next to it, I actually saw the front gate. There's just something about the name... plus the writing and trim is in green....

I thought it was kind of odd that we took surface streets the rest of the way downtown, but it was mostly working... until we got a little ways into Chinatown. We were going down Broadway, or we would have been, except nothing much on Broadway was moving. Finally we, along with all the other vehicles on the road, were detoured off by the police to New High/Spring St. After crawling a couple blocks, we could see why: a mid-size red SUV was lying belly-up on Broadway near the off-ramp for the 101. Ouch.

I did at least get off at the right stop this morning and thus didn't repeat my walking tour/Marilyn moment. The rail rides were pretty uneventful, but the net result was that I was about 20 minutes late. Oh, well.

We got out earlier, but I still wasn't sure I would make the last Commuter Express. On the Green Line, a woman was behind me talking to a 22-year-old recent college grad named Christopher. Apparently Christopher was bitching because he had been in a car accident and he didn't have the money to fix his car and no one he had asked had the money to fix his car. Apparently the accident had also been preventable, because he had known his brakes were going bad and had not fixed them. The woman was showing remarkable patience trying to explain to him that it wasn't anyone else's fault that he had been in a car wreck and couldn't afford to pay the repairs. She was trying to tell him that if he wanted to grow from this experience and become an adult, he needed to stop coming up with excuses and instead identify his role in the situation, that every time he was interrupting her (and, trust me, she was getting interrupted a lot), that was another excuse coming out of his mouth. I'm not sure what relation she was to him, but I seriously doubt she was his mother. Most mothers would have started getting medieval on his whiny ass after about 3 minutes. Maybe an aunt. At any rate, when I got off the train, it didn't sound promising.

The Blue Line got in the last station almost 10 minutes after the last Commuter Express was scheduled to leave, at least according to the times I got off the LADOT site. I left out of the station and was going to start walking to the bus stop for the 81, which stops about 1/4 mile from my home, when coming straight at me was the Commuter Express 409 headsign! Yay! Perfect timing! And I got a nice seat!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Metro Journal: June 23 The El Segundo Special

I get to go down to El Segundo all week for a technical training course, and because I'm taking public transportation, you get to read all about it! Well, the trip itself, anyway.

(For clarification during the following, you can consult the Metro Rail Map. Note that this map bears little semblance to geographical reality, but it sure looks pretty!)

Probably 90% of the time you can plug your start and end points into and get "the right answer," but this wasn't one of those times. I knew the training course site was 2 blocks away from a Metro Green Line Station, but Metro's Trip Planner wasn't putting me on the Green Line and was telling me it would take me at least 2 hours to get there in the morning, so I worked backward, and came up with a possible time of 90 minutes.

Which would have been possible if (a) I wasn't always running late and (b) I triple-checked all my stop names.

The first official leg of the trip is a Commuter Express from the Glendale Park & Ride to Downtown Los Angeles. The Park and Ride is about a half a mile from my home, although not as the bee flies. I sort of knew there was a Glendale Beeline that stops a couple blocks from my home that would get me near the stop, but I think I missed it by 2 minutes. So I walked. It's not the distance. It's the fact that we're coming off a 100+F weekend and even at 6:45AM it's still almost warm. But I'm fine. I just didn't know which corner the bus stopped on, but I asked someone and she told me. Told me I was kitty corner from it. But I got on the right bus.

This Commuter Express is run by the LADOT (the City of Los Angeles's DOT) and is basically one of those coach tour buses. Nice and comfy. And full. The woman next to me was talking to the man across the aisle about all those boring things people who don't really know each other talk about, like gas prices. I crocheted, and tried to stay away from her peeling bare shoulder.

There's nothing to announce stop names, but I was watching the street signs. When I see that we've hit Flower, I get off. Except I didn't realize there were two stops on Flower St., one at 3rd and the other at 7th. I wanted the one at 7th. Guess which one I got off at?

Ok, it's just 4 blocks away. Actually, it's 5, because some dumbass stuck Wilshire between 6th and 7th, although apparently without adding a regular city block's distance. Anyway, I had a Marilyn moment when I was walking over a subway exhaust and my skirt went flying. Oops. And it didn't seem like a Marilyn skirt, but I kept it under control, and the only woman who seemed to notice gave me a sympathetic smile.

I found the 7th St Metro Blue Line station and got in a minute before my train left. I didn't really need to panic, because this is the terminus station so it wasn't like I could get on in the wrong direction, but still.

The Blue Line runs at ground level down to Long Beach. I got off at the Imperial Highway station, which is where the Blue Line intersects with the Green Line. The Green Line runs above ground level, alongside freeways most of the way that I was on. And while I did have the choice of two directions that time, I picked the right one: Redondo Beach. Which made me think immediately of the Patti Smith song about the suicidal lover.

When I got off the Green Line and walked down to street level, I wasn't sure which direction I needed to go in, so I asked a woman. She pointed me in the right direction, then started going in the other. A young man told me he was going that way. He said it was brave for me to take the train someplace I wasn't familiar with. I'm not sure if that's an insult. I said I was just taking this route for a week, and I had researched everything, but nothing had said which side of the street the Green Line station was on. Turns out he takes the train from Baldwin Park. That's one of those places which I can never place mentally on a map. It actually is way-the-hell east, though, farther than Glendale. I said I wished I could take the train more often, because the bus is at the mercy of traffic. He pointed out that because the Blue Line runs on ground level, it can cause problems, like car accidents on the tracks. At least buses can take detours.

At any rate, I got the place with plenty of time.

We get out right at 5. The last Commuter Express for the line I need leaves 7th & Flower at 5:50, though, so it was unlikely I would make it. I didn't.

The Green Line was really crowded. I ended up having to wait about 10 minutes for the Blue Line. A young man somewhere behind me in the connected car was visiting from Italy. He was telling a man who had the laugh of someone who has been smoking for decades that he wanted to be a breakdancer. They talked about rap music, how everyone everywhere wants to be a rapper, in India, in Saudi Arabia. The young Italian said he knows that you go to his home, Italy, for the best pasta, but for the best rap, you go to America. The gravel-throated man asked if he knew who the first rappers were. "Run-DMC?" "No, James Brown. Ella Fitzgerald. Scat. It's all about the flow."

I missed the Commuter Express by over 15 minutes. I had already researched a backup plan. The 91 and 394, which go through Glendale, stop at 7th and Hill, about half a dozen blocks away. When I got out to the street, I asked a man for the direction to Hill. He asked the man next to him who pointed the way, then explained that he had just gotten here from Brooklyn so he didn't know where anything was yet.

I got to Hill and started waiting. Next to a totally rank trash can. (I mentioned that it's been freakin' hot, yes?) Nothing. Nothing. Wrong bus. Wrong bus. A 90. The head sign said "Olive View Hospital." (Don't ask me about Olive View Hospital.) Hmmm.... I was pretty sure the 90 stops on Glendale Blvd, but I can't remember. I asked the driver if this bus goes to Glendale. He said some stuff I couldn't hear very well (this is a busy intersection in downtown Los Angeles during rush hour, after all) and then he said something like, "Where do you need to go?" "Just anywhere in Glendale." I can't remember exactly what I was thinking, but I got on. If this bus was going to Butt-Fucking Sylmar from downtown L.A., odds were it went through Glendale. And I really wanted to get away from that trash can.

After I got on, I realized I was one of Those People. Those People Who Have No Idea What Bus They Want To Be On Or Where The Hell They're Going.

After I sat down, I checked my Blackberry. Yes, it looked like this line did, in fact, go up Glendale Blvd. I could get off at Broadway and take whatever 180/181/780 came by first to my regular evening stop.

We drove up through Chinatown. I noticed that the standard Metro "How to wait at the bus stop without getting hit by a bus" rules came in a Chinese version at one stop. I had only seen English and Spanish.... neat. We got on the 110 North... good sign, that meant Pasadena or Highland Park... Off at Avenue 26. I got a tour of the Highland Park area of the City of Los Angeles. So far so good. Then I saw we were on San Fernando Road, then I see... the corner of Forest Lawn Cemetery. Or I guess it's a Memorial Park. We took a right onto Glendale Blvd. Yay! I got off one stop further south than I needed to, but walked up to Broadway, got on a 180, and I was golden.

Door-to-door: 2:15. Ouch. It didn't feel that bad, though. I got a lot of crocheting and a lot of mind-wandering done. Maybe tomorrow if I know I won't make the evening Commuter Express, instead of going to street-level to catch a bus at the 7th St station, I'll get on the Red Line, go to Union Station, take the Gold Line to Pasadena, get off at Lake, and then take the 180 or 780 west... 4 colors, one trip! In theory, I could take the Red Line in the opposite direction, get off at Hollywood/Western, then take the 780 east as usual, but ew... Plus then I'd still be missing a primary color.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Metro Journal: Last.... Stop.....

I completed, more or less, my promised month-long saga. Maybe if I have an exciting story I'll post it, but right now I'm sick of trying to take notes on the bus and am too distracted to do a good job. I think it was important to survey an extended period rather than picking a day here or there with good stories, because no two days are exactly alike, but there's a rhythm to it. So maybe I'll pick it up and do another month sometime down the road.

I didn't set out to write this blog to try to convince people whether they should use public transportation or not. Especially here in Southern California, it's a crap-shoot a lot of the time. You can thank the state government for that for cutting $1.3 billion from the transportation budget last year (only a portion of which is earmarked for public transportation, but you get the idea) and for people not giving it a chance.

I don't know the precise economics of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and, ok, I'm too lazy to look them up right now. I just assume that it will probably never be profitable on its own and will always require government subsidies. But think of the ways everyone benefits, whether or not they ever ride a bus or train. With fewer vehicles on the road, you get...
  1. Less traffic. Less time spent in traffic for everyone, whether they're on a bus or in their own car.
  2. Less wear and tear on the roads. I'm not saying that's going to save the government money on potholes they don't have to fix, as taxes on gasoline go towards that, but just think how long it takes potholes to get fixed!
  3. Fewer pollutants in the air. With asthma and other respiratory illnesses growing problems, cutting down on damaging particulates in the air will mean increased productivity and less burden on the health-care system, which saves the state money when the patients depend on Medi-Cal, but mainly it means better quality of life for patients and their families.
  4. Less noise pollution.
  5. Better quality of life for everyone.
As I said in the beginning, though, getting more people to ride the bus or rail here rests on a chicken-and-egg quandary. People with a choice won't ride if the buses are unreliable, too infrequent, or otherwise inconvenient. The Metro can't add more coverage and buses to make it more palatable to more people without money.

And the next time you're stuck in traffic, or waiting forever for your bus, or spilling your morning coffee all over yourself because you hit a pothole, or choking on exhaust, think about our dear old Governator riding around in his private jet.

P.S. Over a week later and I haven't gotten a response to my complaint letter in the last post. Therefore I have no qualms in announcing that My Airline Experience From Hell was on United.

P.P.S. Last night I was on the 207 with the "Hollywood.... Western..... Last.... Stop....." driver again. When we got to the last.... stop.... I went out the front and asked him, "You just can't wait to get us all off this bus, can you?" He laughed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Air Journal: June 2 Can we seat the assholes on the wings?

Flying back from Florida, I had... a really bad time. This morning I sent the following through the customer service web site of the airline in question, which shall remain nameless unless I don't get some kind of satisfactory response from them in the next few days.
I am writing to relate to you the worst air travel experience I have had in memory.

First of all, there was only one person working the check-in counter for [Insert airline name here] at [Insert airport name here] when I arrived an hour before my flight. There was some confusion over who was in which line. I had immediately gone to one of the electronic check-in kiosks, but some people hadn't and there was no distinction between lines. The employee at the counter was moving very quickly, but it was still very chaotic.

My biggest problem occurred when I was told I had already checked in a bag. I had selected one bag to check, I had one bag to check, and that was it. Because the employee at the counter was trying to handle the people coming up to check-in, he could not take the time to sort out my problem.

I try to be a patient person. I really do. I know that glitches happen. However, it's very unclear to me how in this day and age, with security issues such as they are, that a bag can get checked under the name of a person who has not even shown up at the airport to check-in. To make matters worse, I had had to fly to [Insert crappy Florida city name here] on a dire family emergency which has been very draining, and I had a head cold, which I wasn't looking forward to flying with. The whole thing was making me feel somewhat light-headed, but there was no place to sit and wait. I just did not have the werewithal at that point to deal with that kind of frustration. I am not embarrassed to say that I just started to cry, something I try to avoid doing in public.

I was there half an hour waiting before the issue was resolved. I know that the employee at the counter was trying to be as helpful as he could given the number of people he was forced to juggle on his own.

I was feeling better by the time I got on the plane. Until a child who was about 4 years old a couple rows behind me had to scream his excitement at every single thing, from the fact that he could fasten his own seatbelt to being able to see other planes outside his window. His parents were making no attempt to try to limit his volume. About 20 minutes into the flight, I asked a flight attendant if she could somehow ask them to try to control their child's volume. I'm not sure she ever got around to that, because she kept having long, flirtatious conversations with the men in the seats across from me one row behind. Men who, when she was not around, were having rather offensive conversations about how "fat chicks" should be forced to fly in the cargo hold.

Meanwhile, the child in question was still shouting on a regular basis, and when he did so, other people around me would turn around to look in annoyance, too. Note that this child was clearly not shouting in distress. He simply had to narrate every single thing that was happening.

I realize there is only so much that can be done to control passengers' behaviors, but as far as I can tell nothing was done to try to quiet the excessively loud child, and the flight attendant was spending so much time with the two men who discredit their sex that she was simply encouraging them.

I had a connecting flight, ####, from Dulles to LAX which went perfectly smoothly, but that does not erase the absolutely unacceptable situation I had checking in and on the first flight.

Sincerely, Karen X
(No, I'm not related to Malcolm.)

I really tried to write a straightforward note, but the whole situation was just so absurdly stupid that I fell into excessively-politely-sarcastic mode.

Standing in the check-in area, I ended up staring at the large window at the end of the building. Fortunately there was no other counters past the one I was at and this was the most... private... direction to face. There was a small bird flying next to the glass, trying to get out. I seem to remember the same thing had happened the last time I was here.

The ticket agent kept trying to reassure me that I wouldn't miss my plane, but I was just too upset to explain all the crap that had built up to this moment, so I would just smile and nod.

The assholes on the plane, well, when they started talking about how fat people should have to ride in cargo, all I could think was that the first thing the airlines should change would be to make assholes ride out on the wing. The more obnoxious of the two said at one point that he had been married and divorced twice. Big surprise. When Miss Flirty Stewardess (I simply don't have enough respect for her to call her a flight attendant) told them she was going on to Albany, after she walked away, the bigger asshole said he really wished he could go on with her. I think he thought he had "a chance." I'm not saying he didn't, because clearly this woman had absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Anyway, by the time we were starting to descend for landing in LAX, I thought my eardrums were going to explode, the pressure from my head cold and the change in altitude were so bad. Blowing my nose not only didn't help them pop, it caused excruciating pain. Of course, since my sinuses were (and are) completely congested, I didn't have much choice if I wanted to breathe through the night. My ears didn't even really "pop" until sometime after I went to bed last night.

P.S. I came home with no fewer than 6 mosquito bites.

ETA: No one ever responded to my complaint. United Airlines, if you webcrawl looking for mentions of your name, this means you.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Metro Journal: June 1 Coda

Last night I had this dream that I had fallen asleep on the bus and didn't wake up until the end of the line.