Monday, May 12, 2008

L.A. Without a Car: Day One

The photos that accompany this journal were taken with a low resolution camera. Click on each photo to enlarge. Use the back arrow to return to the text.

It was a 17 minute walk from the house to the shuttle bus stop. At 7:00 am, on a cool, bright morning, I was embarking on a trip to Los Angeles, a journey I hoped to make entirely by public transportation. That was a secondary purpose, however. My primary reason was to be a tourist, to visit museums, see interesting architecture, and revisit places we had known when we lived in the Los Angeles basin from 1961 to 1968. I expected to see many changes.

The shuttle was several minutes late and conveyed me to the Caltrain station in a round-about way. But hey, it was free. It was only $2.00 (senior fare) for an express ride on Caltrain to San Jose where I would board the Megabus to Los Angeles. Megabus advertises "Los Angeles from $1(plus .50 reservation fee)". My round-trip ticket was not quite that cheap; it had cost $18.00 (plus .50 reservation fee.) But that was still only a quarter of what it would cost for gas to drive, not to mention parking.

I was traveling light: a nylon day pack with one change of clothes, one extra t-shirt, mini toiletries, scarf, sun glasses, hat, rain jacket and small pillow. In a tote bag I carried a small notebook, map, and my XO computer that includes a camera. On my body: money, credit card, driver's license, ATM card, cell phone, pedometer and wrist watch.

The Megabus was a big, new, blue bus with a luggage compartment under the seats, small overhead bins for carry-ons and a toilet. With about 20 passengers occupying more than 50 seats, we each had two to spread out upon. Terrance, the driver, was in an angry mood. He announced the rules --- no alcohol and no smoking --- then went on to relate his experience with the previous run when some of the passengers were drinking mini bottles of liquor, then got sick all over the back seat, then clogged the toilet by trying to secretly dispose of the empty bottles. It was up to Terrance to clean up after them, and understandably, he did not want to repeat the experience.

I phoned my husband to report that I'd made it OK to the Megabus, and we were about to depart, shortly after 9:00 am. But I also wanted to let him know that he should eat the lunch I had packed and forgotten. Instead, I'd had time to pick up some snacks at the train station in San Jose. As he said, launch successful, lunch not.

Our trip was peaceful. Many people slept. I watched the scenery. The rounded hills of central coastal California are loosing their fresh spring green. Now instead of looking like they're covered with smooth green velvet, there are rubbed spots of brown. But there are still plenty of spring flowers: orange poppies, blue lupine and large areas dusted with yellow mustard.

We traveled south on route 101, then east across the coastal range on 152, over the Pacheo Pass and down into the flat San Joachin valley on I-5. The coastal range was still visible to the west. Far across the valley to the east, the Sierras merged like phantoms with scattered clouds. The valley was dry and desert-like until one of the major irrigation canals appeared parallel to the highway. Then we passed farm fields in many shades of green and many orchards.

The Sierras disappeared. We stopped for a half hour break at 11:00 am. I had a Big Mac and a drink. We resumed. I dozed.

When I awoke, the landscape had changed. We were entering the mountains to the north of the Los Angeles basin. These are more angular than the rounded hills of central California. And the vegetation was less familiar. There were carpets of bright orange flowers I did not recognize, and swaths of something low-growing and dark sky blue. The hills looked like they'd been touched with a watercolor brush. Nearer the road grew something that looked like a relative of yellow mustard, but the flowers were much smaller

I could not have brought a visual image to mind, but once seen, the terrain and vegetation seemed familiar. It was what I had known 45 years ago when we lived in this area. I've had a similar experience when revisiting other places where I've lived but have been absent from for a long time.

I'd thought we might continue on I-5 into central L.A. But the bus took what seemed like a more round-about way. Maybe there was less traffic. At one point we were near Pasadena and I kept looking for the smoke from the Sierra Madre fires that had started a couple days ago. I finally spotted the smoke plume, but it wasn't where I'd expected it to be. My mental map will need some adjustment.

Shortly after 3:00 pm, we disembarked at Union Station, that grand, Art Deco/Mission style complex and I took a few minutes to walk around and pick up a Metro map of all the area bus and train lines. Then a short-cut through the historic district of Pueblo de Los Angeles to the Metro Plaza Motel where I had reserved a room for the week.

I was tired, hot and hungry and the rest of the day was not a happy experience. It took a couple of hours to connect to the free internet access advertised by the hotel. The "non-smoking" room smelled like cigarettes and it was not until after I'd slept for awhile that I finally figured out how to work the air conditioner to cool and freshen the room. At midnight, the phone rang --- some kind of glitch in their system. But after all that, I slept well.

Oregon pedometer reading for the day: 9833 steps


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