Stepping out of the cocoon

Stepping out of the cocoon

by Janice Nigro

I am pretty brave when it comes to stepping way far out of the cocoon alone, like overseas stepping out of the cocoon. Then I just take a taxi or a bus to LAX. But the other kind of stepping out of the cocoon alone, local stepping out, I am not quite as brave to do.

I live in a beach community in Los Angeles and have little reason to ever leave because I work from home. Downtown LA is a long way away (really only because of traffic), but the key bit of information is that I live in LA without a car. It is a car culture, but unlike a city such as Phoenix, it may take you longer to get somewhere than if you ride a bike.

A friend from Germany had a hard time understanding how I didn’t know the city better, but there are few European cities that are as sprawling as this one and completely dependent on cars. When you look at the map of freeways and where you want to go, it all seems to be pretty easy-a basic grid to get on and off and the ocean to the west. Except if there is traffic. With the traffic it makes you wonder how a date could go (or for that matter any type of social activity). Two hours in traffic could kill any sense of romance before it has a chance.

I lived in San Francisco for many years and public transportation there was a routine part of life. Everyone takes some form of public transport. It is even easier now with one card connecting buses, streetcars, trains, BART, and even the ferries. A common complaint here is that LA covers such a vast area, which is true, but so does the bay area. Somehow using public transport is widely accepted there whereas here it is an absolute car culture.

I once read that using public transport in Los Angeles was one of the top twelve things not to do here. My aunt has lived in Los Angeles for over 60 years without ever driving a car. She has been able to get anywhere across the area for a nominal fee (now $1.75) and claims that public transport is the best entertainment for the admission price.

The major challenge in leaving the cocoon is going the five miles from my home to the metro rail station which will get me to downtown Los Angeles in about an hour. I can time it right from my home by catching the bus according to schedule when I leave, but getting back is more difficult as the bus only goes around once an hour. A taxi or a call to Uber can help me out if I do not want to walk the distance to the more frequent bus along Pacific Coast Highway.

This past week I headed out for a big downtown trip in search of a Christmas art show. The destination was not important; it was leaving the cocoon that was. The metro rail does pass through some famous neighborhoods, ones we read about in the news not always for the best reasons, but it is people like me without a car riding the metro. Or those who prefer the metro to driving a car downtown. Once you arrive downtown, there is nothing to do except walk to your destination.

At one time, rails spanned the city, apparently funded in large part by the real estate business, but with the introduction of the car, the trains and this new mode of transportation literally collided. Frustration with the management of the rails allowed the car to easily take over which rapidly led to the development of a new way of life-drive-ins and supermarkets. Population growth, the weather, and unrestricted geography all contributed to outward growth of the city and ultimately to the car as the dominant mode of transportation in Los Angeles. With the oil fields in the county to literally fuel the car, there was nothing to stop it.

I chose my bus and reached the green line station in El Segundo on Douglas in about 15 minutes. I proudly brought out my TAP card and yes, tapped my way to the metro rail. I was alone up on the platform as it was a Sunday, but I did not have to wait long for a train. To reach downtown LA requires a switchover at the blue line but then it is straight into LA.

The metro is entertaining just as my aunt says. For one thing there are food, ok snack, vendors. I am assuming they manage to get on and off trains repeatedly without ever leaving the platform areas until their workday is over.

I took a few notes on the guy who entered our car as I have to admit, he had a persuasive style of advertising his goods. I really wanted to buy something. “Treat yourself”, he started off with. That line always makes me look, especially depending on the voice behind it. His Oreo cookies were “to feed your munchies,” or you could choose the “fat free gummy bears” if you wanted a more healthy choice. He also not surprisingly carried other items geared toward metro riding residents of LA, such as chargers for phones. And he had beanies and gloves for sale; it was a cold day and as he said, “It does happen in LA.”

I like looking out of the windows. Life is different across LA. On the green line, all you see is freeway, but it does not take long before you see the few skyscraping buildings of downtown LA. The center does not seem that far away; it really is not, but the traffic makes it a challenging destination to reach on an ordinary day.

And the metro rail is really polite. It thanks you as you are exiting for using public transportation in LA which is much nicer than what drivers have to say to each other on the road.

I landed in the 7th Street metro rail station. It is the end so there is no confusion on where to get off. You can connect here to purple and red lines to go on to Hollywood for example or even Universal Studios. I had about five blocks to walk to where I needed to go. It was surprising how few people are actually on the streets in the city center on a Sunday. I enjoyed the Christmas art market and the views of the tall buildings in LA as it was on the top floor of the California Market Center.

I was admittedly more fascinated with being downtown on a sunny day, than at the market. Since there is hardly anyone there and not much traffic (ironically) you are bound to see filming of some type happening. I walked down Broadway which has some beautiful old buildings, but of course if you happen to peek in an alleyway, the sites are not quite as pleasant, reminding you that all is not like the glamour and movies that LA is famous for.

Aside from the trip from the station to my home, I am surprised that more people do not use the rail system; there is no headache like driving. I find it almost as stressful being the rider as the driver of a car in LA traffic. People simply take crazy chances with their vehicles in order to reach their destinations, and are texting, painting their fingernails, or otherwise unengaged with the task of driving. It might be a longer ride by the metro system, but then I have time to read a book or to actually be having my next adventure in LA!

©2015 Janice Marie Nigro/


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