In the name of "practicing" for my rapidly approaching SE Asia trip, today I explored a different way of getting around, instead of a different neighborhood. I had already planned to check out the Writers Faire at UCLA, so I made two rules to remind myself of what I'm about to get into. 1) Public transport. 2) No use of the GPS function on my iPhone. As an added challenge, I took care to dress in the Asian non-offensive way - covered shoulders and below the knee shorts for maximum sweating discomfort.
Before today, I had ridden an LA bus only once. This is especially ridiculous because there was a time when I really needed LA's public transit. Total Southern California heresy: I didn't have a car for the first few months of my LA experience. But I had a boyfriend with a car and an erratic freelance schedule, which made for some antisocial weekends and the occasional drop off at work about 2 hours before everyone else arrived.
Why didn't I take the bus? Mostly because I was a suburban snob fresh out of college. I was pretty sure the LA bus system was a cornucopia of danger, crazies and bad smells. The semi-homeless. The aspiring and unhinged "actor." Those performers from the Venice Beach boardwalk and outside Grauman's Chinese theater. Rapists. Gang bangers. My imagination of yucky things could go on and on…
I can't speak for other bus routes, but the reality of my Pico-Robertson/Palms/Westwood circuit was embarrassingly benign: mostly families, normal working people, students, and only the occasional crazy. In my hour-ish round trip I counted only two passengers that I really hoped wouldn't sit next to me. A lanky, loopy smiling man in a dirty baseball uniform, complete with a tote bag tied to his belt, for reasons unknown. And a CVS employee with a large handlebar mustache and (to be fair) an impeccably neat braid, waist-length and white.
The best part? Seeing bus friends say hello and chat it up between stops, like the middle aged duo of South Asian nurse (blue scrubs with rainbow + flower pattern) and Hispanic housekeeper. And tiny tots who use the bus like a jungle gym. Probably not safe, but definitely cute.
But really, I had been more worried about the no-GPS part, especially in a confusing black hole like a college campus. I have the bad habit of obsessively checking google maps before, mid route, and upon arrival. I have not used my "sense of direction" in so long I wasn't sure it existed. Without the powers of GPS, I was left to the older forms of navigation -- actually paying attention to where I was going and (horrors!) talking to people and asking for directions. (And as I've explained before, I'm not known for being super friendly to strangers.) But I did it. I asked the bus drivers, Starbucks barista, and random UCLA students. Sometimes I even followed it up with friendly small talk. And when I was still a little lost, I used my brain and my eyes to figure it out, sans technology, and arrived at my destination on time. Yippee!
Net net I had a good time today and feel more confident that I will survive quite comfortably without my faithful Hyundai Elantra and not-so-faithful iPhone. Better yet, I really enjoyed my alone-ness, my fleeting interactions with strangers, and (more often) staring at my fellow passengers from beneath my sunglasses.
Also, walking to and from the bus stop made me aware of this charming new gym in my neighborhood.
This was one of three posters featuring this man, always oiled up and in this "outfit," in various exercising poses. A nice addition to the block of kosher grocers, kitschy Chinese restaurants, and a neon green painted marijuana dispensary.