Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I had a very strange experience taking the BRT Orange Line this past weekend in LA. First let me preface this by saying that I had driven up to LA to take the Orange Line. Yeah I know, that's just the kind of guy I am. It gets stranger. I started my day in downtown LA visiting some of the new over priced, but beeaaautiful lofts as part of a downtown loft tour. My original plan was to take the Red line to the Orange Line. Instead I was running short on time, and eventually had to meet some people on the west side, so I took the 10 to the 405 and drove to the Sepulveda station to catch the Orange Line. Yup. its true. Driving to take a bus, for recreation.
I've been wanting to take the Orange Line just to see what the comfort level on the line is, and I was very impressed. I took the BRT from Sepulveda to North Hollywood, then I jumped on the Red line for a few stops and turned around. How long did this take? Significantly longer than if I had driven, but that's not really the point is it? The point was that I was remembering what it was like when I was taking the tube and buses in London. Would it have been faster driving, sure, but then what. If I was going to meet friends for an afternoon of drinking, it would have been pretty irresponsible to get back in a car. If I was going into downtown London, it would have been hard to find parking, and expensive to park in a garage. I know that Los Angeles is not London (though they're more alike than you think... more on that in another post). But someday it may be, and when that day comes people will be very thankful there is infrastructure built for this kind of trip.
So back to my weird story. I got back to the North Hollywood station, got out and I was starving, so I picked up a hotdog from a street vendor (urban fabric / unsanitary food!) Ate it before getting back on the Orange Line. Then the fun started. Returning westward the bus was pretty full. Standing room only. But hey if you're too lazy to stand, well than please move to the suburbs. I noticed a funky dude in suspenders, no shirt, wearing an orange bowler hat. He looked like he could have been a member of Fishbone, a late '80's early 90's funk/metal band, get on wearing a back pack.
A few stations pass and suddenly there is a loud altercation between bowler hat dude, and another black guy dressed like he could have been a bus driver; striped shirt, blue tie, carrying a cooler. The straight laced guy was yelling at Mr.Bowler Hat to not touch him. Bowler hat dude responds that he wasn't touching him, he was leaning forward to try to see the route map to check his stop. Then it went something like this....
Tie Dude: "Well don't touch me, don't push up on me."
Bowler Dude: "I'm touching you man, we're on a bus. WE"RE ALL UP AGAINST EACH OTHER"
Tie: Yeah but don't touch me. Don't you damn touch me.
Bowler: Don't tell me what to do. I said I wasn't touching you.
This went on for a little while, with more yelling and more added expletives. Of course each time it cooled down one of them would mutter something under his breath, and it would keep going. Everyone was feeling slightly uncomfortable, and of course the irony was that freaky bowler hat guy seemed to be the more rational one in this conflict.
This continued for awhile until Tie Dude yells, "Don't touch me because you're GAY AND I DON'T WANT TO CATCH YOUR AIDS!!!!"
I could hear the proverbial record scratch. Everybody's ears perked up, and all I could think was "Oh no he didn't."
He repeated his medical mis-understanding a few more times, and sure enough someone piped up with "SHUT THE F*** UP! YOU HOMOPHOBIC A**HOLE! I have aids you ignorant...." you get the idea. Now Tie Dude starts muttering under his breath, and Aids Fellow yells at him every time he pipes up.
Mind you I think we've gone about 5 stops by now, and everyone is wondering when some of these people are going to start getting off this thing. There were a few more rounds of homo-phobic muttering, which were answered by "Shut the F***UP, ignorant people like you that make me sick."
Finally about 6 or seven stops after this all got started Tie Dude got off the bus, to much applause.
So why am I telling this story. Because I loved every damn minute of it. In the big wide world of things that I think are great about transit, being around the vast panoply of human experience is one of them. I'm of the opinion that seeing each other's plight, makes us all more understanding of each other's human condition. This experience made me think about the fear that tie dude must have of orange bowler hats, and shirtless funk musicians. It made me sad for what was probably a fiercely religious upbringing that made him equate AIDS with divine punishment.
It made me think of where bowler hat guy was headed. He had his instruments, where was he going? Was he going to rehearse, was he going to a gig? Was he any good?
What about AIDS fellow? How crappy it must be to be living with this disease, to know it intimately, to read about every development, to think people have become educated, but then to hear someone genuinely think that one can catch AIDS from touching the same bus pole, or being in proximity to someone. If a person within earshot had any curiosity about their fellow human beings they couldn't help but think about what this person's existence must have been like.
To me this is my favorite and ultimately least quantifiable benefit of transit. How do you pitch this to "taxpayers"? Hey people vote for this potentially expensive travel solution, because then you will have to see each other. You may have to smell other people. You may be very close to someone who looks, sounds and smells totally unlike you, your family, your friends, and everyone you work with. But you'll be okay. They won't hurt you, they won't rob you, they won't give you any diseases, and if you're willing they may give you a tiny glimpse into a totally different life.