Most guidebooks I have looked at tell the visitor that LA is a car city. You can’t really get around without a car, they warn, you’ll be stuck without one.
These travel guides must not talk to locals, because according to Wikipedia, LA boasts the third-largest public transportation system in the country — and a dizzying number of bus, shuttle, and light rail routes spaghetti themselves all across this city. My former Angelenos told me to ride the bus, and one even let me borrow a TAP card. Ridership is robust. I never seemed to be on an empty bus, not even at midnight.
I was in LA to take in the sights, not to look for parking, so it was a no brainer for me to go this route. The bus route. My initial feelings here were reinforced by my wonderful encounter with Ann, and my subsequent hassle-free adventures on transit.
Save one very notable exception.
I left the Manifest:Justice artist preview around 10pm, with the reasoning that I did not want to stay out too late. I stumbled into my AirBnB room (about 20 miles away) at around…1:30am.
When I told people what I’m about to tell you after the fact I was reprimanded — for both trusting the public transit system but also for traveling this late, through those neighborhoods, alone. People started seeing me off with don’t get raped! instead of so long! (Do we need to talk about this, LA? Are you a missing stair?)
I’m not sure if this is over-caution on my friends’ part or over-confidence on mine. It may be a blend of both. I’ve never been the sort of person who worries about walking around alone at night, though at barely 5’1″ and dressed like a character from a Wes Anderson film it’s not like I exude street cred. I walk upright, with purpose, and try to look like I know where I’m going (even if I don’t). I am not naive, but I also don’t believe in being fearful of a situation that reads as innocuous just because of the neighborhood’s demographics.
LET’S GET ON WITH IT
First connection is a breeze. I walk up to the platform, feeling victorious, and eventually the train comes. I sit sleepily with a few other people nearish me. I’m in a happy place. The night has gone well. Happy music playing in my big headphones.
I am near the front of my car and I see in a window’s reflection that some biggish, swaying figures are making a ponderous way up to my end of the car. They appear to be stopping at various people sitting well behind me. Things are being said but it’s not loud.
I see the woman in front of me (a black woman slightly younger than me, sitting facing perpendicular, so I can see her in profile) glance towards them, tense up a little bit, but otherwise remain in the same position. I do as she does, and remain just as I am. One of the guys sits down in the row across the isle, and faces me (or rather, the side of my head.) As he’s situating himself I make brief eye contact with the woman in front of me, a look that for the both of us says I see you. It is vague but comforting. I have a witness.
I can’t quite hear what the dude is saying to me when he sits facing me, across the isle, talking to the side of my head. We have a seat and the isle between us but I hear a reference to my red shirt (it’s orange, actually, but um. You know. He’s all in black.) I remain sleepy looking and the same, total cold fish, as if he isn’t even there. After about five minutes of this he and his other two guys get off a the next stop. As they leave the woman in front of me closes her eyes wearily and shakes her head.
I get off at a metro station, ostensibly to take another train to a bus. And I wait. And wait. And wait. The crowd is…uncomfortable. After about 20 minutes the guy from the train shows up with his bros, and they are sort of circling around a bit, which seems less ominous than before, but still makes me feel uneasy. After 40 minutes I move over to a different part of a platform, next to an older lady and her extremely-young-for-her man friend, a old white guy in chinos and his Asian escort, and a family with little kids sitting on the floor playing a game of some kind, which altogether feels more wholesome. It’s pushing midnight.
ACTUAL DIRECTIONAL FACTS FROM HERE ON OUT ARE BLURRED BECAUSE I WAS EXHAUSTED AND ALL TURNED AROUND
I am waiting with everyone on the [my way] side of the platform, and twice there have been trains that come for the side. The third time this happens two thirds of the people get on it, and I hear an announcement that Red line is coming every 20 minutes, but the purple line is coming every 10. I can take either to my next stop, so I go up the platform to look for the purple line.
But I see no signs indicating the purple line, and after examining each one as cool as I can, a casually sharp man with long braids asks me if I’m lost. I take off my headphones and admit that yes, I am. (No sense in denying it.) I think I’m looking for the purple line.
We get to talking. He tells me that in all likelihood, the purple line isn’t going to come at all. Apparently after 10 the trains are impossibly wayward and often either don’t come, or show up on the wrong platforms. He indicates the platform. Mostly the trains will only show up on that side, going any which way. This is appalling but very good to know, and I thank him.
I have resolved at this point to get onto the next train no matter where it’s going, because I’ve been waiting over an hour at this point. (If it goes to Union Station, fine, and if it goes out towards Hollywood, fine.) The train comes and we both run down the steps to get on it. We’ve been chatting about tranist and all sorts of things, he shows me video of his little mini schnauzer wearing rain booties. I tell him about the show I’m in. We talk about where that is, and evidently it’s very near his church. I think I’m going to go see it, he says. I give him my card and tell him to email me and I can give him the actual address. (He never did, and I wish he could have because I forget his name and if he hadn’t said anything to me about the trains I may have been stuck there to this day.)
So we both get off at a stop, and I get up there hoping to catch a bus line, and see no stop marked for it. I am just bouncing from corner to corner looking. I see a 204 bus going in the right direction, but I’m not sure if the route will continue all the way up to Sunset, which is what I need. I run up to check stop numbers and the bus pulls away. A tall, older man in a tweed jacket asks me the same question: are you lost?
I tell him I’m trying to get to Echo Park via Sunset, and pointing I say, should I have gotten on that bus?
Yes, he says. I tell him the bus number I was actually looking for, and he thinks a moment and says I think that bus stops running at 9.
So I resolve to wait for the next 204. Dante tells me he’s just come from a fashion show rehearsal, something he’s brand new to, and that he was about to go get ice cream at Denny’s across the street. He said he’d wanted to talk to me because he REALLY liked my look.We talk about clothes. After a few minutes I tell him that I don’t mean to hold him hostage, and we waves it off, saying that he wants to keep me company while I want for the bus, since people are less likely to mess with a 6ft tall black man than a little white woman, alone, and I agree and thank him.
So we stand there and talk for almost 20 minutes. He has a daughter studying psychology, she’s 19. He does his runway practice walk for me. But he also keeps talking about how he likes white women, he likes slim women, he likes people my size, etc. This makes me vaguely uncomfortable, but people waiting for the bus are starting to congregate (about 5 other people) so I figure if there’s a scene I’ll be able to make a decent ruckus and garner support. And I actually give him my card too, because he was interested in what my artwork looked like.
In the end of course, nothing happens, he’s just a somewhat old fashioned borderline creeper doing a gentlemenly thing and waiting with me for the bus so I don’t have to be alone — a target for worse creepers. And when my bus comes we shake hands, I thank him, and he heads to Denny’s for his ice cream.
The 204 does indeed stop at Sunset, and from there it’s familiar territory since I rode the #2 up to Hollyhock House and back earlier today. Google maps says I’ll have to wait about 40 minutes, but a bus comes within 5 (Mazel tov! an old guy next to me breathes) and by 1:30am I am home.
So, that sucked, but could have been a WHOLE LOT WORSE.