Friday, May 19, 2006

Report from the Los Angeles Subway

For the last four months I have been taking the Red line subway to work in Los Angeles from Hollywood to Downtown--and loving it. In early February when I drove home during evening rush hour traffic, the cars just inched along 5mph either on the Hollywood Freeway or the side streets. Driving through this crawling-along-traffic was agravating.

So the first pleasure of taking the subway was avoiding the rush hour traffic: on the subway it was much more relaxing. I get off the subway at 6:00 pm very rested. I also noticed that I was saving each week in gas--particularly important as the price of gas is now $3.50/gallon. Thirdly, there is less wear-and-tear on my car, so in the long run it will also save me money.

Yet more important is that I enjoy being with all the crowds on the subway. I'm happy to say that the cars are crowded whatever time I go--whether 8:45 am, 12:00 noon, 3:00 pm or 6:00 pm. The subway is a success as it has attracted a ridership! I sometimes get in conversations with fellow riders. I especially like to see the guys taking their bikes on the subway (L.A. is having a revival of bike culture). I like the cheer on the bike riders! Hurrah for you! I like the diversity of the crowd: Latino/a, white, Asian, black; Moms with babies in strollers, teenagers, young working people up to seniors; all classes from the poor to the well-to-do.

Being on the subway makes me feel like I'm not in suburban past of L.A. but entering into its urbane, sophisticated future. The folks driving in their cars seems like ancient relics of the past.

I had a conversation with a friend Mort who grew up in New York City but has lived in Los Angeles for over 40 years. Mort said that though he grew up in Queens, he always identified as a New Yorker as did other New Yorkers. Los Angeles, he added, is quite different, since few people identity themselves as from Los Angeles but say instead they are from Pasadena, Santa Monica, Long Beach, West L.A. etc etc.

Why is this difference between L.A and New York? Well, New Yorkers have quite a few places where all races and classes come together--Times Square, Central Park, the Yankees and the Giants games, parades up Park Avenue, and, of course, the subway. In contrast, in Los Angeles, most people never go downtown and lack a central park where all go to. Being in their cars also drives Angelenos apart, depriving them of communal feelings one would get on a subway.

I get a joyful feeling on the subway as I like feeling I'm in a city. Some of the students I teach downtown have been taking the train to school for a number of years. I think these students are L.A.'s future: they're growing up on the subway!


Kay Cooke said...

Thank you - I found this a fascinating account of commuting in L.A. It sounds a little like Auckland, New Zealand with all their traffic jam problems at the moment (the City Council and Govt are trying to solve it ...) but with no subway. Also Aucklanders tend to identify themselves not as Aucklanders so much as the name of the suburb they happen to live in. With the price of petrol (or gas as you call it) going up, maybe public transport has to be the 'new' way of getting about. Sounds like this will not be such a bad thing too going by your description of your experience.

cwm said...

Thanks for the entry. My girlfriend and I live in New York City now, but we're going to visit in LA in a couple of weeks to see if we'd like to move out there. Your contrast between the NYC and LA subways was very instructive.