How you get there is everything

This past Saturday morning, I had to get to Plaza del Valle in Van Nuys for a Metro community event. Two journey options: one achievable in 28 minutes by car and the other, 1.5 hours by transit, and I chose the latter — and that has made all the difference.

Why, Eileen, why?

Manifold reasons:

1. To get a chance to ride the amazing Metro Orange Line for the first time.

2. To reduce polluting emissions into the air.

3. To get an up-close tour of neighborhoods new to me.

4. To relax and leave the driving to a pro, and avoid affliction with road rage.

5. To have an adventure.

The pressure to catch the 501 bus afforded some benefits. My dear garrulous neighbor ceased his sidewalk effusion when I mentioned I had to catch this once-per-hour bus. Off I sped, on my bike from home in East Pasadena to Raymond Avenue and Walnut in old town. One beat after my bike lock clicked into place, the bright orange of the 501 Metro Express from Pasadena to North Hollywood bus loomed on the horizon. The actual stop was only ten paces away, which I covered with an alacrity that, I would soon discover, is essential to getting around LA on mass transit.

The speed of the 501 on the 134 East at 9AM on a Saturday morning is totally impressive. With free wifi onboard and plentiful seating, my satisfaction became pure delight when we rolled into North Hollywood Station’s lot a mere 20 minutes later. 

I had to ask a stranger for direction to the Metro Orange line connection. It was across the street and, according to the LED sign, required a four-minute wait for the next one. First time on the Orange Line, I was practically shocked by its frequency and the pleasantness of traveling in a bus-only lane mostly secluded from car traffic and parallel only with walkways and verdant foliage. It was immensely tranquil and efficient. About 15 minutes later, I arrived in Van Nuys, where I would wait 10 minutes for the 233 Local bound for Pacoima. 

As I boarded this bus, the atmosphere was more of the familiar Metro experience. At nearly max occupancy, this included a lady with a wagon full of boxes in the Seniors/Disabled priority area. A man was blasting ranchero music from his smartphone, while others grimaced and endured.  The neighborhood whizzed by through the windows: auto shops, neverias, pawn shops, mom and pop taquerias, county aid offices — signs of a neighborhood trying to get a foothold on LA life in its own way. Engrossed in studying the surroundings, I missed my stop and overshot my destination by three miles before I snapped out of it. At that point, I decided to get off at the next stop, cross the street, and ride the 233 in the opposite direction to my original destination. 

My Transit app and Google both said the wait for the next bus would be ten minutes but, even after three minutes, the wait remained a steadfast ten minutes. My finger yearned to open the Lyft app and be done with it but I held out. Soon a few other riders appeared at the stop waiting for this bus. I noticed one girl count perfect change in her wallet and I decided to give her one of my extra TAP cards in my wallet. As I explained to her what a TAP card is and how it would help her save money, she nodded but her eyes conveyed blankness. I realized that getting the point across is not as easy as I had assumed. She stared at the card that I gave to her with a look of “What in the world is this?” I realized, she needed to hear it in Spanish.

Eventually the bus came and I rode it back. None of the buses have a  digital map onboard that shows where you are on the route, at any given time. Furthermore,  the apps don’t have a way to tell you where to get off the bus. The onboard announcement of forthcoming stops are consistent, muffled but vanquished by the ambient noise. You just end up having to look out the window and count the stops very carefully. 

Getting to the actual community outreach site was not easy. This downtown Van Nuys area looks like Ensenada to me! And the visual inundation was obliterated any temporary signage that Metro may have put up to attract passerbys. Eventually, I found the coven of white tents and was able to identify my Metro colleagues.

Without going into too much detail on the Van Nuys new light rail line, pedestrian walkway, and bike path improvement public engagement event (which was a blast and such an improvement over typical civic meetings, the details of which I wrote into a report for my Metro work), I’ll just say that taking Metro there gave me an authentic and insightful exposure into the people, cityscape, and overall vibe of Van Nuys Boulevard. This was crucial information for participating in the outreach event with the public and for evaluating the effectiveness of our informational material. I certainly would not have gotten that if I had driven there.

The ride back was not bad. The 233 arrived just like the Transit App said it would. However, when I got to North Hollywood, the app said that I had an extra ten minutes before the 501 would depart for Pasadena. As I leisurely strolled towards the sun-drenched stop nearly three blocks away, I spotted it, to my alarm, pulling away from the stop and already exiting the bus terminal. OMG WTF! I didn’t care whether the app was wrong or if the Metro bus operator decided to take off early— I just did not want to wait 40 minutes for the next one.

Remember the essential alacrity that I mentioned earlier? This is it. Recalling that the 501 took Lankershim Boulevard on the way over, I knew that it would take it going back, making one more stop before blasting itself off to Pasadena… and my hopes to oblivion.

I bolted down the street, thanks to a combination of my favorite Converse sneakers and my 40-something machinery that won’t let up. Fortunately, the 501 was hindered by a series of red lights behind me, but soon enough I was neck and neck with it at the last intersection preceding its last stop.

I turned my head and looked at the bus operator through the bus door window. She seemed to detect the searing energy of my beseeching glance and turned to me. I pointed to the bus stop across the street. She nodded and gave me a thumbs up.

Of course the bus got there before for I did, but not by long. She held as I ran up. Breathless, I put placed my Metro badge on the farebox TAP validator. “Thanks.” I said to her. “Never give up.” I said to myself.

I love the 501 for whizzing past traffic and just shuttling between its destinations. Pasadena arrived to us faster than to any driver from North Hollywood.

Yes, that roundtrip did take time but I got to see, learn, and experience a lot. I had that hunch all along. It was an investment and a luxury that we each decide whether we want to have.

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