Here I am, waiting for this bus. Sweating like an athlete in the summer, wearing my favorite black flannel fleece.
“Oh well,” I uttered under my breath, as I tried to cool down. I wore the sweater to fight the brute force of cold weather I faced at six-thirty in the morning when I left for school. Unfortunately for me, the battle lasted for only thirty minutes until the sun rose.
I intended to arrive at school on time this particular day, since the day before it seemed to be a good idea to start planning my daily itinerary on the bus’s schedule. That didn’t work and I was tardy. Which I should have known would happen because I didn’t have any control of the bus. At this phase of my transportation life, it felt like a rodeo event. I, the confident yet alert cowboy, and the bus, the angry bull. I went where it went.
At the time I was living in the city of Norwalk, which is about 15 miles southeast of Los Angeles. My school on the other hand, is 25 miles west from home, in the beach city Torrance. The route started with the #3 Norwalk bus to the Green Line Terminal. Then I took the Green Line Metro Rail to the 110-Freeway stop. After that I took the #442 MTA bus. Once I completed the thirty-five-minute bus ride, a mile walk followed. Then, I made it to school.
After all of that, I began to realize all the perks of car ownership in graphic detail. Whether it was the serene solitude, with the option of sonic reverberations. Or the whiff of a cherry-scented pine, dangling from the rear-view mirror. Then reality set in, because my bus ride was filled with the fragrance of foul musk from my homeless bus mate, within the airplane restroom sized seating that I shared with a woman having the same realizations. At least I earned the inside seat, it gave me the ability to peer out the graffiti-scarred windows. Looking at the cars I wished I sat in.
This two-step persisted throughout high school, into my first year of college. And it was college that mercilessly exposed the new danger of being without a car; my social life. It did help me since I didn’t have to suffer 5 days a week. But those northbound Lincoln Boulevard bus rides had me asking myself how in the world would I date? I was a single man in college, it felt appropriate for me to begin to meet a young lady. If I did meet her, how would I take her out? Imagine a couple on the bus after dinner traveling to the movies. This isn’t New York where something like this is commonplace. In LA, I’d have to be a master of seduction to pull off an MTA date.
The U.S. Government must have recognized my misery; financial aid was bountiful. Not only did it cover my first-year tuition, but the Pell Grant extended me some extra funds to acquire a new form of transportation. Finally, after romancing the idea of it, I purchased a car I appropriately named Rusty. He was a 1991 burgundy patch painted Oldsmobile Cutlass. But to me, it represented a path to a new life.
This classic had all the features that I could ever ask for. It had a radio, steering wheel, a trunk, and a cherry-scented pine hanging from the rearview mirror. At this point, I considered myself a simple man, I wanted control of where I wanted to go, a fresh scent and a place to put my flannel fleece.
Now, Rusty did have some health issues. The moisture from rain and cold air caused a blind-drive due to an inoperable heater and defroster. When the weather warmed, I’d earn scrapes on my hands from the handle used to literally roll down my windows. At night, I couldn’t see inside the car because of an electrical issue that rendered the interior light useless. But don’t call this car a “bucket”, your face would meet my fists. This intense desire to defend Rusty stemmed from the struggles I had without it. No matter what its defects were, it was mine. And there were very rough days where I had to go without Rusty, due to his mechanical problems. Yet, this was when my experience in public transportation came to use.
When I reminisce over the vast and unique routes I used for school, I take pride in my ability to navigate around Los Angeles without being dependent on a car. What was once a routine, is now a skill I share with those relying solely on the bus as I did. Now, several cars later, when I roll past a bus stop and I see a boy sweating, wearing a large coat with the sun beaming, I often wonder if he is thinking as I once was. “Oh Well”.