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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

saving the earth, one bus ride at a time

by now, most of my friends are used to seeing me travel around town with my green electra townie bicycle (and no, despite what the name implies, it's NOT an electric bike!). the two of us are usually spotted at yoga studios, food trucks, and community events, as well as on the streets on the westside. i'm even getting better at quickly identifying friends' voices that call out to me from moving vehicles! cycling is a great way for me to get around; not only am i saving money on gas and parking but i'm also burning off a lot of the calories from the food i ingest at all those food trucks :)

for longer commutes, i catch a ride on the big blue and MTA buses, then sit back and relax while the driver navigates through the insane LA traffic. and sometimes for fun, i bring along my bike so i can go explore the city once i reach my destination. yes, there have been times when i've had to wave a bus past when both bike racks were already taken (which can make taking a bike on a bus somewhat stressful) but as long as i avoid peak hours, i'm usually ok.

of course, LA being the sprawling city that it is, going by bike or by bus isn't always the most convenient way for me to get around. like the times i have to travel to the valley or to the south bay to check out yoga studios. or the times i'm out late and getting home other than by car would be unsafe or unreasonably tedious. one such example would be the evenings i attend performances at the disney concert hall in downtown. while i can get there with minimal fuss during the day via the big blue #10 bus, an equally easy return is impossible; the last bus home leaves downtown at 8pm, right around the time the concert starts. so the only way home is via the MTA #4, which makes stops at almost every other intersection along sunset and santa monica boulevards (and if you know LA, you know that's more stops than any person would willingly want to put themselves through). so in those cases, i drive my car. and pay for the gas. and the $9 parking :(

so when i heard about the 3rd annual car-free earth day celebration in the mid-wilshire area that was held last week, i immediately clicked the "attending" button on its facebook invite. and to tie-in with the earth day event, the LA county bike coalition (LACBC) organized a fun bike ride that would travel from macarthur park to the festival. so i clicked "attending" on that, too.

it sounded like a fun and eco-friendly way to spend earth day. and the more i thought about it, the more i realized how many other things there were that i could do while i was out that way. like maybe take a yoga class in downtown. or maybe even eat at a food truck that was parked nearby. i'd be car-free AND have a great time, too!

then fate (or was it ganesha?) started throwing a bunch of hurdles my way...

like when i remembered that i had tickets to a performance of the LA philharmonic at the disney concert hall that night. and it was a not-to-be-missed show, featuring gustavo dudamel on the podium and jean-yves thibaudet on piano. hmmm... did i dare brave the late-night slow bus home?

then i found out that the forecast was for a chance of rain that day. so did i really want to ride in the rain and risk getting drenched? or worse yet, did i want to risk not being able to get my bike on a bus because every other cyclist would be trying to take cover, too?

i considered scrapping the bus/bike plan altogether and taking my car instead. but wait, wasn't the original intent to NOT drive at all on earth day??? argh. i eventually found myself having to make up my mind -- should i stay home or should i go as i'd planned?

long story short, my bike stayed home. and so did my car. instead, it was just me and my bus pass that went on a grand adventure that day.

i skipped the pre-festival bike ride (a no-brainer since i wasn't going to bring my bike), which allowed me to spend a lazy morning at home (yay!). so right around lunchtime, i walked to the bus stop and hopped on the eastbound bus in search of something to eat.

first stop: wilshire/fairfax, aka the miracle mile area. i quickly scoped out the array of food trucks that were parked on the stretch between curson and masselin. i ended up picking up a pair of tofu spring rolls from lisa at the phamish vietnamese truck, a chocolate chip pastry from the crew at the canter's deli truck, and a small plate of coconut-lime shrimp and rice from rico and richard at the shrimp guys truck. i ate one spring roll, finished off the order of shrimp, and put the rest of the food in my backpack. if i wanted to make it to the earth day celebration, i had to keep moving...

second stop: wilshire/western. by the time i got off the bus, it was 2:30pm and the festival was winding down to a close. naked rhythm, the headliner, was playing on stage, the farmers market vendors were offering their wares at reduced prices, and all that was left of the LACBC booth were volunteers aurisha and erica packing away the last of their promotional materials. while chatting with them, i realized that i had nothing to do until i needed to be at the concert hall later that evening. i asked them if they could use some help at the LACBC office. one quick phone call later, aurisha said that they'd be expecting me whenever i got there. perfect! i checked out the remaining vendor booths, said hello to the naked rhythm musicians after their set ended, then headed back to the bus stop.

third stop: broadway/6th. from the bus stop, i walked over to the LACBC office on spring street in downtown. my assignment was fairly simple; all i had to do was enter names and email addresses from sign-up sheets into the mailing list database. it was a win-win for everyone -- they got a task checked off their list, i earned myself a brownie point or two, and i was able to stay warm indoors and have access to a clean bathroom! i know, i have flashes of brilliance every now and then :)

fourth stop: grand/2nd. rather than wait for the bus, i walked half a mile up the hill to the disney concert hall. the sun managed to peek out from behind the clouds to warm things up, so i sat outside and made a couple of phone calls as i dined on my leftover spring roll and half of the chocolate chip pastry. with less than an hour to go before curtain time, i went inside and handed my ticket to the usher. he took one look at my backpack and told me i had to check it in. never mind that it was smaller than the tote bags some women carry with them; he said it was bulky and had a (reusable) glass bottle in it! heaven forbid i throw the bottle at someone while i'm seated high up in my nosebleed seat...

after being treated to music composed by carlos chavez, peter lieberson, and leonard bernstein, i made my way through the crush of people to get to the coat check counter. i had to wait my turn while the people ahead of me retrieved their belongings. once i had my backpack in hand, i dashed out and quickly walked the half mile towards the bus stop at the corner of temple and hill.

just as i was a mere block away from the stop, i saw the bus drive past. argh. i'd have to wait another 15 minutes. in the cold and dark night. by myself. if i didn't have to check in that backpack, i could've been on that bus!

as i got closer to the bus stop, i noticed a homeless man standing nearby. he was talking to himself and looked like he was busy in his own little world. he seemed harmless enough, so i kept going. just then, a man turned the corner and started walking towards me. you know, the stocky kind of guy dressed in dark clothing, with a dark knit cap and a heavy pack on his back...

so there i was. it was 10:30 at night. i was standing alone in a deserted section of downtown LA. and i realized that what i was doing would probably be considered foolish by most sane people. i immediately pulled out my phone and tried to call any friend who'd answer their phone.

no one did.

just then, an LAPD patrol car started making its way past where i was standing. i discreetly waved at the lone policeman in the driver's seat. he took one look at the man standing a few feet away from me, turned his car around, turned up his lights, then stepped out to ask the man a few questions and check his identification. once he was convinced that the man would be of no threat to me, he thanked the man, got back in his car, and smiled and waved to me as he drove away. whew! thanks officer!!

as if on cue, the bus pulled up. and just to assure me that he had nothing but good intentions, the man waited for me to board before he started walking towards the bus. at that point, i actually felt sorry for him; i'd wondered how many times he'd been questioned just because of the way he looked...

after a little more than an hour of watching all kinds of people get on and off the bus, i signalled for the driver to let me off at the next stop so i could walk the few blocks to my front doorstep.

final stop: home!! it was almost midnight, i was tired, and i'd had enough excitement for one day. that definitely was one earth day i won't forget any time soon!

postscript -- i have a ticket to one more performance at the disney concert hall this season. after my recent experience, i've decided that i'm going to continue to do what i've been doing all along, which is, unless i can carpool with someone, i'll be driving my car to downtown. and fighting the traffic. and paying for the gas. and for the parking. oh well, at least i can say i've tried...

by the way, despite my lugging an umbrella around in my backpack all day, it never rained.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get it. I've had very similar experiences downtown or in other shady areas of the United States.

I think it's great that you tried! And smart that you're taking care of yourself.


10:13 PM  

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