In honor of the upcoming Earth Day, meet some of my Asian American friends who live in Los Angeles sans carbon emissions.
In college, my guy friends proclaimed that import car culture was a strictly Asian American contribution to mainstream pop culture. For someone who hasn't owned a car in Los Angeles for the last three years, fast, ostentatious cars are far from my Asian American reality. People ask me all the time how I survive, and insist that I will "die" without a car. And to them I say, "Meet two of my Asian Americans friends who don't even have driver licenses!" (Read Part 1 here)
Community organizer for the Bus Riders Union.
To quote half of Los Angeles, "Why the heck don't you own a car?"
The last thing L.A. needs is one more resident roasting the world with our tailpipe. Seriously, global warming and climate change really scare me and I can't stand L.A.'s polluted air as it is. What makes me want to drive when I have the option not to? I take PT [public transit] and my bike most of the time, and carpool with friends and family if I have to go far, but it's much more convenient to not have a car given where I live and work. It saves me a ton of money and headaches.
What are the more memorable reactions you get from people when they find out you don't own a car?
Most of the folks around me don't own a car but are public transit dependent so I don't get surprised reactions too often. Although anywhere else, we non-car driving folks are considered an anomaly in Los Angeles. The more frequent reaction I get from non-BRU folks is "do you need parking? Oh wait you're one of the bus people." (smile and nod)
Favorite tricks for getting around the city quickly without a car?
Avoid places where there's no public transit access. I chose my dentist based on how far the place was from the Wilshire Rapid bus stop. I tend to frequent local shops and businesses over going to box store malls. I still don't understand why people drive out of their way to do all their errands when so much is available online or around town. Or how people drive to the gym when they could've gotten a workout just walking over there.
You have to plan your day really well if you have a lot of things to do, figuring out the most strategic route, and whether it's worth the trek. As a result you only buy things that you really need and want instead of spending a lot of time just idling indecisively and getting things that you don't need. Bus riders are very resourceful and know the city geographically really well, where you can get XYZ and what routes run on weekends, weekdays, etc. I usually employ a combination of biking, busing and reading in between commutes.
Do you secretly wish you had a car?
Nope, but what I want is a light foldable cart (that disappears to iPad size) that I can lug my groceries and large items around when I have to transport them back home via public transit. Any geniuses inventing that for bus riders? There are other cool things invented for bus riders that I've seen like the cane that turns into a chair for elders who have to walk and wait at the bus stop. I got really excited when I saw one and the Korean grandma just smiled at me coolly when I asked her about it.
How do people react when you tell them you work with the Bus Riders Union?
When I tell people I'm a member of the Bus Riders Union, they are intrigued by the name.
Any funny stories about what people say to you when they find out you organize for them?
Just last week one guy on the street told me, "Oh the bus union...the drivers." Me: "No, the riders." "Oh, riders, that's a good idea. They should have a union for the parents too to fight all these school cuts. Do you guys give out free bus passes?" Me: "Yes it grows on our tree behind the Wiltern building... just kidding. No, we're not the MTA and neither do they give out free bus passes, but we fight the MTA hard to keep bus fares low and stop them from cutting our bus service. Want to join us?"
What don't people know about the Bus Riders Union that you wish they knew?
We're not just "the bus people" but it's a thriving multiracial and intergenerational grouping of people that are working together for progressive social change; our folks come from a long legacy of civil rights struggles and revolutionary movements abroad. We deal with immigration, war and peace, climate change and ecology, LGBTQ rights, patriarchy, international solidarity, stopping criminalization, and more. Folks who don't know better say things like "Why is the BRU meddling with anti-war issues?"; "Why are they at the May Day march?"; and "They should just stick to transit." We're not just a transit advocacy group, and we mean to change more things than just the buses.
What do you think the future of transportation looks like for Los Angeles?
A big battle where we'll find out if transportation will end up being another profit-making tool for corporate development or a public resource accountable to even the most vulnerable community's needs. We'd like to hope that the future will be towards Transit Justice: a whole lot of less cars, electric engine buses all over the region, parks and greenways instead of traffic, and affordable mobility for all people whether you have your own car or live without one like today's bus riders.
How long have you been doing what most Angelenos call "the impossible"?
I have been without a car for almost five years. Back on July 4, 2007, someone under the influence, without a driver's license, rammed into me. My car was totaled, and I suffered a concussion which caused long-term problems regarding my brain and body; initially due to the effects of the accident, I was not up for driving. There was probably enough insurance company money to buy a crappy used car, but nothing close to my former vehicle. The insurance company didn't compensate me, for example, for the new transmission I had just installed -- all that money was lost.
What's one interesting thing about being a bus rider?
I'm not from L.A., but when I first got here, I was told not to drive through certain areas. Of course, some of the bus routes go through those "bad" areas. So it was both interesting to see those neighborhoods and what life was like there. I also liked meeting and being around different kinds of people when on the bus. But this fascination with L.A. and its people probably lasted only a year, maybe a little more.
What's something you don't like about the bus?
One time I got home from riding the bus and I was wearing my one nice pair of black slacks. Once I got home, I noticed a smell. It was the distinct odor of old urine. I had sat on a seat that a homeless person had previously sat on and got it onto my slacks. That's the worst. When someone else's urine leaches onto the fabric of a bus seat and then onto you? That's disgusting and filthy. My urine? That would be fine.
Do you think public transit works in L.A.?
If you have a regular and set commute to the same location, day in and day out, mass transit is perfect in my opinion. Unfortunately there have been times I haven't been able to make an audition due to the relative distance and time. I also have learned the hard way that sometimes buses don't come. This can be due to breakdowns or to bad traffic. But I've waited at bus stops sometimes for hours for buses that never arrived. During those times, it was impossible for me to get from location to another, because mass transit simply wasn't quick enough or readily available. Maybe one day, when L.A. has a more extensive rail system, mass transit will be a feasible option for actors. For the present, in my experience and opinion, L.A. Metro doesn't cut it for the Hollywood actor.
Did you ever factor the environment into it?
No, I did not. I would love to say that I did, that my actions were completely driven by ethical and environmental reasons, but it was purely an economic choice to use mass transit and to walk. That said, it does make me feel good that I'm not adding any more car exhaust to Los Angeles or to the Earth at large.