Ron Kaye (who never met a politician he didn't regard skeptically) might be thought of as . . . well . . . cynical about some aspects of everyday life in L.A. But his recent column in the Glendale News-Press combines a certain sweetness with some of his familiar bite.
Kaye's wife, carless, missed the 9:17 a.m. Metro bus that would have taken her from North Hollywood to her job in Burbank. While waiting for the next bus, she learned from others at the stop that the bus she missed was the last one until late afternoon.
Kaye passes along this reportorial detail, but it reveals something about public transit, here and in other places where riding the bus is a kind of purgatory: It's the folklore of other riders that will see you through when the system provides only a blank stare. Folklore is reassuring when you have nothing else to go on.
But . . . and this is important to getting discretionary riders like Kaye's wife on more buses more of the time . . . the system now offers some help. NexTrip from Metro gives the arrival times of buses to your stop. Other tools for getting out of jam (if you don't know the system) are online at Metro.
Kaye's wife got to an alternative stop and caught a bus on a different line. She was now late for work.
More on NexTripBlog Post: Why Angelenos Should Start Taking the Bus More Often
Unfortunately in the confusion, Kaye's wife left her purse on the bus. It happens with uncertainty and anxiety. But she got her purse back, after a car chase to run down the bus and after a stranger kindly turned the purse over to a bus driver who turned out to more thoughtful than some.
A happy ending, but a barbed one, too. Keye makes the point that the Metro system, except for a few Rapid lines and rail service, can be startlingly discontinuous. Buses may run only in the morning and early evening but not during the rest of the day. Buses may run only once an hour. Buses may not run on weekends or holidays. Bus service may be suspended at Metro's discretion or routes can be broken up, requiring the payment of another basic fare to transfer.
There are metrics that will show you how good the Metro system is, but statistical averages conceal just how ragged some of parts of the system feels to those who must ride - a roughness sometimes made up by folklore, the kindness of strangers, and exquisite good luck, However consoling, these are not the means to run a transit system.
D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.