Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Big Leap: Crossing Los Angeles without a Car

With my new determination to get around without a car once a week, on a recent Saturday I expanded my view and decided to make a car-less visit to my mother in Pasadena - 27 miles across metropolitan Los Angeles. This was a big step for me as I'm still new to L.A. bus travel and I had yet to experience on L.A.'s light rail system. This was hardly the expedient way to visit mom, but I sought adventure, not just transportation.

By car it takes a minimum of 35 minutes, via mostly freeway travel, from my door to mom's door. By bike, bus and the light rail, I had no clue how long it would take. I relied on the MTA website to help me plan my route.

I biked one mile to the corner of Fourth Street and Wilshire in Santa Monica. Unsure of how this worked, I nervously prepared to load my bike on the rack on the front of the MTA #770 express bus to downtown Los Angeles. Just then, a woman walked up to the bus stop with her bike, helmet and wearing outdoorsy clothes. Just in time. My new best friend Lisa willingly gave me a tutorial in bike/bus travel.

“First, load your bike on the rack with your lock on the wheel,” Lisa told me. “Otherwise, when the bus is stopped at a traffic light, someone may run up and take your bike and ride it away.” Good advice.

“Second, lift the guard rail over the front wheel. And, third, alert the bus driver of the huge potholes on Wilshire Boulevard near Coldwater Canyon. If the bus drives over one, it’s likely to hurl your bike to its death under the bus carriage.”

I began to wonder if a solo journey across India would be easier.

As we rode, we kept our eyes on our bikes and I learned that Lisa makes this trip daily from the urban Fairfax district to swanky Pacific Palisades, where she trains horses. Lisa got off a few stops before me, yet she had fortified me with confidence to continue on alone.

At Normandie, I hopped off, quickly unloaded my bike and I walked across Wilshire to the Normandie Metro station. I hustled my bike into the elevator and went down to the train level where I found myself in the new universe of the underground L.A. light rail system. I chuckled to myself that I've used such travel systems in cities all over the world, but never in my home town.

As I bought my ticket at the machine, a woman with a heavy Russian accent and who barely spoke English approached me and managed to say that she wanted to see some local sites. I suggested that she ride to downtown's Union Station with me and she trustingly agreed. I learned that Dania was from St. Petersburg, Russia and was visiting a daughter in Santa Monica. I admired her bravery at venturing out alone, grasping only a handful of English words.

At Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, my bike and I walked with Dania to the station's exit and directed her across the street to colorful Olvera Street where I could hear the beating drum of the performing Aztec dance troupe. She gave me a grateful hug and she headed to see a bit of L.A.'s Mexican heritage and I to catch the Gold Line train to Pasadena.

Twenty minutes later, I exited Pasadena’s Del Mar station and I pedaled about a mile to my mother’s home. She greeted me as though I'd just pulled up in my Conestoga wagon from Kentucky.

It had taken three hours.

Mom fortified me with lunch and sent me off on my return journey. Once home, I considered the inefficiency of nearly six hours of round-trip travel time. Thanks to whoever said, "It's not the destination that counts, but the journey." It's true.


  1. Bicycle paths... they must!!

  2. Hi Carol,
    Wow ... I'm impressed. Congratulations ... sounds like a real adventure!