case $commute_method in
car) echo “pay attention and drive”;;
bike) echo “ride like the wind”;;
bus) echo “try to nap”;;
Today $commute_method = bike, but yesterday it was $commute_method = bus. I’m a lazy laggard, but on occasion I do save a few grams of CO2 and other noxious pollutants commuting to work by bike or by bus instead of driving one of my soon-to-be-classic vehicles. Classic not in a collectible way, just plain old. Some day in the future when the polar ice has melted and sea levels have risen I’ll be able to claim that I did my meager bit to stave it off. But then, all that driving to get to out-of-area-code rides possibly negates my argument.
When commuting by bus, I use Los Angeles MTA line 232 running between downtown Long Beach and the transit center at LAX. It’s a viable alternative, assuming one has adequate time. If I use the bus, the total commute time ranges from 45 to 60 minutes, including walking and waiting, versus 20 minutes when driving. The bus also has a bike rack in the front that holds two bikes, and gets used quite often. I have used it myself – a couple of years ago returning from a mountain biking trip to Catalina Island. I walked from the ferry dock at downtown Long Beach, with duffle-style suitcase slung over my shoulders and guitar case in one hand, pushing my bike with the other hand, to the first stop on the northbound 232 route. Another fellow was waiting with his bike, so the rack was full at the very first stop.
Some days on the bus are more interesting than others. If it’s not interesting, I just try to nap. Yesterday was one of those interesting days. In the morning I got on, dropped my token in the slot, and walked to the back of the bus past a fellow in grimy sweats with a halo of curly hair who was talking somewhat loudly. I sat near the rear in a forward facing seat and tried to figure out if he was talking to somebody, or just talking. Just talking it was. He was perched on one of the seats near the front that is positioned sideways to the direction of travel. I don’t care much for those seats. They do have the advantage of being up front in case the rear-mounted engine malfunctions and drives a metallic component through the floorboard, but as the bus lurches forward and back between pickup points and traffic signals, there is nothing to keep your body from likewise lurching left and right since you’re sitting sideways. If I can’t have a forward facing seat, I’d rather stand while holding onto one of the overhead rails.
So this fellow was positioned sideways to me, his head swiveling around left and right while talking to nobody, or perhaps to an imaginary somebody. I could see his right arm, which seemed a bit odd. It looked like the sleeve of his sweatshirt was pulled down over his hand, perhaps to keep his hand warm, but the forearm looked way, way too short. I could not see the other arm to make a comparison until we reached a stop where he got off. Several folks got off, but I was able to see him out the side window as he hurried down the sidewalk toward the back of the bus. He had a couple of bags with loop handles on them hung over his left forearm, which was angled upward to keep the bags from slipping off, and it was just as short as the right forearm.
He had no hands. Crikey, that’s horrible, but you’d think some prosthetics would be in order.
In the afternoon, I left work and walked to the bus stop at Sepulveda and Walnut in El Segundo, just south of LAX. So close that I could see the vehicles coming out of, or going into, the traffic tunnel under the south side runways. If I recall correctly, one of the scenes from the film “Koyaanisqatsi” was filmed from atop the building standing up tall next to me here, with the camera pointing down at that tunnel. I think that it was a time-lapse section showing the massive flows of traffic moving in and out of the tunnel, with a big 747 rolling along the runway above it.
Either I just missed the bus or it never came, since I stood there for 30 minutes waiting for one that is supposed to come every 20 minutes at that time of day. In my experience riding MTA, the “never came” scenario is not all that rare. If it happens a couple of times, I get fed up, boycott MTA and start driving more until my bleeding heart kicks in a few months later. Eventually a bus came, I boarded, dropped my token in the slot and walked toward the back of bus. I took a forward facing seat not quite as far back as on the morning ride.
A few stops later, an apparently homeless fellow boarded the bus carrying a couple of no-budget luggage baggies. He paused for a bit just inside the front door as the bus resumed moving. I noticed two fellows sitting near the front wrinkling their noses and then they stood up and walked to the back of the bus to sit again. A couple minutes later the homeless fellow migrated to the back of the bus, and as he walked past me a nearly visible cloud of severely unpleasant aroma moved with him. Quite literally I almost gagged.
Do you remember that summer day when it was so hot and unusually humid, and you rode that long route at tempo with votre amies cyclistes, sweating the whole ride like a Coors Light can sitting on a patio table in the sunlight? You were so exhausted at the end that you just peeled off your wet, salty maillot and tossed it in the laundry hamper only to forget it and find it two weeks later reeking under layers of moist bath towels? You were tempted to take it directly outside to the trash bin if not for it being a prized souvenir from Bourg d’Oisins in the French Alps.
It was far worse than that.
The two fellows who had moved to the back of the bus stood and returned to the front of the bus, muttering something to each other as they sat again.
I liked where I was sitting, I did not want to move. The choice of that particular seat was tactical. I was shaded from the late afternoon sun streaming in the windows, and I was facing forward so that I was not lurching about in one of those sideways seats. So I opened the window next to me to get a full force blast of cool air in my face while the bus moved forward. But when we came to a stop at a pickup or traffic light, the diesel exhaust from the rear-mounted engine had a tendency to creep forward along the outer surface of the bus and find its way to my window. So the commute became an exercise in opening the window while moving to keep the bad aroma at bay, and then shutting the window when stopped to keep the bad exhaust at bay.
The aroma of the homeless guy was actually more unpleasant than the diluted diesel exhaust, but I doubted that it would give me emphysema. As a miscreant high school colleague of mine used to say, that’s life in the big city.