On The Metro
Los Angeles, California
There’s a breeze from where the Northbound train disappeared into its tunnel, cooling me down because I walked so fast and hard to get here on time to find all trains three minutes early. But the breeze reminds me why us humans sweat and I am thankful I remembered my deodorant this morning.
The Universal City (UC) Red Line Metro Station is clean. Too clean. Either the cleaning crew was borrowed from the Four Seasons, where is the tip jar, or by God the foot traffic through these light rail stations is almost nil. I chose the latter and am shamed that a city so concerned with health and beauty chooses traffic and gas guzzling SUVs rather than quiet peaceful seats on a clean rail. Really, how much gas are they using? Today one gallon is about $1.70 per. One metro ticket is $1.35. And you even get a history lesson.
Art covers the center poles in the UC Station, presumably regarding Campo de Cahuenga, an old Spanish fort fenced off and under redevelopment snug between the metro car park and the onramp for the 101 freeway above ground. The plight of Campo de Cahuenga is immortalized in eclectic, brightly colored mosaic-like art, telling its story in both English and Spanish. I barely had time to read off familiar LA names like Pico before shuffling on to the Union Station bound train. Odd though, that Camp de Cahuenga is advertised in art in a metro station, has an official brown historic monument sign on the freeway, but not a whisper is mentioned of it in my Lonely Planet guidebook. Perhaps it will forever live in the theme park’s shadow.
Stations flash by. Hollywood/Highland: site of the gaudy über mall and new home of the Oscars. Hollywood/Western: above is the Wiltern Theater. Underground is decorated with bright colored tiles and art deco concrete benches. Sunset/Vermont: the area of the 1992 Riots following the controversial Rodney King verdict, a current focus in the news media being its 10 year anniversary. Times have changed. Now they want us to visit this once tragic neighborhood. The station is clean. Crisp. Silver, white and marble gray. Stark in contrast to the streets above ground.
Do the rail lines hum and whistle with the ghost of the arriving train at each stop?
Only a few stations left until my destination: the historic 1939 erected Union Station. I’m not a fan of downtown LA. It is skirted and bisected by at least four freeways. The traffic is so thick you can actually feel it rising about you. Shame, all the pollution trapped in the basin. Sometime it is so bad you cannot see the towering skyscrapers from the 101 coming over the hill from the Valley into Hollywood.
All of the guidebooks tout Union Station as LA’s gem of architecture. My downtown experiences so far have consisted of driving through empty cavernous streets at night. Nothing. No one. Too much silence. Too much impending doom.
The doors of the train open and suddenly I’m in Madrid. Or Barcelona. Except the signs are in both Spanish and English and it smells a hell of a lot better. I love the magic of the metro. The same plastic, sometimes padded seats. A sign warning of the gap between the train and the platform. Metal poles to hang on to if the train is full. I wonder if they will ever be full in LA.
I am appreciating this, the metro, and wondering what is wrong with this city? I’ve saved so much emotional turmoil and personal road rage, not to mention parking fees (astronomical! they make you drive and then make you pay to park!) and mileage. Put it this way: on my walk down to the station my pace with backpack and all was faster than the traffic above me on the 101. And I am recovering from a broken ankle. Los Angeles has a long way to go before it reaches its destination.
Union Station. In my head I’m donning 1940s garb and transforming into that young star-struck doll dreaming of becoming famous. I can’t believe I am in LA, my eyes wide as saucers at the tall Spanish style adobe clock tower and floral aroma’d garden courtyards. So quiet, this oasis just outside the center of the city.
I walk outside and imagine myself travelling to Los Angeles for the first time and all at once overwhelmed by the sight and size of it. Arriving by train to this place I would sure have had a different impression of the massive expanse that is the City of Angels.
I stand in front of the station. To my left buildings soar into the sky like Gothic spires. To my right a hint of the surrounding mountains. Blinking once, twice, I return to reality and turn around to enter the grand halls of Union Station.