A recent visit to the city of my birth revealed a surprising inter-city travel experience: Metrolink rail, created in 2006.
Friends I'd mentioned the system to scowled: "Oh, we don't take that." "I've never taken it, but I heard of someone who did once." Or worse, "I took it once, and only saw one guy who was peeing in the stairwell."
I didn't hear anything positive, but these remarks were from auto-driving snobs, slow to release their steely grips from the wheels of their carbon-spewing climate ruiners.
Through happenstance, I had to stay in different parts of greater L.A., and since I don't have a private chauffer, was tasked with getting around quickly and cheaply. I went to the system website, which also links to buses, and stared with a mix of curiosity and fright. I liked the colors, lines and patterns, but would it all pan out? How soon before I called a friend in a panic: "Get me to Hollywood and Vine! I can't stand it!"
But my fears were for naught.
First, kudos to the geniuses who set up the online system. You should be working for the U.S. government, because it's quicker to get from Lawndale by bus and rail or directly from Redondo Beach to Union Station than it is to get government-sponsored health insurance. (Yes, I know, fellow liberals: they're working on it, and don't criticize the entryway since it has nothing to do with the product.)
But back to Metro. If you can see colors and read, you can ride the Metro. They even have instructions in Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Hebrew and some languages I can't even make out. That's how universal this system is.
The news gets better: it's just a buck-fifty to take a single ride on the Metro. That's compared to $2.75 on the New York City subway system! Further, it works by "tap" - and I am not talking a little soft-shoe on the platform, folks. Just "tap" to add value to the card, then "tap" as you enter. Very easy. Fair warning: if you are a turnstile jumper (or at least that's what we call them in New York), you can be fined up to $250.00, and at some stations, guards are going to check your tickets.
I asked one Metro worker at Beverly and Vermont if she'd ever seen a rat, like we have in the Big Apple. She looked at me strangely. "Uh, not sure."
"Yes, I think there have been mice in the system, but not here. You may hear about a rat or a mouse at some other stations."
So not only is it fast, cheap, full of easy-to-read directions and maps, but it's bloody clean. I particularly loved the Universal City station (see slideshow images of mosaics). The tiled mosaics are indicative of just how serious the city is about its heritage, and to the very real notion that Hispanic culture is just as vibrant and critical to America's future as any other.
Visit the website and you'll also find a plethora of timetable maps, such as how to get around from North Hollywood to Westlake and MacArthur Park on the Red Line, or from Wilshire and Western to Union Station. If you are going from North Hollywood to Union Station, stay on the Red Line to the end of its run.
As a former San Franciscan who moved to the east coast in 2001, I've come to view inter-city train travel as not only de rigueur but vital for the health of the planet. L.A. is a place with many riches--stunning oceanfront vistas, swaying palms, tanned and toned bodies and the ubiquitous In-Out Burger. But it's plagued by a pollution problem that makes it the worst in the nation. Eventually, if folks don't jump on the Metro, they'll be coughing up their lungs and spend their golden years in hospital beds.
So come on, Angelenos: get out of your Fiats, Ferraris and SUVs and ride the Metro.