Freedom’s just another word for riding the MTA


    Editorials about new rules for aged drivers give me the willies. As does the word “aged.” Same with op-ed pieces titled “When It’s Time to Take the Keys,” or “Children of the Elderly Face Difficult Decisions.”

    Elderly? Moi?

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for public transportation. Where there is any. Like Paris, where the Metro will take you anywhere and every station has a map on the wall showing much more than “Vous tes ici.” If you want to take in the sights as you go, the buses run just about everywhere and long after the Metro closes after midnight.

    In Zurich, you can buy one-day or one-week passes that give unlimited rides on the city’s trams, streetcars of no noise or pollution, that go all over downtown and out into the suburbs. Again, maps and benches at all the stops, and language is no obstacle. New York has subways and trains; Chicago has the elevated trains, see all the “ER” stars ride to and from work on the El.

    To be free in L.A., or anyplace in southern or central California, you’ve got to have Le Car unless you believe in the Blue, Red and Gold lines, blue busses and such. I’ve found I could get from Valencia to Downtown L.A., say to the Music Center, with a minimum of changes. But I would need to drive 40 miles to the MetroLink stop in Santa Clarita. If the kids take my keys, I’m cooked. Grounded. Down and Out in Lebec. There used to be a Greyhound stop about a mile from the ranch, but no more. Last time I rode the Coast Starlight from Seattle to Oxnard, I could find no way to get from there to home. Somehow, someway, someone has to pick up the keys and rev an engine.

    It was not always so. At age 11 I knew real freedom. The Red Streetcar ran along Santa Monica Boulevard and stopped at Palm Drive, just a block from my street. On the Red Streetcar, I could go east to Hollywood for my summer dance and drama lessons (my older sister took art classes at the same school), get a hot fudge sundae at Brown’s, see a movie at Grauman’s Chinese or the Egyptian. I could ride to my grandmother’s house on Sierra Bonita, a quarter of a block from the stop. Going west was even better. The streetcar station took up the block between Canon and Beverly drives across from the old library. From there you could walk three blocks to the Fox or Warner Bros. theaters at Wilshire. On the way we would stop at Albert Sheetz for a chocolate soda or Nate and Al’s for a roast beef on rye with coleslaw and real rice pudding.

    At one time the streetcar went all the way to the beach at Venice Pier. That was before the oil magnates got together and decided public transportation was a threat to their bottom line and somehow got the tracks ripped out, forcing everybody to be friendly with someone who had a car. After that, I changed at the Beverly Station to a bus that went west on Santa Monica to Federal, where sad old veterans sat most of the day on the bus benches then shuffled back to the “old soldiers’ home.” When we swung west on San Vicente, we passed those beautiful big trees lining the center median strip where joggers and dog walkers were sailing by on their own power at all hours. I could get off at 26th Street, stop at the drug store for lunch then walk a couple blocks north to the backside of Riviera Country Club. There I rode on real horsepower, over Mandeville and Sullivan canyons to the Valley. Now that was freedom.

    I could get home on the Sunset Bus, which dropped me off right at my own street a block and a half from my house. My mother had to do no schlepping and she had only one rule that I remember: Be home before dark. If you miss the last bus, call or stay at a friend’s house until you can be picked up. I can’t imagine letting an 11-year-old do that today, even if those streetcars and buses still ran, which they don’t.

    Anyway, in anticipation of that dreaded day when the kids take my keys, I’m planning a week of riding public transportation. The Metro Rail’s new Gold Line is set to open Saturday. Free fares over the weekend for the 13-mile ride to Pasadena. I’m not sure what I’ll do in Pasadena. The Norton Simon, maybe. I think I can take the Metro to the Ahmanson Theatre to see “42nd Street.” If one of these Metro things goes near USC, there’s lots of music on campus and a ton of stuff to do nearby.

    Now if I can just figure out how to get to the MetroLink stop in Santa Clarita, I’ll be stylin’, as the kids used to say. I’ve passed a VanPool that goes from Frazier Park to UCLA on weekdays. Maybe I can hitch a ride with them. Or not. I need to do a little more research. I’ll start by calling 800.464.2111 or visit, as they say,

    Freedom’s just another word for riding MTA . . . Someday.