Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"One Seat"

For a while, I took public transportation, which I picked up across the street from my house, traveling to the route’s final destination, the UCLA campus, where, for about five or so years, I took a succession of evening extension classes.  

For reasons – both numerous and uninteresting – I gave up going to those classes.  Shortly thereafter, I noticed that the bus service on my street had been curtailed.  (Our elderly next-door neighbors were duly appreciative, explaining that the rumbling passing buses had played havoc with the secure attachment of their dentures.) 

For a while, I was concerned that the cancellation of the neighborhood service related to my no longer taking that bus.  There were only a trickle of passengers at the best of times, and I wondered if my cessation of usage might have been the proverbial “Nail in the Coffin.”  (When the service ultimately resumed, I privately rebuked myself for my hubris.)

Unlike New York or London or Toronto or San Francisco, or, I believe, anywhere else in the modernized world, the city of Los Angeles is not identified with ubiquitous “Public Transportation.”  (Years ago, one Sunday morning, I waited interminably for a scheduled bus to show up.  When it finally arrived, I was thoroughly irritated.  It was, by then, Sunday afternoon.)

By 1961, Los Angeles finally totally abandoned its electrically powered streetcar service, having built a grid of numerous freeways instead.  The citizenry gradually caught on to what was happening and thought,

“We need to buy cars.”

Which was precisely what the nation’s automobile companies had had, secretly or otherwise, strategically in mind.  Field of Freeways:

“If we build them – and get rid of the available alternatives – they will drive.”

There was ostensibly still bus service, but you had to be in no hurry to get where you wanted to go; hence, their reliable “Passenger Base” – retired old people and vagrants. 

(I can feel myself almost getting to the point.  Hold on.  It’s just around that next bend.)

What I used to notice driving past bus stops, was that the back of each accompanying bus bench was adorned with an inevitable billboard for Groman’s Mortuary.  I do not see those billboards anymore, perhaps because exhausted passengers would fall asleep waiting for their bus and wake up lying on a table, a licensed mortician standing over them, making their cheeks look more rosy.

But that’s just speculation. 

Today, at least in Santa Monica – and how crazy is this? – they have provided bus stop seating consisting of – no exaggeration –

… one solitary metal seat. 

(And welcome, finally, to my point.)

That’s right.  Practically every Santa Monica bus stop's available “Seating Capacity” is "One Person."

Which could imaginably be a problem.

Consider this identifiable context:

I have often ridden on crowded public transportation, in New York (and Toronto) where younger people have graciously gotten up and offered me their seats.  (To which I invariably reply, “Do I look that terrible to you?”  Before eventually taking it.)  I recall a Paris Metro with subway seats reserved specifically for veterans.  And somewhere I recall, seats designated, “Pregnant Women Only!”

So there’s a precedent of “Distinguishing Entitlement.”

The question then arises:

With only one seat allotted for everyone awaiting the arrival of the Santa Monica bus…  

Who gets it?

I can envision fiery disputes among  a substantial gathering of competing passengers:

“I’m old.”

“I’m a veteran.”

“I thank you for your service.  But aren’t you guys used to standing up?”

“I’m pregnant.”

“How many months?”


“I’m pregnant with triplets.”

“How many months?”

I said triplets!”

“I just had knee replacement.”

“I just had hip replacement!”

“You emphasize ‘hip’ like I should believe it’s more serious.”

“It gives out and I fall farther to the ground.  You’d be just kneeling.”

“I just came off a twelve-hour shift.”

“Good for you.  Take a taxi.”

“I’m dyslexic.”

“What’s that got to do with needing to sit?”

“Nothing.  I just didn’t want to be left out.”

“I have memory loss.”

“I have allergies.”

“Man!  We are really scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

“I have memory loss.”

“We got it.”

“Got what?  I have memory loss.”

“I’m congenitally shy.”


“Nothing.  I’m just real proud of myself for speaking up.”

Okay, it’s a fantasy.  Not just because there is unlikely to be a unilateral assemblage “seat worthy” competitors – minus the “allergies” person – at the same bus stop, but at no conceivable time would there be a “substantial gathering” whatsoever.  A “crowd” at a Santa Monica bus stop is – tops! – two people.

The explanation is probably budgetary in nature – the single seat being all whoever’s paying for it can financially afford.  On the other hand, the “one seat” arrangement may reflect a symbolic “Reality Check” by the local bus company, announcing,

“Who needs more than one seat?  Nobody’s riding this bus anyway.”

I don’t know.  I may have to return to my extension classes, just to keep the available bus service from extinction.

By the way, if I am successful in doing so,

Could I not make a reasonable argument for that seat?

… Mm, maybe not.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

On my last four or five trips to LA I haven't rented a car. The last such trip, last December, involved taking a bus from LAX to Santa Monica, Santa Monica to somewhere nearby, then another one the following day to Union Station (which did admittedly take a long time), and I think the metro and a bus from there back to LAX. It's long been my observation that transport in LA is largely segregated by race: (most) white people drive; (many) people of color take buses and metros. I have come to assume that anyone white on a public bus is probably from out of town. Unlike London, where even MPs sometimes take the tube. I'm glad to hear that's not universally true.

What I really notice is that many white Angelenos of my acquaintance have no idea public transport even exists. I got a friend to take the metro from Pasadena to Union Station for lunch, and she was astounded at how convenient it was. A nephew then living in Redondo Beach asked if he should call me a cab to the airport. "Why?" I said. "There's a bus that goes right there that stops across the street from your front door for $2.50." (Or whatever the fare was.) He had no idea. Of course not: he always exited his house by the back door to the car port.


YEKIMI said...

Last time I took a public transportation device [i.e. Bus] to anywhere was in the 60s. My car broke down sometime this past summer so figured I'd just take a bus to where I needed to go...until I checked online and saw that it would take TWO freaking hours to get to where I had to go, which was roughly 20 miles away,and involve a bus transfer. Now this is in a major metropolitan area but even I could have walked there faster and that's with my bad knees and back. Needless to say next time they come crying poor-mouth to the public for tax money to operate I am seriously going to think about voting against it until they improve their service.