Most people say that Los Angeles is a bad place to be in if you don’t have a car. That’s just people who do not live in this city. People who live here refuse to believe you when they learn you do not own one. There’s shocked silence, and a hesitant query about how you do your groceries, or go to the office. Much wonderment about your mental (and financial) state. By the time you have been here a few months, you realize that in terms of your social status, being without a car is just one step above being homeless.
But good lord, if you think not having a car causes shock and awe, you should look at reactions when I mention that I take the bus. “THE BUS!!” – people exclaim. “Aren’t they – like – unsafe?” Everyone thinks that buses are filled with weirdos and homeless people who are out to kill, rape or spray body fluids on you. I do not claim omniscience, but nearly 11 months of regular commute has made me realize that most of these assumptions are far-fetched. Most LA people who take the bus are normal. There is the occasional person that smells of pee or the religious nut that babbles about how Jesus will save all of us if we are nice. I even got an arguer this one time, a lady next to me who kept having an argument with herself, a very loud one. (She won at the end, I think. Well, one of her.)
The only problem with buses in Los Angeles is the time these lumbering, polite hulks take to travel. That, and their low frequency at non-rush-hour times, including weekends. Buses on most routes travel close to empty. I don’t have to worry about lack of seats or road rage when travelling, and I get enough read-time. There’s the occasional interesting person you meet, either at the bus-stop or in the bus. There were two different people reading The Hunger Games just a few weeks ago, and we had nice, albeit brief conversations about Peeta’s true intentions – I kept a straight face and did not reveal spoilers, for the record. I’ve also seen a lot of the parts of LA that are considered seedy and unsafe in the nights, thanks to bus transfers. Waiting for a bus at 2 AM in Downtown LA is a peculiar experience that one cannot describe in words. It felt adventurous, but was probably a little stupid. Those may have been gunshots. Or just cars backfiring, I can’t tell.
Taking the bus has also cultivated a few lifestyle tics in me. Like the need to carry a few dollar bills and quarters everywhere I go. My hand involuntarily goes inside my right pocket, when I am leaving the house – key, phone, dollar bills, change. Bus passes? Not really too helpful with the different services – Culver City Bus, Metro Transit, Santa Monica Big Blue. The iPad’s always at hand, and I attach 15 minutes to every journey. Which happens to be the time it takes to get from my apartment to the closest Metro bus stop.
“Yet”, I always remember to add. “I do not own a car yet.” “When are you getting one?”, people ask. “I should, I know,” I say. I don’t tell them that I am postponing this arcane real-life ritual as much as I can. I am not sure why. Probably I have never really been attracted to cars, or tried to figure them out. Until very recently, every car looked the same to me – the only variants my mind could decipher were ‘frog-like’ or ‘bat-mobile-like’. I owned a scooter for a few years in Hyderabad, which served the purpose of getting from point A to point B very well. Except when it rained, but everyone knows that when it rains, you are supposed to sit at home, make hot onion pakodas 1 and watch movies or read. Fact is, yes, the lack of obsession about buying a car was also because my money was always earmarked for Other Things 2. One could make do without a car, but not a Dringenberg Sandman page. It helped that I stayed a few minutes away from the office. The only problem with everyday life was negotiating with auto-rickshaw drivers, but I stayed in Bangalore for a year. That inured me to meter manipulation and made me ruthless with scathing remarks about time and distance.
All right, fine, I agree, I make too much light of this. Of course it would be awesome to own a car. I could then go attend concerts every day. Go to Meltdown Comics every Thursday for the Nerd Melt shows. Heck, attend every fucking event I want to go to, without having to negotiate bus routes in my head. Head over to Artesia whenever I want some biryani. Do stuff. Do more stuff than what I do at the moment, at the very least. I generally give up on plans on weekends just because I would have to plan bus routes and keep some time aside for the inevitable delays. (“Not true”, Inner Voice exclaims. “You’re just lazy.” You’re right, Inner Voice, now shut up and think of what will happen in Episode 3 of Sherlock. We still have the last part of the weekend to watch it, right? “Oh, all right. Now hurry up with this tiresome self-obsessed post of yours.” Hmm, ok. Shall we? “Let’s.”)
I should have tried this last conversation with myself in a bus.