Trained for the Suburbs

I’ve adjusted to life in the suburbs pretty well. I still have access to Los Angeles when I need or want it, but getting around town is much easier with less traffic and a slightly slower pace. It’s still Los Angeles County, and a lot of the locals still make a long commute to work each day, but I’m enjoying the routine and finding charm even when the paper’s editor doesn’t catch the error of “wonder” when it should be “wander.”

This is a place where kids still walk to school, and each afternoon I can hear the ice-cream truck as it drives through the neighborhood. The truck’s PA system is out of date, and the recording of the familiar little tune is on its last leg, but it has a quaint charm. When I was typing away yesterday, my window was open and I could hear the tune a little better. It was a slow version of La Cucaracha.

In minutes I was humming it to myself. “La cucaracha, la cucaracha, da-da da-da da-da dum…” I couldn’t remember the rest of the words, but then I realized that the song was about a cockroach. Someone should tell the ice-cream man that if he were to put a fresh coat of paint on his truck and change the song to a subject not associated with filth, he might do a better business. I realize that I’m one possessed with considerable reforming zeal and may be worrying needlessly, and his clients may be completely satisfied without giving La Cucaracha a second thought.

The suburbs are different from Los Angeles in other ways. In LA, your pool man is probably young with a fit body and a great tan. He flashes a winning smile when you tell him what you want him to do. I heard a noise the other afternoon and discovered someone in the backyard. He looked like a celebrity and had grabbed the skimmer to clean the pool. Then I realized that the celebrity was Wilfred Brimley.  I started to open the door and call out to him, but then I was worried he might offer me a reverse mortgage.

There are loads of conveniences in the suburbs, including a commuter train that stops about a mile from home. I’ve used it several times because I’m not that fond of sitting in traffic for long periods when I’d prefer to be on the move. Unfortunately, the weeknight trains stop running at some point, and I have to be on the outbound train before 11:00 p.m. if I am not to spend the next five hours lying on a bench at Union Station.

The first time I took the train at night, I had mapped out my departure time into LA, figured out my connections on the light rail, and then calculated the time for the return trip so that I would make that final train. Very simple stuff. However, I lost track of time somewhere around 10:15, and then I panicked like Cinderella fleeing the ball. I had to go a few blocks to reach the light rail station. I had quickened my pace to a sprint, and was phoning Gary who had probably gone to bed. “Just letting you know that I’m literally running for the train—Oh, my God, it’s pulling up to the station and I’m still a block away! I’ve got to go I’ll call you later!”

Thankfully, the train had stalled at a red light, which gave me enough time to cross the street against traffic, run across the track that said “Do not cross the track when lights are flashing,” and tap my card. I was out of breath, but I made the train. Whew! Then I had to worry about making the connection on time.

I was off the Expo line and running down the escalator when I heard the “Doors are closing” announcement. Then there was that whoosh and hum of the train leaving the station. I checked the time and the electronic sign said that at such a late hour, the next train would be by in 20 minutes. I faced a dilemma. Leave the station, go above ground, phone Gary and let him know I might need to be picked up, or stay where I was.

Suddenly, prayers were answered as I heard that distant rumbling, and then I felt the wind on my face. I leaned forward to see the light coming around the bend, and this miraculous, unexpected train appeared from nowhere. I was in luck. I got on and took one of the many vacant seats. I was thinking that I would still make my connection when I realized that a woman with a giant trash bag full of recyclables was peering over her big glasses and staring directly at me.

I met her glance, nodded, and then looked away lest she think that I was inviting her to move closer. I did that thing where you check your phone, which doesn’t work underground, then look toward the window, which is black underground, then around to the empty seats, as if I might know someone before giving a sweeping glance around the car to see if the woman with the bag of cans was still staring. She was, and we made eye contact once more. Only three stops and surely I could outrun a nearsighted old woman with a Hefty bag full of garbage.

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If one is familiar with the LA Metro, one knows that when the red line comes into Union Station, it creeps along for what seems like ten minutes. It’s not that long, but it always seems like it is if you’re in a hurry. The train came to a stop, I checked that I had my belongings, looked over my shoulder to see if the lady with the cans was still watching me (she was!) then I exited the car and flew up the escalator. In the wrong direction.

When I realized my error, I circled back, ran down the descending escalator, across the platform, past the woman laboring with her cans, and up the correct moving stairway.

I have taken subway escalators in major cities around the world, but it seems like Angelenos do not understand the etiquette of the moving stairway. You stand to the right if you do not intend to use your legs to climb, and this allows those of us in a hurry to move past you on the left. I have to admit that I was making good progress until halfway up. As if a certain woman sensed that someone coming up behind her was in a big hurry, she firmly planted her left leg right in front of me to block my path.

Not that this was a small leg I could’ve scooted around. Quite the opposite; this was a substantial leg possessed of considerable girth. A leg commonly found in the type of redwood forests that Woody Guthrie said belonged to all of us in This Land is Your Land.

Her ample leg was bare because she had chosen to wear very short shorts on an evening when the rest of us were in jackets and a few were in coats. I glanced up to see if the woman had seen me, but she had not, or perhaps she was just waiting for someone to ask her to move. I wasn’t about to, as I sensed that my tiny request could be that fabled straw on the camel’s back. Therefore, I rode the rest of the way eye level with her stubble while silently debating the propriety of my mentioning a questionable mole that could in no way be seen by her without a trio of sizable mirrors.

As it turns out, I didn’t have time to offer advice for I had to run for yet another escalator. How deep is the subway anyway? Emerging into Union Station, I was running again. Next to the pretzel counter, a man stepped in front of me with a worried look. He was holding a document of some sort and seemed to need my help. Oh, all right, I thought. When I saw that it was a Watchtower, I recoiled as though he’d tried to hand me a dead baby. The look on his face told me that the look on my face was a bigger reaction than he was used to getting, but surely someone else on his beat has been equally put off by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Sprinting again and making a mental note to thank my trainer for getting me into good condition, I ran down the concourse. Which platform was it that I needed? During rush hour, the outbound train is sometimes on the opposite platform, but at night it could be where the incoming train stopped. I froze on the concourse like someone trying to decide what life path to take, and then I saw the digital board. I ran to the right and up the ramp toward the platform because I was too inexperienced to know that if I took the stairs right in front of me, I’d end up getting to the train that much sooner. When I emerged onto the platform, there was no train!

The first thing I thought of was to run down and find someone, not that anyone could do anything for me if I had missed the train. Perhaps I thought I’d find someone to yell at because there was no train, and I still had two minutes before 11:00. There was no one on the concourse who seemed to work there. Then suddenly, the digital board above me flashed and corrected the platform numbers. Thankfully, I was standing there to see it change. I found my track number and ran up the correct ramp to the platform, still ignorant of those stairs. I flashed my ticket at the deputy who waved me aboard, and took the nearest available seat on the upper level as I heard, “Good evening, this is the final boarding call. We’re ready to make our departure.”

© 2014 Patrick Brown

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