Living without a car in Los Angeles poses many challenges and adventures. In my opinion since mostly ditching my car over a year ago I've come to appreciate the vast cultural diversity of this sprawling region on a different level. Walking, biking and taking mass transit has opened up new worlds that I would have been blinded to if I only drove.
As a Westsider with a car who chooses to keep it parked in my apartment garage where its tail pipe can do no harm to the environment and its gas tank can do no harm to my wallet, I've often thought of the millions of Angelenos who have no choice but to walk, bike and take mass transit.
This inconvenient truth is literally in your face when riding the Metro Rapid Bus along Wilshire Boulevard from the Miracle Mile all the way to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. As I look around at all the hard-working immigrants riding the bus back home after a long day slaving away in some fancy kitchen in Beverly Hills, I've wondered what their neighborhoods are like. So different from the status-oriented Westside. Thoughts of big families getting together to chat and play soccer and listen to mariachi music as they feast on home-cooked Mexican food.
Well, thanks to Metro's new Gold Line light rail extension to the Eastside I had the opportunity to venture into their neighborhood for the first time. And it was pure pleasure re-living the joy of riding a streetcar in Los Angeles. As the train zipped past colorful shops and homes I thought this must have been what my parents and grandparents enjoyed and in fact everyone in small town and big city America enjoyed before General Motors, Standard Oil, Firestone Tires, Phillips Petroleum and other auto, motor bus, petroleum and tire businesses conspired to rip up the rails and torch the trolley to make way for destined-to-fail diesel-spewing buses and then an individual oil-dependent polluting internal combustion car for every American who could afford one.
Thankfully smart city planners are beginning to repair the damage to our country's infrastructure set in motion all those years ago by the anti-American activities of GM chief Alfred P. Sloan and his cronies (read "Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives" by Edwin Black for more information).
My friend Ron Demeter, an exec at green-focused PR firm MWW Group, and I started our journey from the Miracle Mile on our bikes. We biked down 4th Street to Macarthur Park and then navigated our way through downtown L.A. until we reached the Little Tokyo/Arts District station, which is the first new Gold Line extension stop from Union Station.
This will most likely be the most popular tourist destination on the system as visitors and Angelenos alike discover and re-discover the restaurants, museums and temples of Little Tokyo.
The Gold Line is clean and efficient and on this Saturday was practically empty, which made it easier to fit our bicycles. We rode to the end of the line at Atlantic Station while taking in all the scenery of East L.A., including an historic Serbian cemetary, a reminder of the layers of history in the area, including the historic Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
After biking around Mariachi Plaza station and eating some of the best Mexican food I've ever had this side of Tijuana, we rode the Gold Line all the way to Pasadena and biked to the California Institute of Technology campus and then for a smoothie along Colorado Boulevard.
Then we hopped back on the train at Memorial Park to Union Station and transferred to the Purple Line to the end of the line at Wilshire/Western and then biked the rest of the way.
As I returned to the Miracle Mile, which along with the rest of the Westside is still waiting for its own Metrorail train extension (because of Measure R and potential federal funding in the upcoming Transportation Bill it could be built in 10 years), I started to get a different feeling about my Eastside neighbors -- jealousy.