This week, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne continued his excellent series on L.A.'s boulevards with a piece on iconic Sunset Blvd. I love the piece and the way Hawthorne travels east from PCH rather than west to capture the energy and creativity of Sunset Blvd in places like Silver Lake and Boyle Heights. The article notes the role of the Metro Red Line subway in reinvigorating Hollywood, and Hawthorne goes to great lengths to emphasize that L.A. has become a more walkable and transit-oriented city. Which is why I was surprised that the critic didn't ride and record his observations from the Metro # 2 bus, the painfully slow transit line serving the stretch of Sunset from Broadway and Caesar Chavez in Chinatown to the ocean in Pacific Palisades. Had he ridden the bus for the article, Hawthorne would have seen and described a different and sometimes decrepit Sunset Blvd. Most times of the day, the 2, my frequent ride, is a lifeline for the ripe-smelling homeless working their way east or west. It is a slow-moving home on wheels, a place the sans-abri seem to go to take a nap while taking up a second seat for their belongings even when it leaves other passengers standing for miles as the bus lurches along. Had Hawthorne paid the bus fare he would also have seen the countless mostly Latina domestics, and day laborers traveling with their bikes affixed to the front of the bus, making their way to and from their jobs in Bel Air, Brentwood, and the Palisades. For all the change the boulevard has seen, the commute for the most part is still west to les beaux quartiers rather than the other way around.
At four o'clock on any weekday afternoon, Hawthorne and his fellow bus riders would have experienced the hour-or-more-long slog from Bundy east to the 405, a distance of 1.3 miles. While CicLAvia turns L.A.'s streets into public spaces, too many people relying on their cars to get from points west to the freeway create a de facto parking lot on Sunset in Brentwood.
If I need to make the trek from Bundy to UCLA at that time of the day I walk or bike. What other proof do L.A. voters need to support Measure R 2, the Wilshire BRT, the subway to the sea, and a transit line through the Sepulveda Pass. In my book, L.A. needs to continue to build transit not just for the construction jobs it will create but so the rest of us who still have jobs can get to them and keep them here.
While the studios may be gone from Sunset Blvd, the bus remains the tourist's low-cost alternative to those ubiquitous Starline Tours open-top vans that ply Hollywood from Vine west to Bel Air. For $1.50 a ride, or $5 a day, instead of $44 for two hours, smart German, French, Japanese, Brazilian and others get to see Sunset Blvd and LA as local transit riders do. When not admiring the towering palms or the sculpted bodies of the students making their way to UCLA, they can try to make sense of the unhinged man screaming, in a bus full of Latinos, about how Mexicans are "stealing our jobs, our houses and our communities." Or, if they can find a seat, they can join the already-in-progress circus, a guy or gal, I'm still not sure, trying to strike up a conversation with anyone foolish enough to make eye contact. On one recent ride, I couldn't help but listen as s/he asked an unfortunate elderly soul sitting nearby, "Do you have a husband?" When the aged woman ignored the question, the circusmaster just kept right on, saying, "My husband's in jail. I can't wait till he gets out."
If he took the bus late in the day during the school year, Hawthorne would have seen the rainbow of Palisades Charter High School students, including my kids, heading home to Brentwood and Westwood but mostly to Hollywood, Chinatown, Echo Park and other areas to the east. It's not an easy commute, an hour or more to class, but Pali means one of the best public school educations in California in a city where most high schools are still not providing the education the law requires.
Since he writes so well and has more readers than I do, I'm hoping for his next piece Hawthorne takes the bus and writes what everyone knows but is afraid to say. I hope the critic uses his pulpit to write in L.A.'s paper of record that Angelenos who rely on the bus deserve faster service and an assault-on-the-senses free ride, rather than the one they are currently treated to.
This isn't Norma Desmond's Sunset Blvd. It belongs to Velez, Fong, Hagopian, Smith, Chaoponthong and me, and we deserve better from our city and our transit agency.
Follow Joel Epstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thejoelepstein