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Get on the bus!

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The last few weeks I’ve been wondering if it was possible to take public transportation the places I was headed. My motivations were a mix of things: eco-friendliness, gas prices and a desire to explore. Mind you I think high gas prices may just save the country and the planet in lots of ways but that’s a subject for a different time. Several weeks ago I started looking to see if there was a public transit alternative available to the places I was going. It started with trying to find if there was a public transit option to get between my two “homes” in Idyllwild and Long Beach. As I expected before beginning my research public transit doesn’t reach Idyllwild… not even close. So I looked deeper wondering if I drove down the mountain to Riverside could I there pick up a Metro-link train and get to Long Beach. I discovered, again as expected, that if I drove about 45 minutes to Riverside it was indeed possible to catch a Metro-link train there from which I would then need to travel Union Station in LA where I could transfer to the Metro. Metro-link would take about 1:30 to get to Union Station. A short ride on the Metro Red Line followed by a ride on the Metro Blue Line would then get me to the Long Beach Transit Mall. Metro time, a little over an hour. From the LB transmit mall I would then take a short 3 mile bus ride would in fact reach home in Long Beach. About 15 minutes on the bus.. Driving door to door would take me about 2:15. If I drove the 45 minutes to the nearest train station it would then take me an addition 2:45 to get long beach. Or a total trip time of 3:30 hours door to door assuming I wouldn’t have to wait between connections. Waiting between connections it would easily take over four hours. Mind you because the public transit system in Southern California is so fractured there is no one online search engine that can actually put this trip together. It required separately searching Metro-Link’s website, LA Metro’s website and LB Transit’s website… of course that was after I figured out which website to search, which for someone completely unfamiliar with Southern California’s public transit system took quiet a while as well. Someday maybe they’ll all get incorporated into Google Transit, which is amazing, but for now it’s a nightmare to figure out. I think in the end it took me longer to figure out how to make the trip than it would have to take it… which I decided not to do anyway.

A few days later I tried to figure out if I could take a bus from Long Beach to Aliso Viejo (South Orange County). If I was willing to walk a couple miles it was indeed possible and would only take me three hours to get where I could drive in 45 minutes… Fortunately this time, Orange County’s transit system is on Google Transit, so figuring it out is quick, but again it doesn’t make a very appealing way to get there. Especially since it would require a couple miles of walking even though there is a bus stop literally in front of Elena’s in Long Beach and on the corner of the public park I was trying to get too.

Over the last several weeks there were other futile explorations until I woke up today with an idea for a different approach. Instead of trying to figure out how to get to places via public transit that I needed or wanted to go, I decided to figure out where I could get to using the public transit system and then what I might want do there. So I walked out Elena’s front door and got on the bus which I knew before getting on would take me to the Long Beach Transit Mall, from which I was 99% sure I could get on the Metro Blue Line to LA. After 15 minutes of waiting for the bus, 15 minutes of riding the bus and maybe 5 minutes of waiting for the train I was on the Blue Line headed into Los Angeles. I wasn’t exactly where I was headed, but I figured that I could always just turn around and go home if I ended up somewhere lame… fortunately I didn’t.

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Originally I planned on just trying to make it to union station and then walk around down town a bit, see what I found and then head home. However about 20 minutes into the ride on the Metro Blue Line a different destination came to me, Chinatown. The Blue Line made it to Metro Center, somewhere I may explore next time. After exiting the train however I looked at a map and determined that indeed if I transferred to the Metro Red Line I’d make it to Union Station as originally planned and if I then transferred to the Gold Line and traveled just one more stop would indeed reach Chinatown. I arrived in Chinatown a little over two hours after getting on the bus in Long Beach. Driving would have taken a little under an hour depending on traffic and not counting time it’d take to find parking. Which today, being a weekday, wouldn’t have been bad. All told the round-trip cost me $6.90, and that is in part because I was lazy and not sure where I’d go so I bought a Metro day pass for $5.00 even though it might have been slightly cheaper buying individual tickets. The bus was $0.90 each way. All told I went to Chinatown and back, had some great food, practiced a little of my mandarin (mostly listening as I’m still shy about speaking it) and had a great adventure… all things I find lacking in my life back in the USA. For comparison spending on which of my cars I took driving there and back would have cost about $16 in gas and require about $3.50 for parking, so let’s call it $20.

I learned to things today, first to think of public transportation in Southern California from the standpoint of where one CAN go, rather than as a means to get somewhere specific, and second that blind adventure can be had in the USA with fun results

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