A Fine Commute
Thursday, I had a deposition downtown. I took the train in to the city, and only a tactical decision kept me from taking it back. It’s something I will endeavor to do again.
Los Angeles has never been a community that has really embraced public transportation. There is an extensive network of busses in and around Los Angeles, but these are not part of the urban mythological landscape at all. Compare this to BART in San Francisco, the Metro in DC, the El in Chicago, the “T” in Boston, and most of all the subway network in New York: in all of these great American cities, various kinds of rail transport is simply part of what it is to exist in those cities.
But Los Angeles, viewed through that same sort of local culture lens, is all about driving your own car to get where you want to go. The phrase “car culture” is often very explicitly about Southern California and Los Angeles in particular.
And for me personally, the typical reason I need to get downtown is to go to court. Especially now that I live in the exurbs, it’s a bit of a drive into the city, which is something of a pain, but I’ve always driven it anyway. Court typically starts at 8:30 and there aren’t any trains that would reliably get me downtown in sufficient time to make it to court timely (I have to transfer to the subway and clear security and check in before the judge takes the bench). So rather than wake up at a ridiculously early hour, I’ve driven.
But the last five times I’ve had to go to downtown its been two and a half or more hours in the car, and now that I’ve got a manual transmission that’s particularly miserable. In the past I’ve not used commuter rail because driving has been faster. I’ve also noticed that parking rates have been going up downtown too, at least in the buildings within the financial district and civic center where I’m like to go.
It occurred to me that if traffic is going to continue to not just suck but super-suck the way it’s been lately, rail might be a better alternative after all for something that occurs after 8:30 a.m. And the schedule is such that if the train meets its timetable, it appeared that I could reliably get to a 10:00 deposition by catching the 7:00 train (relatively) near my home. So I tried it.
I got to the station just in time to see the earlier train pulling away. Oh, well. The computer interface at the ticket station gave me a confusing message about my ticket — one-way tickets must be used within three hours of purchase and there are no outbound trains departing in the next three hours. Huh? I have to flag down a security guard who walks me through the process. “I’m trying to buy a round-trip ticket, and I’m currently headed inbound. Why this warning message? Am I buying the wrong ticket?” Turns out no, I’ve done everything right, and she doesn’t know why I got that warning. Everyone gets it. But I get the round trip ticket I wanted and move on.
A text from my client came through at that point, advising me that he’d elected to drive, and left about the same area as me about half an hour earlier than the train took off. So this was going to turn in to a good experiment.
The train arrived early by four minutes. There were about a dozen passengers in my car when I got on at the third stop. While passengers in professional attire like me were in the minority, a handful were in suits, or at least dressy-casual for those offices that still have such dress codes. A panhandler worked the train, using something that might or might not have been sign language and flashing a business card telling me to “Smile!” and fine print that I was certain solicited money.
There is no wi-fi connection on the Metrolink. This seems a rather significant omission.
I might have slept, had I been very tired. There was a fussing toddler, but he wasn’t really all that bad except for a few moments and that’s kind of to be expected. But the only real annoyances were the panhandler (who only worked the train once) and a woman who decided to start a conversation with the mother of the fussing toddler right in front of me about how The Lord Jesus appeared to her and saved her life on an operating table contrary to the prediction of some doctor; she repeats this story roughly eighteen dozen times in slightly different permutations over the course of forty-five minutes before she finally has to come up for breath. A trivial annoyance, since it wasn’t me on the receiving end of the sermon.
The first hour of the not quite two hour ride is actually kind of pretty. The train runs past the Shambala Preserve, but unfortunately I don’t see any of the animals outside that day. The hills gradually fade out of the high desert sagebrush biome and become studded with oak trees, until we go through a tunnel, and emerge in Sylmar. Everything turns urban and industrial, with various subspecies of auto shops, strip clubs, and the graffitioed cinderblock backs of warehouses facing the tracks. It’s not like I expected views of the Getty Villa.
The train arrived at Union Station pretty much exactly on time. Subway cars ran out of Union Station (on a different rail system) every five minutes or so. I got to the office of my client’s deposition more than half an hour early, and twenty minutes before my client got there. You’ll recall from above that I learned that he left from basically the same starting point half an hour before me, which meant it took him fifty minutes longer to get to the same place as me. He also paid $5.00 more in parking than I paid in train and subway far.
Well, that’s a clear win for the train even before we consider that I had less stress, the ability to write and possibly bill for my time, and access to a toilet. (Seriously, the last time I had to drive downtown it took me three hours creeping along at ten miles an hour on the freeway and I damn near peed myself before I got into the courthouse and could seek relief.)
As it turns out on this trip, the deposition ran very long. But I could have refused to allow it to run long and come back the next day. But my client did have a car there, and I didn’t want to give the other attorney a chance to think about my client’s answers to her questions and to think of more, harder questions for him to answer, overnight. And we stayed late enough that I would have missed the very last train back, and would have needed to have made other arrangements to get back home. But I could have said at about 5:00, “Okay, I’ve gotta catch my train, so let’s come back tomorrow and finish it then” and taken the train home.
I’m going downtown again on Tuesday for another 10:00, so I think I’m going to do it again. This sort of thing may be old hat for those of you who live in cities with well-established commuter transportation networks, but the fact that a commute to downtown worked out to be almost pleasant was a great novelty for this Angeleno.
Still haven’t decided if I want to incorporate the train into my commute for an in-person 8:30 court appearance, though. Metrolink needs to do a better job scheduling a train around that particular need.
Image source: wikimedia commons, with modifications by the author. (Illustrated: the Metrolink station in Lancaster, California.)
Burt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.
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