An earlier version of this article about traveling by bus in Los Angeles misstated the route of the No. 720 Rapid. It goes near, but not through, Century City. This version has been corrected.
Getting around the city of cars without a car
Friday, January 28, 2011; 2:58 PM
The sun crests over the Circle K gas station sign, warming the left side of my face. It's sunny and warm on the corner of National and Bundy near the I-10 and the Santa Monica Airport.
I'm in Los Angeles. City of cars. I've got a buck-fifty in hand, and I'm waiting for the bus. Small trucks, cars and vans whiz past, jockeying for position on the four-lane street. Most vehicles are bereft of passengers. Three out of 10 drivers are yakking on cell phones. Seven out of 10 are scowling.
And me? I couldn't be more relaxed. The decision to take the bus around town instead of renting a car has introduced Zen-like flexibility into my otherwise rush-rush-rush mentality. There's no need to enter the traffic fray. No worrying about reading signs or getting irritated if the GPS malfunctions. Best of all, I don't have to find a parking spot.
"The bus will come when it comes," says my inner Buddha.
And so it does.
For the record, I know how to drive, like to drive, and had intended to rent a car on this recent trip to the City of Angels.
But my friend said, "You won't need a car" - before realizing that I'd be in town on days when she had to work.
So what began as a favor from my friend - I'll drop you at the Getty Center and you can take the bus home - became my personal challenge: How far can I go without wheels of my own, and what can I do? The answer: Far, and a lot.
Today's destination is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA. (Big Blue Bus No. 14; transfer to Metro Rapid No. 720.) Earlier, I had plotted my route on my laptop, and I'm also carrying a super-sized map picked up yesterday on the bus from the Getty. (Metro Rapid No. 761; transfer to Big Blue Bus No. 14.)
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, and Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus lines crisscross the city. Schedules, routes and fares are available online, and the buses - at least the routes I'm riding - are amply stocked with maps and timetables. On the Metro Web site, you can enter a starting point and destination into the system and get a customized itinerary saying what line to take, where to catch it, where to exit and what it costs. And yes, they have an app for that.
I expect my fellow riders to be students, a smattering of retirees and Angelenos of all ages and races commuting to work. All true. I'm also convinced that I'll be the only tourist on the bus. Only half true. Though I hear Spanish, French, Italian and clipped British-accented English among couples and families clutching guidebooks and maps, I seem to be the only American tourist onboard.
At 11 a.m., the No. 14 bus isn't crowded. At Wilshire Boulevard, I hop off and find the well-marked stop - with maps and schedules posted - to transfer to the No. 720 Rapid to Fairfax Avenue. There's no rapid travel on this Rapid, especially when returning at rush hour, but the route is pleasant, going near Century City, winding through Beverly Hills, passing Rodeo Drive.