What it's like - In transit through L.A.

After an evening in Pasadena I board the Gold line at Fillmore Station. I complete a phone call as the train heads southwest, away from the San Gabriel Valley toward Downtown Los Angeles. As we stop at the Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park station I see the lights of thousands of East L.A. homes twinkling out the window beside me, as if Christmas had lingered a little into the New Year. A green half moon hangs heavily in the sky above the 10, so close to the ground it seems one could reach it by car. A minute or two later I look out the opposite window of the narrow train to see the blue and red neon outline of pagodas marking the next neighborhood I will travel through.

“Approaching Chinatown Station,” a man's recorded voice announces, the volume on the car's speakers too loud for the last train of a midweek evening. Riders hold their ears and momentarily interrupt phone calls. In one corner, a woman, who for the past three stops bobbed between slumber and what seems a trance-like state jolts awake, her hands grasping the white, curved handlebars of the bike she has propped in front of her.

In the same moment a wave of familiarity washes over me here alongside the L.A. River. As the street lamps and billboards and taillights fade into the darkness I slip away from the Los Angeles I know, jostled into a new awareness by the thought of the path I am threading through the urban fabric.

I find myself all over the world. Now I am headed toward downtown Portland, Maine aboard the #6 bus, gazing at the B&M Baked Beans factory standing starkly against the gray skies and grayer waters of the Casco Bay. A moment later I find myself on Portland Oregon's MAX, where I see a net of concrete and steel and iron bridges crossing the same Willamette River I ride above. Then my thoughts shift and I cross the Rhine, I cross borders and history on the bus from France's Strasbourg to Germany's Kehl to buy Turkish Doner Kebab and American peanut butter. I find myself back in Strasbourg, listening to Tunisians and Moroccans joking in the center of Le Tram, the wide steel tube they ride day and night from the banlieues of Meinau and Neudorf and Elsau toward the broad Place Kleber at Strasbourg's heart.

Familiar memories vector across my neural network, stitched together to form my life, as has begun to happen here, where I left my car at home, here, in L.A., the supposed Eden of automobiles. I reach my destination, spill out of the train and linger in Union Station as I finish my phone call. This night the station is falling asleep, like the quarter-dozen overladen travelers waiting for the late night bus to Bakersfield. Janitors mop the day away between the old tan leather and wood chairs, the solid, welcoming remnants of a grand past.

Just yesterday I lingered on one of these chairs watching dust dance through streams of sunlight. I gnoshed on a messy bagel sandwich as I processed a Metro committee meeting I had just visited.

There, Metro board members brimmed with impatience and frustration, frustration that grand plans to clear the stifled circulatory system of this creature sprawled across hills and valleys and long forgotten scrubland. As I watched the workday wander by, the wide-eyed midwestern families, the men in suits, the women in silk blouses and heels, the tired college students, even the silent, red-faced man who furiously stuck a flier about aliens in my face or the young Asian-American movie star surreptitiously posing for a magazine photo shoot I thought I felt a pulse. A light shudder here, a straining beat there as I watched the station catch its rhythm.

“I'm here,” I tell the woman I'm speaking to on the phone. I grope for change in my pockets and descend beneath a sign reading “Metro Red Line.”

“I have to get on the train now.”