Last December marked the four year anniversary of my becoming a regular train commuter in Los Angeles. Before gas was $4 and way before gas became $2 I would take three trains to get to work and three trains to get back home. I still do. And did this morning.
When I got on the train this morning I went for an open window seat next to some sullen-faced girl. I asked "Can I grab that seat?" and she wordlessly pointed to the four available seats in front of her. Those seats are for seniors & disabled and I don't like taking those. I feel guilty if I don't give them up to some round-bellied teenager or wobbly old man. I'd rather stand than sit there. So I gleefully reminded her "I'm sorry but you don't own this train. Now I'm most definitely taking that seat," and climbed over her to sit down. She got up with a huff and sat in one of the open seats she suggested I take. And sure enough at the next stop about 60 third graders piled into the car and surrounded her, stumbling with each lurch of the train and falling on top of her stuff while demonstrating various gymnastic techniques.
Taking the train means interacting with members of society. Directly. There is no car horn and you can't roll up your windows if you make enemies. And she's lucky I didn't get within a few inches of her face and really let her have it. I have taken many train systems around the world (Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Dublin, Rome, Paris, London, Amsterdam) and none are as miserable as Los Angeles. In all those other cities trains are the great equalizer. In Los Angeles, only the brokest of the broke ride the train as it careens through one impoverished community after another, together but not united, longing for the next day where we won't have to ride the train.