Scene from a Bus: Introductory Article

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By DnA contributor Sunil Rampersad:

“Nobody walks in LA,” so the song goes, meaning that “nobody” uses the bus either. (It has been found that there is a direct link in most cities between pedestrian traffic and the number of people taking public transportation.)

But just as people DO walk in LA (Thom Anderson’s documentary, Los Angeles Plays Itself, shows downtown Broadway overflowing with pedestrians), an invisible community of millions of Angelenos rides the bus. I am one of that 11.2 percent of Angelenos who does not drive and always uses public transportation. I am also a graphic designer with a keen eye for my surroundings so I find that riding the bus is an adventure, taking me through neighborhoods and revealing sights that are off the radar screen of the automobile driver.

One could say that the public transit rider experience might be likened to being a passenger in a car. But that’s a loose comparison at best. For one thing, passengers tend to be engaged in conversation with the driver that can divert us from experiencing the urban tapestry streaming by. Also, drivers tend to take the quickest route between destinations, hopping on a freeway if its an option; driving past faster, and at a greater distance from the urban landscape making it difficult to make out, few if any, of the interesting details.

With public transportation, for the most part, we’re traveling with strangers on buses that meander through side streets thus offering a closer and slower experience of the city. But the biggest difference is that riding public transit also means walking — to the bus or train — and then waiting, offering ample opportunity for sightseeing. What follows is my visual diary of architecture, signage and other quirky urban sights “scene from the bus.”


Experiencing the city on foot is a huge part of public transportation. At this, much closer proximity and slower pace, we tend to notice things we would not have otherwise. Beginning from the time you leave home heading for the bus stop (affording you a chance to experience your own neighborhood), you’ll find yourself walking again when you arrive at your final stop. And if it so happens that your travels take you into an area you’re not as familiar with, the walk to your destination can be filled with interesting discoveries. Happy accidents like this building (a former synagogue – look carefully above the entrance you might notice the ‘ten commandments’ motif) done in a style I can only describe as neo-Byzantine and which I happened upon on my way to a destination in Koreatown.


Once you’ve been taking public transportation for a while you become resigned to the fact that depending on the vagaries of the system you’re either going to arrive very early or very late, and rarely exactly on time. If you’re like me then you’d choose the former situation. But what do you do with the extra time if you’re early? I usually walk around the area I happen to be in, something that occurred a few days ago at Jefferson and Vermont, where finding myself with a few extra minutes, I walked a few blocks down the street. In one of the balconies (of what I assumed was a student’s apartment, since the USC campus was on the other side of the street) I spied this (Jamba) Juice sign. One wonders if the ‘Jamba’ part was taken off on purpose and if so what meaning was intended.


Waiting has to be the most despised aspect of taking public transportation. Yet unless you’re stressed out because the bus is late, waiting around at the bus stop allows you time to soak up everything around you. And at times its surprising what you might find. Like, this hilarious sign, its letters all out of whack, which I happened to notice from a bus stop.


Then just beyond the sign I spied a nondescript wall just a few feet away, which contained among the unimpressive signage almost totally covering it, a few washed-out letters in a retro font that spoke of some bygone era.


Intrigued I walked to the curb to see more of the building of which this wall was a part and beheld this amazing bowling alley!


Our technological advances have change how we perceive time and space. And as such how we relate to our world. At a human scale it does not take thirty minutes to traverse ten miles (depending on the person, thirty minutes might not even equate to one mile). Like it or not, public transportation forces you to experience the city at the human level again.

Now I don’t expect everyone to run out, buy bus-passes and join me on the bus, but rather check out this column to get a taste of the experience right here via Scene From the Bus.