Buses and other walks of life
It happened in LA. We usually hop in and out of taxis when abroad as figuring out how ticket machines and public transport systems work in other countries is on a par with figuring out how the shower taps work – it’s a bit hit and miss and you never know when you’re going to get doused in cold water, figuratively or literally. Anyway, on this particular morning we decided to bite the bullet and try taking a local bus from Hollywood Boulevard to fashionable The Grove shopping mall. Having checked a timetable to establish that we were waiting to travel in the right direction and the number of our bus, we confidently got on when one finally arrived. We asked our driver to help us get off at the right stop, then two of us stood while two of us took the two remaining seats at the front.
We all lurched forward slightly as the bus set off, weaving its way through the LA traffic until we reached the next stop where a small group of presumably local inhabitants were patiently waiting. These people were obviously not the Hollywood stars and fancy studio creators that resided in the top-dollar, high-security houses in Beverly Hills that we had seen that very morning from a very different bus; no, these good folk were regular people – workers, senior citizens, mothers with children and goodness knows who else – and between them they represented a diverse range of ages and communities.
As the bus door swished open, the first passenger in line – a rather large, older white lady – pulled herself slowly onto the bus. She was dressed in a faded summer dress and walked with a shabby stick, but she beamed with pleasure as she tottered precariously towards the seat she was offered. She plopped down with a soft thud, thanked her benefactor, put her handbag on her knee and settled in for the ride. Clearly a pleasure in itself. Meanwhile, an even larger, black lady was being offered a different seat. She was well dressed in a flamboyant frock with good solid shoes and a Sunday hat. She smiled as I stood up to give my seat to the grateful Hispanic gentleman who got on behind her, which is when I saw that she only had three teeth. Huh? I wondered what her story was. By now I was fascinated with this other side of LA.
We shuffled towards the back to make room for the other passengers climbing aboard. Once everyone was settled, our bus abruptly set off again. Clinging on for dear life, we wobbled around as one as we continued our route down N. Fairfax Avenue, stopping repeatedly to allow Angelenos to get off and on. I truly believe we were the only tourists on board. And as each new set of strangers joined the bus, I wondered who they were and where they came from. And what kind of lives these people lead when they are so near and yet seemingly so far from the city’s famous glitz and glamour.
All too soon our driver hollered “The Grove!” We wriggled passed the remaining passengers and left the bus. I think we were the only ones who did. Shopping at The Grove was clearly not on their agenda. We, on the other hand, had a list of where and what we wanted to see, but as we approached the designer stores and specialist boutiques, I was thrilled that my children had learned not everything that glitters in LA is gold – it could simply be the smile of an old lady being offered a seat on a crowded bus.