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California Transportation

I think I’m still a bit of an anomaly here in California, in that I still don’t like driving, and I’m fond of public transpiration. I have three ‘Transit’ cards right now: Chicago, LA, and San Francisco. OCTA, the bus system around the OC, doesn’t have that, but they have a 5-ride-pass, which I’ll pick up since they never expire (yay!) and that’s easier than finding $2. By the way, when I moved here in October the price was $1.50. Interesting.

It’s a total accident that I live near public transportation here. My mother picked the place, and I signed paperwork, site unseen, so that it fits my lifestyle so well is hilarious. It’s quiet, it’s got tall ceilings and space, a garage, and the only complaint I have is that my mailbox is in a weird spot.

But I’m weird, in that I do take the bus about once a month. There’s a bus that runs from a block from home to a block from work. That same bus runs to the train station, where I can get a ride to LA. And that’s what I did today.

DreamHost has an office near where I work, but also one in LA where my buddy Shredder works. Today was a day for training, so instead of carpooling I thought I should take the train. In part, this was because the Mrs. needed the car, but also I really hate driving on the LA freeways. Various trip planners said the trip should be about 90 minutes, which isn’t that bad at all, so I hopped on the 8am train to LA Union Station. I could have the bus, but it was easy for me to be dropped off, so hey, it was a 6 minute drive.

The light rail (aka MetroLink) is interesting. I’ve ridden a lot of trains, from Amtrak up and down this state (seriously, from Santa Barbara to Del Mar 4 times a year for three years), to the NYC subway. I spent over a decade on Chicago’s CTA and Metra, and I even made my way around Japan’s disparate system. Talk about wild, Japan’s train system is owned by multiple companies with different train gauges per system.

In that way, it’s similar to the MetroLink, which is not the same company as Amtrak or their Surfliner. That’s all they have in common, though. The MetroLink shares the track with Amtrak (and possibly there’s another rail system that uses it too). Amtrak’s SurfLiner run is, however, $4 more per trip and has fewer trains… But they have more amenities, as I found out taking it back from Anaheim to Solana Beach once.

The MetroLink is no-frills, but not cheap either. It’s very much in the mode of all Californian trains I’ve seen, and plasticy. If you’re familiar with the East Coast subway and trains, we go for metal. The CTA is metal walls, sometimes with faux wood. The Metra is metal and padded seats. Everything in California is plastic. Molded and clean plastic, but plastic.

This only reinforced my very first impression of all this, which was “Aww, look, they’re trying to act like public transportation!” Everything was insanely quaint, even the quality of the crazy people (which was about the same ratio of crazy to commuter as you get anywhere else).

All of that aside, it was painless. I got my ticket from a machine, got on, had a human look at my ticket and put a marker at my seat to indicate where I was getting off (yeah, that was weird, weirder was that an LA County sheriff did it on the way back), and the signs were easy to follow all the way from the MetraLink to the LA Subway. That was a nice three-stop jaunt to the LA Office, and off I went to work.

The way back was weirder, since I didn’t actually know the name of the train I wanted. I knew I took the Orange County Line coming in, and that it’s color was orange, but there are LA Metro trains (see there’s this third trainline) and Amtrak at the same station. As it turns out, there were two trains I could have taken home, the orange and the pale-blue, however neither are labeled with their colors but by their final destinations. I ended up taking the orange home, not knowing I could have caught a 10 minute earlier pale-blue, and my train home was 10 minutes late, but still, it was only a 45 minute ride from LA Union Station to home.

Really that’s not bad. Yes, it sucks to take a train to a train, but given the distance commuted, I’m okay with that. Also they’re way more generous about bikes on trains here (like you’re allowed to do that in rush hour). If I had to do something like this once a month, I’d be way less stressed than if I tried to drive in LA traffic, that’s for goddamn sure. According to maps, it’s the same kind of commute my father has from Ageo to Tokyo, so it’s really nothing (including the two or three trains/busses). With a bicycle, I could zip to the station, too!

Random: Google Maps says to drive from LA to Tokyo, I must first drive to Washington State, sail to Hawaii, drive across Hawaii, and then sail to Japan. Okay then.