Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Public Displays of Transportation

Public Transportation seems to be a tricky beast. Some cities just get it right. The trains are clean, the buses have simple, yet comprehensive routes, and the price is right. Then there are the losers of this battle of the people-movers.

Los Angeles actually has an interesting story behind its (lack of) public transportation. Apparently, there was a time when LA was a leader in mass transit. In the 1920’s and into the 40’s, Los Angeles boasted one of, if not the world’s largest rail systems. That all changed when General Motors along with a consortium of money-hungry oil and rubber companies decided to buy the rail lines, pave them, and replace them with oil-and-rubber-burning busses -- or so goes the conspiracy.

Whatever the reason behind modern day LA’s transit woes, the consensus is that nobody walks or rides the bus these days – in fact, everybody is driving in LA, and for a good reason.

Well, yesterday I rode the bus in LA for the first time ever, and it really wasn’t that bad.

I was stranded at the office in Downtown LA, and I had to get back to Johnny’s place (my current pseudo-residence / squat) in Miracle Mile. I went to and punched in my starting and ending cross-streets. I was instantly greeted with a page informing me that I should take the Metro 28 towards Culver City, the ride would take about 15 minutes, and I’d have to walk 1/3 of a mile. Additionally, the page informed me that the bus price was $1.25 and that according to AAA, the driving cost would be about $3.32 (that’s 56.2 cents per mile for all you nerdy math kids).

Armed with my new arsenal of information, I slipped my laptop into my backpack, locked up the office, and headed for the bus stop. After a short wait and a quick fumble with the automatic, onboard cash-taking machine, I was on my way home – and it didn’t even smell like urine!

Sure, the bus wasn’t super-clean, and sure there was a weirdo / crack-head who was mumbling to himself WHILE trying to hit on the terrified Mexican woman sitting in front of him, but this was LA – these things were commonplace in almost any setting!

Whether you’re leaving the office or leaving a posh Hollywood club, there will always be a crack-head, and there will always be a junky, and there will always be a terrified Mexican woman (well, hopefully not). What would LA be without its crack-heads and junkies and supposedly shitty, but undeniably convenient bus system? Well, it just wouldn’t be LA.

The ride I took was pretty simple: a straight shot from Downtown to Miracle Mile. On longer and more confusing busventures, I can understand why people would rather drive. Hell, I had a good experience on the bus and I’d still rather drive -- it's just convenient. But with the internet making life easier and easier, the intricate (albeit confusing) bus system already in place, and the Red Line expansion plans of the Metro, I can see some definite potential in LA’s public transportation.

Coming to the rescue could be Google, who, in yet another bold move towards world domination, has launched Google Transit Labs ( which is basically a way awesomer and way more national version of MTA’s Los Angeles website. Right now, Google Transit Labs only supports a few cities around the US, including Burbank, Seattle, Portland, Austin, Honolulu, et al. You type in your starting and ending locations and you get a Google map, with detailed instructions and information including distances, routes, walking and riding times, and sweet and simple graphics.

Anyway, ride the bus, kids. It’s good for the environment, you can feel self-righteous and hip, and you can meet random crack-heads to talk about with your rich friends at cocktail parties, you rich yuppie bastard.

Oh, and since you’re busing and metroing around, maybe I could borrow your H2?

Monday, April 9, 2007

LA, SC, and AZ

I woke up early to pick up a cargo van for a distribution run, up north. I called Enterprise to schedule my pickup, only to find out that my license had expired and that they wouldn’t rent me a cargo van without a valid ID – great start to a long morning.

To be fair, I knew my license was expired. I had run into problems at bars with strict bouncers in the last few weeks. They would scan the ID, tell me it was expired, and I would stand there with a “so what?” look on my trouble-making face. They would inevitably explain that they couldn’t let me in without a valid ID, to which I would quip that the fact that my license was EXPIRED only made it more clear that I was obviously old enough to be in a bar. Just because my Driving privileges had expired, didn’t mean that I had gotten any younger, did it?

The bouncers never liked me much after that little speech, so I started carrying around my passport to avoid any confrontations. It never occurred to me to actually renew my license.

So there I was, in desperate need of a cargo van before my pickup location closed at 1PM (he keeps strange hours, and seems strangely proud of this fact). To add insult to injury, my Karmann Ghia was still in Nor Cal, so I had to take a cab to the DMV, all the while anticipating disgruntled employees and long lines with smelly patrons – but who was I kidding, I was a smelly patron myself that morning, un-showered and unshaven.

Surprisingly, the wait was short – they actually have you take a number and wait in a staging area – with semi-comfortable blue plastic chairs. It was much less painful than usual, and I didn’t even have to ask anyone to punch me in the face to distract me from the horribleness.

So I renewed, and even got to take a much-needed new picture. I smiled my best smile, not even caring that I was unshaven, un-showered, and bummy with hat hair and all.

I had enterprise pick me up at the DMV, and I was able to make my pickup just in time! My distribution run was fairly uneventful. I drove all the way up the coast to Santa Cruz, where I met up with some friends for a boozey afternoon on the boardwalk, followed by a very boozey night on the town. good times, good people.

Next, I cruised back to LA, picked up some more mags, and left for Arizona. More work, more bozey evenings with friends, expensive wine, and cheap beer. All in all, a nice two weeks – lots of driving, lots of work, and lots of fun.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

probably the worst week of my life

I could feel it in the tingle of my skin – like every hair on my arm was straining to uproot itself and escape this poisoned body. I was coming down with something terrible. I could feel it in my bones and in my lungs.

The timing was all wrong. I was driving south on I-55 in a giant cargo van from Chicago to a small college town called Normal. Snow was falling lightly on the windshield and the radio stations warned of a possible storm. It was the start of a busy week for me and I didn’t have time for snow storms or sickness. I pulled off the highway to get some lunch and I stubbed out my Marlboro Light, vowing that I wouldn’t smoke again until this numb heavy feeling of sickness had subsided. A day or two, tops – right?

I made it to Normal, got a hotel, and went to sleep early. The next morning, I awoke to find that I was completely snowed in. The college was closed, as was just about everything else in Normal. And to top it all off, I felt like death was trying to claw its way out of my body, through my lungs. I was feverish and weak and could hardly get out of bed.

I lay lay there for hours, in a soggy bundle of itchy hotel sheets, waterlogged with my own fever sweat. Finaly, the necessity of hunger forced me to get up and search for food. No pizza delivery places were answering their phones, so I dug into my suitcase and put on everything warm that I could find. I stood, dizzy and numb at the door, braced myself for the cold, and then ran to my van with as much vigor as a person standing on dead legs can muster.

Sliding at every corner and spinning tires at every start, the van found its way to a Mexican restaurant that seemed to be open. I parked in the handicapped spot (at this point, I think I qualified), and found my way in side.

I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the hotel room again that night, so I ordered two meals, a quesadilla for later and enchiladas for right now. Luckily, there was a convenience store around the corner, so while they were making my food I bought some supplies. Nyquil, Dayquil, orange juice, Echinacea tablets, Tylenol, cough drops, and 4 bottles of Vitamin Water. I got my food and somehow made it back to the hotel. Of course, my keycard didn’t work, so I had to run to the front desk, fighting the stinging winds, to get it reset.

I tried to eat my enchiladas, but I found that they hadn't included any plastic eating utensils. I was floored. By this time it was late afternoon and I hadn’t eaten all day. I contemplated going back to the restaurant (too far), running back the front desk (too cold), and eating the quesadilla (too late) – I dug in with my hands and ate like a beast, face smeared with red enchilada sauce like the blood of a fresh kill.

Sated, but sick, I drank my OJ, popped two Echinacea and two Nyquil, tossed aside the ravaged corpse of my enchilada platter, and got into bed. I passed out almost immediately, and awoke a few times to hydrate and pee, and eat some of my quesadilla.

Throughout the next week, the sickness only progressed. I had to stay on the move, going from college campus to college campus, dropping off magazines and promoting at travel fairs. I hardly remember getting any work done, wandering around in a daze of sickness and Dayquil. At one point, I think it was Valentine’s day in Milwaukee, I actually hallucinated that there was a man sitting on my bed, telling me that I had to get up and drink water or I would die.

“I can’t do it,” I managed to say, probably out loud. But he was persistent, and forced me to get up, pee and drink some cold tap water – I lived.

The fever broke, the bronchitis set in, and I spent the next few days coughing up mucus and nastiness, struggling with the below freezing temperatures of Wisconsin. Every time I inhaled it was like the freezing air was cutting my lungs to shreds with a thousand tiny ice Chrystal razor blades. Near the end of the trip I actually coughed up blood – a terrifying experience that I hope to never repeat.

Eventually I made it back to Los Angeles, weary and still coughing. I don’t think I’ve ever been that happy to be home.

It is now March 17th, over a month since that first day of sickness. I am proud to say that I haven’t smoked a sober cigarette since February 12th. I still smoke when I drink, but I’m now on the road to a much healthier life - I even started jogging!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone, I’m off to the local pub to drink some Guinness (and probably smoke some cigarettes).

New readers: please subscribe to my blog by enterinig your email into the box on the upper right. You will only be contacted when I update – no spam, I promise!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

home sweet homeless

My flight back from Israel was long and uncomfortable. I had spent that morning riding horses, mountain biking, and four-wheeling in the Maktesh Ramon, and my back was not happy to be constrained to an El Al economy seat for sixteen hours. I was lucky to have an entire row to myself on the almost full flight, but it was still an uncomfortable ride. Three movies, two meals, and sixteen hours later, I was back in Los Angeles.

I spun the click-wheel of my iPod to the song “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” by The Decemberists. I smiled as Colin Meloy crooned out the lyrics, “How I abhor this place, its sweet and bitter taste has left me wretched, retching on all fours… Los Angeles, I’m Yours.”

Home sweet homeless.

I tried to hitch a ride from the airport to no avail, and resorted to calling Johnny for a ride. I got back to Johnny’s place, threw all my clothes in the washer, then headed to the office for a full day of work on the new issue of Student Traveler. Around 9PM, I ended up back at Johnny’s along with Murph, Kenny, Scott, and April. We proceeded to booze it up, and ended up at Molly’s for a pint of Guinness. Good friends and good beer - what a great way to end a very long day.

The next morning I hopped in a van full of magazines and headed north on a distribution run. The last few days, I’ve been driving around the SF Bay Area, delivering mags to various college campuses. Tonight, I head to Davis, where I hope to have dinner with my dad and Kevin and Eve before headed south on another distribution run.

Next week, I head to Chicago.

I’d like to welcome any new readers to my Blog. I’ve met a lot of great people on the road, and it would be great to keep in touch with all of you. This blog is a great way to keep tabs on me. So, if you’re interested in staying updated, please enter your email in the bar to the right and then check your email (maybe junk mail) for a message from FeedBlitz. You won’t get spammed, you’ll just get an email whenever I update this blog.

Also, check these links for all the pics from my Europe and Israel trips:



Sunday, January 28, 2007

in the desert

The phone rang at 4:45AM and I shot out of bed and grabbed the receiver. The person on the line said something in Hebrew and hung up.

It took me a minute to realize that I was in Israel, in the desert, and that the phone the phone call was my wakeup call. I rolled out of bed, washed my face, laced up my sneakers, and hit the door. I met my driver, Niso, in the hotel lobby and we were on the road by 5:15.

It was still dark outside, and the surface of the dead sea, smooth as glass, reflected the lights of the hotel district. There are no towns out here in the desert – just the dead sea, a couple of beach access points, a kibbutz, and a small hotel district. In between locations, there are miles and miles of space- desert, rocks, mountains, and long roads leading away from Jerusalem and deeper into the desert.

We were driving down one of those long roads, headed towards Masada, an old fortification, built on a plateau just a few miles from the dead sea. We arrived at the trail head and started our hike in the dark. The ruins of Masada are only about 100 feet above sea level, but remember that we are at the dead sea, which is the lowest piece of dry land on earth - 1300 feet below sea level.
The hike was a killer – my lungs were burning and my calf muscles were twitching, but it was worth it - the view was stunning and we were able to watch the sun rise over the dead sea. The day before, I had floated in the super-salty water of the dead sea, and covered myself with the dark mud from its shores (it’s meant to be good for your skin). The water was so salty that it burned your skin, and so buoyant that I couldn’t submerge myself past my collarbone to wash the mud off my neck.

Anyway, the view from Masada was awesome - I took some snapshots of the Dead Sea and the surrounding area (you can see Jordan on the far side of the sea), I toured the ruins, and then hiked back down the mountain.
We then drove to meet with Adam, who lead us on a short hike, culminating in a repel down a 60 foot cliff – very cool.
That afternoon, we took a Landover through the Negev desert, hiked to a small oasis in the middle of nowhere, and had a wine tasting at a local winery / bed and breakfast.
It’s now 10:30PM and I’m finally about to sleep– it’s been a long day, by anyone’s standards. Tomorrow, we will visit the Machtesh Ramon, the largest erosion crater in the world.


The city of Jerusalem is unlike any place I’ve ever been. The layers of history run deep in this city, and it’s hard to fully appreciate it all in just two days. It is a place where history and religious stories come alive, and it is a nexus of religions and cultures. There are Jews, Muslims, Christians, and representatives from many other religions and orders in this holy city.

There was so much information and there were so many sights and sites, that I’m still trying to take it all in. I saw The Temple on the Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I went to the Yad Vashem and their Holocaust museum, saw the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum, and stayed in a hotel with a view of Mt Zion.

Besides all the history and religion, Jerusalem is a lively and inviting city. There are hectic markets where locals rush to buy their groceries before the Sabbath, and there are bars and clubs and cafes full of young people.

This blog does no justice to the city, or to my experiences therein. I’ll have to revisit this at another time and try to do it justice.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


My flight landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport at 4:30 AM. In a groggy haze, I made my way through the airport, not looking forward to the customs checkpoint. Before my flight, I had been singled out and searched excessively at Heathrow, and I expected a repeat of the strict Israeli security and too many questions at customs.

To my surprise, I was greeted at the bottom of the escalator by a young man holding a sign with my name on it (being a writer does have its perks). He whisked me through customs, introduced me to my tour guide (Mike), and I was off to the Sheraton Marion Hotel in Tel Aviv. Luckily, I had time for a nap before our tour of Tel Aviv and Jaffa.

That morning, awoke to the sun pouring in through my hotel window. It had been dark when I arrived, and I hadn’t realized that the hotel was right on the beach – and it was a very nice hotel. The weather was perfect, the beach looked beautiful, and so I took a walk in search of cigarettes and breakfast. Later, I met the rest of the group and we wandered around the city with our guide – our official introduction to Israel. Tel Aviv is a very modern city, and Jaffa is the old city adjacent– it is full of alleyways and artists, but has fallen on hard times in recent years and seemed almost deserted.

The next day we drove to Caesarea, an ancient port city built by King Herod, now restored with shops nestled inside ruins. The area has a beautiful coastline and in the summer it is a popular weekend hangout. Next, we drove north towards Haifa, but took a (planned) detour through some banana plantations to check out a skydiving center. Somehow, I ended up jumping out of an airplane that afternoon.

The Ministry of Tourism had arranged for one of us to skydive, and I was volunteered for the job. To be honest, I was completely terrified, but the staff made me very comfortable and before I knew it, I was wearing a jumpsuit, strapped to an instructor, and speeding down a runway in an old Cessna airplane. We ascended to 11,000 feet, they opened the doors, and I jumped. To be fair, the guy I was strapped to jumped, I just sat there trying not to freak out. The freefall was exhilarating, but it only lasted for about 50 seconds. After that, the ripcord was pulled and we floated gently back towards earth. The view was pretty incredible. Below me was the Stunning Mediterranean coastline of Israel, just north was the city of Haifa, and beyond that was Mt. Hermon and the border with Syria.

All in all, it was an incredible experience, and I’m glad that I went through with the jump, despite my original hesitation.

Currently, I’m in Jerusalem, which is an incredible city. There is so much history here, it’s really overwhelming. I’ll have post a Jerusalem update on another day, once I soak it all in.