When I was younger, I was more of a road (freeway) geek, simply because
we drove on a lot of them on family trips around LA. Transit, on the
other hand, meant loud, scary, smoky buses that could dump you in the
"wrong" neighborhood, if you didn't know what you were doing. . .
I never saw the inside of a transit bus until my first year of college
(1984) when I was taking a summer school course at UC Irvine. I didn't
have access to a car, so I rode the buses from La Verne to Irvine
three times a week. (The routes I used were RTD #187, #484 and #490, and
OCTD #49 and #65) This trip took about four hours each way.
At first, I just slept or read during the trips. (The longest wait
buses was at Cal Poly Pomona, so I often walked around there, to use
the bathroom, vending machine, computer room). A few weeks into the
semester, I began to notice patterns in the coach numbering system.
(for example, a #1000 series OCTA bus was a Flxible, a #2000 was an
RTS-II, etc.) Interesting.
Perhaps the bug bit when I noticed a discarded Culver City bus schedule
at one of the stops in Pomona. . .and remembered, when I was much
occasionally seeing bus stops other than the yellow "RTD" triangle
in certain parts of the city. Or perhaps it was when I saw one of the
Neoplan double deckers on Grand Ave in Glendora. Maybe it was when I
started planning a few transit trips, and likened to assembly language
programming (which I used to do a lot of back then).
After my UC Irvine class was over, but before I was to go back to
UC Santa Barbara (I was a full time student there), I did a few
I remember riding out to Ontario on RTD #484 (and paying an additional
fare at the Pomona/Montclair border), and maybe a couple other places
before I made my first Downtown trip--using that double decker #498
I mentioned earlier.
While downtown, first I went to the old RTD office
at 425 S. Main St to pick up some schedules. I grabbed some schedules,
but there were really too many bums around. So next, I went up to
Arco Plaza, a much nicer environment. On some of the maps and schedules,
there were lines indicating non-RTD service. I saw a few of these
systems Downtown: Montebello, Gardena, Torrance, Santa Monica. I rode
out to Inglewood on the #40 (catch me doing that today!) and rode
back Downtown, finishing out my trip with the #482 and #187. (I also
caught a ride on the #602, which was what became the Downtown DASH
around late 1985. . .)
Back in Santa Barbara, I rode the SBMTD buses around town--gave me more
range than my bike, although I was a bit disappointed that there was no
connection between them and "the rest of the world", as it were. I also
discovered Greyhound for trips home, although that Downtown LA Greyhound
station was no place to hang around. I'd run from Main St up to Flower,
to catch the #498 to Glendora, then transfer to #187. During breaks from
school, I'd try to do as many transit excursions as possible, getting
to know Greater Los Angeles. Bus rides to Torrance, Santa Monica, Long
Beach, San Bernardino/Riverside were favorites. On a couple of
excursions (to Oceanside and Santa Clarita), there was no real
transit, but I "cheated" a bit by using a Greyhound for that last little
stretch between systems.
I also started collecting schedules and maps. Just head for the phone
books in the library, get the addresses and zips of transit agencies,
fill out postcards and mail them, and I'd be rewarded in about a week
or so with neat-o transit stuff. I started out with the LA area
operators, moved on to the Bay Area, and eventually was sending out
requests from agencies across the country. By the time I actually
got a chance to take a trip to Chicago or San Francisco, I already
knew the local transit systems in these places so well, it was just
like stepping aboard an RTD bus "back home"!
A bit later, I also started to write to transit agencies when they
planned to modify service, etc. I remember one elaborate plan I
in 1986 to RTD, when they were planning to reduce service in the
Pomona area. I suggested that a local shuttle company replace service
on the residential routes . ..
Unfortuately, no one else I knew really shared my enthusiasm for
transit, so I just went it alone until late 1990, when I met some of
the members of the Los Angeles Transit League at a Glendale-based
transit meeting. I joined the group about a month later, and went to
all of their meetings. These meetings were not too well organized,
with everyone talking at once, and yammering about everything from
overpopulation to burning the flag. But they talked about transit
once in a while, and filled my head with dreams of elevated transit
on every arterial in LA (Hah!) So I stuck around, and got active.
The group eventually changed its name to the Southern California
Transit Advocates, and has matured quite a bit over the years.
(We've even got a web page that the local politicians like to poke
around from time to time: http://socata.lerctr.org )
Although I considered urban planning as a possible career, I decided
on librarianship instead. (Knowing some of the attitudes of certain
UCLA/USC urban planning faculty on transit, this was probably a good
thing!). I did have an intership at the RTD (now MTA) library in
1989, though, and got to develop their archives.