Tuesday started out just like every other day of my train commuting career: I did a bad iron job on my shirt, left late, hit every red light and forgot to take along some cash. Since it was a typical day, I was content.
At about 4 P.M. a monkey wrench walked into the scene at the radio station. It arrived in the form of a 90 year old water main break near UCLA. I dispatched reporter Steve Gregory to the gusher at about 4:16. Steve wasn’t pleased. “I just rolled back into Burbank,” he said. “It’s rush hour over there.” I didn’t think reminding him it was rush hour everywhere would help so I just suggested he get on his way. He thought it’d take him 2 hours to get there; I padded it and told the newsroom it’d be 3. He got there in 25 minutes. I didn’t ask how he pulled that one off.
Just as I was preparing to leave and catch the train out of Burbank, Flung Pu got on Channel 7. Of course we had to have the audio and I just happened to be watching KABC on my office TV which runs through a DVR. That DVR automatically caches 1 hour of programming.
Once I finished pulling that audio and sending it to John and Ken, I realized I had missed my train. And the train after that. So I had to take a shuttle bus to the North Hollywood Red Line station. And that’s where the real fun began.
I got off the bus and began making my way toward what looked like a circus: A man walking toward me while talking to himself and saying something about his mother, another guy leaping forward onto a bus and backward off the bus, then on and off while talking to whoever would listen. I was distracted from the circus for a moment when the driver of the bus I had exited 15 seconds ago began honking his horn. One of the riders left his bike on the front of the bus and began walking away. He corrected the error and then rode away.
As I descended on the escalator deeper into the 7 P.M. subway circus, I was met by cops checking for subway tickets. I had one and it looked like everybody else had one, too. To me, that meant there’d be very little riff-raff on the subway ride to Union Station. That was a bad assumption.
The subway train was littered with the usual trash on the floor and graffiti scratched into every square inch of plastic and glass. The train was also stocked with people who looked like and didn’t look like me. There was a huge man with a giant leather belt strung around his 64 inch waste. I could feel the belt’s pain. A tall skinny guy sat across from me biting the nails of his freshly subway-contaminated hands. He had a black plastic bag with him that looked like it was carrying a brick or dead animal.
When the doors opened at Vermont and Sunset a tall black man in dreadlocks, wearing a pair of Hollywood-stylish, rectangular brown shades and carrying a 4 foot long red stick, jumped on the train. He smiled and I noticed every other tooth was missing. “A dental problem,” I thought while I slid over to let him have the seat next to me. With my semi-toothless friend, came a white guy wearing a grey hat, no shirt, grey shorts and a pair of beige roller skates. He had tattoos down both arms. The black nail polish on his finger nails was chipping off. He was sort of singing, “doo doo dooo. DOOO doo do” in a high pitch as he skated in circles in the bike storage area. One of his “Doo doo dooos” ended before the final “dooo” when the subway train took off and he smashed into the wall. It was kinda like “DOOO doo” BANG! But he kept going.
My semi-toothless friend asked if he could have the Avon and Costco catalogs on the floor in front of me. I said yes. He used his red stick to slide them over to within reach and picked them up.
As he thumbed through the Avon catalog, I said, “So you’re gonna stock up on some Avon supplies?” He said, “That Skin So Soft is a really good bug repellant.” I agreed and joked that he could repel bugs and soften his skin at the same time. We both laughed. And then, with a serious look on his face, he said, “ That Off bug spray don’t work for a damn. I prefer Skin So Soft.” I understood. Then he began flipping through the torn up Costco catalog. He said, “Damn, I didn’t know they sold this kinda shit,” as he pointed to a portable spa. I didn’t either, but I didn’t get a chance to tell him that because his roller skating buddy hit the wall and broke our train of thought.
I pointed with my thumb at the roller skater and asked my semi-toothless friend if the skater was his friend. He turned and looked at me over the top of his rectangular glasses and said, “I don’t know.” Bang! The skater hit the wall again as the train stopped. But he kept on skating. “Doo doo dooo. DOOO dooo do. Doo doo d.” Two LA County Sheriff’s Department security officers stepped on the train at Vermont and Santa Monica and the Skater immediately sat down.
“You know you can’t be skatin’ on this train like that,” one of the ladies said to him. She asked for his name, but he didn’t answer. She asked him for his ID but he said he didn’t have it. My semi-toothless friend leaned over and said to me quietly, “I don’t usually get involved with this stuff. But I may have to here.”
The security guard looked at my semi-toothless friend and asked if he knew the skater. He said yes. So he was either lying to her or me. Or both of us. “What’s his name?” she asked him. He said, “I think it’s Freddy.” Looking at “Freddy” my toothless friend said to him, “Your name is Freddy, right?” Freddy nodded.
The security guard said something-I couldn't hear because of the noise of the subway- and Freddy pulled a shirt over his hat and his bare upper torso. He also began taking off his skates and dropping clothes on the floor which my semi-toothless friend began picking up while saying, “He’s always dropping his unmentionables.”
Both Freddy and my semi-toothless friend received a lecture from the security guard and when the next station stop came, they both got off the train. I asked the security guards if the Red Line out of Hollywood was always so colorful. She said it was and it gets more so, the later you ride.
Next time, maybe I'll go a little later.