First Impressions of the Expo Line

All pictures taken on my cell phone. Sorry.

No, this isn’t about my first impressions.  It’s about his.

It was with some amazement that I realized that Sammy has never ridden Metro rail.  In his nearly three years, we’ve ridden airport connectors and the New York Subway together, but never Metro rail.  What better day to break that streak than the opening of the Culver City Station for the Expo Line.

I thought the line was pretty great.  It took us less than 25 minutes to get from Culver City to Metro Center (at 7th and Figueroa in Downtown Los Angeles).  The ride was smooth.  The train efficient.  I wasn’t the only one to have the idea of taking a kid out for his first rail trip.  A group of three adults and five children were also taking Metro from Culver City to Downtown for the kids first ride.  They happened to be from Cheviot Hills.  I could tell because one joked that “all his neighbors have signs about how bad this train is.”

If I thought it was great, Sammy thought it was amazing.  He stared out the window for most of the trip pointing to various things and calling out their names.  ”House!” he exclaimed when we hit the section of townhouses past La Cienega.  ”Bear!” he shouted at the Felix the Cat sign.  Our black cat’s name is Bear.

Even Sammy noticed that trains beat cars.  ”Bye car,” several dozen times as the train sped past traffic that was either waiting or moving. The only disappointment was that Farmdale Station didn’t have balloons as the one in Culver City did.  I know the community is hardly as excited as Culver City, but do you really mean to tell me that Councilman Bernard Parks’ office couldn’t swing for some balloons?

Culver City was getting ready for an afternoon party when we arrived. Farmdale Station barely had signs of life.

The ride Downtown was all about the train.  The ride back was about the people.

We settled in next to a couple that was right out of a Metro commercial.  Their child, who I would estimate was about 10, was excitedly holding an Expo brochure.  He ticked off what attractions were at each stop while his parents played the role of “patient parent,” exclaiming delight at things they already knew.  Really, that’s USC right there?  How exciting.

Sammy got bored, but we lucked out.  Two teenagers boarded with their Terrier.  Sammy likes dogs so we moved up in the car to sit near them.  While Sammy interacted with the dog, not quite playing with it but talking to it and making faces, the kids tried to sell me on how great the train was.  Really.  I must have looked like a Metro employee or something.  They asked me not to take a picture because they knew you’re not supposed to have a dog on the train.  ”Really, that’s not a seeing eye dog?” I asked looking at the Terrier.

Metro Center felt like a New York Subway stop. Signs direct passengers to the exits and the proper places to connect to other lines.

When they left, another group out of central casting joined us, a foursome of caucasians dressed like hipsters with deep tans.  The four actually got in an argument about which rail was better, New York’s or L.A.’s.  One was even shaking a Metro flyer saying, “I can get from here to Staples Center without a transfer, how many transfers you need to get to a game in New York?”  I felt as though Dave Sotero was hiding behind me directing the people I saw.  Three wildly different groups of people: an African American family, a pair of latino teenagers and a terrier, and four white dudes all talking up the new rail line on one trip.

But Sammy had a blast.  The mid-day train had enough space to walk around and had plenty of friendly people.  If the highlight of the trip down was passing cars the highlight of the way back was the dogs.

But we weren’t done yet.  Recognizing a face in the Culver City parking lot,we walked over to say hi.  On the way, we were stopped by a news reporter that wanted to interview Sammy for KTLA News at 6:00.  I managed to get his toy cars out of his hand and replace it with a Big Blue Bus just before he “high fived” the reporter on air.

Of all the luck, we got to ride in a bike car. Sadly, the only cyclist who rode with us wasn't on our car. Arrows directing cyclists at stations to the bike cars would be an appropriate next step.

I know not everyone will have the same experience.  But today’s Culver City opening had the right feel.  There was a level of excitement on the ground without it feeling manufactured.  The people were friendly without being pushy.  Metro staff was on hand to help the clueless, and of course we rode for free.  I’m sure there will be more bumps and bruises for the line along the way, such as those reported in the Times this morning.  There are still wrinkles to be ironed out, such as the P.A. system telling everyone to get off at La Cienega on the way west.  And the muted opening at Farmdale is a reminder that many are still skeptical.

But one rider had a great day and great time on the train.  One father had a day he’ll never forget.

Meanwhile, Metro Rail continues to grow up.  We’re not New York yet.  But today we’re one step, and two stops, closer.