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Posts from the "Metro Diaries" Category

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Metro Diary: Every Day He’s Hustlin’

The Willowbrook Station, looking South. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station, looking south. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The well-dressed and good-looking young man with enormous glasses walked toward where I was standing at the front of the packed Blue Line car, gave me a wink and a smile, then turned around and began delivering his sales pitch for headphones to the passengers.

Watching him work the car, I was reminded of how puzzling I find complaints about vendors — especially from those that claim they won’t ride the Blue Line because of them — on the trains.

Most of the vendors I have seen are friendly and savvy salespeople who understand that being presentable and personable, having a solid product, and, above all, not harassing passengers are the keys to success.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t get the occasional sad-faced vendor of incense who won’t take no for an answer or someone like the guy that likes to pop his glass eyeball out, of course. But, in my experience, they are in the minority.

The majority either are largely unobtrusive, floating by and murmuring, “DVDs,” like sweet nothings, or are more like the guy with the glasses — someone who is a regular presence, who takes his “job” seriously, and who has invested a lot of time and effort in honing his business and people skills.

If they’re as smart as the guy in the glasses, they anticipate their customers’ needs. When it has rained, he’s offered me umbrellas. When it has been cold, he has peddled hats.

And, he has always had a smile.

Now he was heading back up the aisle toward me again, this time with a different product in his hands.

“Battery chargers!” he announced.

Pointing at the young male passengers, he argued it was not cool to be caught with uncharged phones or other devices. What would the ladies think of such a man? Not very much.

This guy was good. Read more…

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Metro Diary: Three Trains, a Tourist, Some Eager-Beaver Sheriffs, and a Former Foster Child…All in the Space of an Hour

The Willowbrook Station, looking South. (photo: sahra)

Whenever I travel in and out of LAX, I do my best to Metro my way there.

It requires a forty-minute walk, three trains, and an airport shuttle ride for me to go one way. But, it’s cheap and, remarkably, it all goes down in less than two hours. And, it is never dull.

For one, I get to watch new arrivals stumble their way through the TAP machine at Aviation.

This time, it was a lawyer from Toronto who hung back from the crowd that lunged for the single TAP machine near the elevator, where we were dropped off.

I hadn’t actually taken a look at this ticket-vending machine (TVM) before because I always reach the platform via the stairs at the east end of the station, where the shuttles usually stop. This TVM had none of the semi-helpful maps and informational posters (if you are an English speaker) present by the base of the stairs.

The lawyer hoped that watching other people go through the motions, he’d figure it out.

He didn’t.

He reassured me later that he would have gotten the hang of it with a little more time. He rides public transit a lot, he said.

Having watched him try to navigate the system, I wasn’t so sure.

He was going to have to take three trains (Green, Blue, Purple) and maybe a bus in order to get himself close to LACMA, and didn’t realize that meant that he would need to pay several separate fares. That part wasn’t in the directions his friend had sent him.

He stared at the screen and looked back at the directions on his phone. Buy a card or add a fare? He looked at me.

It dawned on me that while Metro has made it somewhat easier for frequent riders to navigate the system with recent changes to the menus, those shortcuts may make it more challenging for newbies.

As found during a recent Metro-run focus group, people don’t look at the information on or around the machine itself, they focus on the screen and the menus, assuming those will provide answers at some point. It would therefore make sense if the first screen greeting users also had a static list of fun, helpful tips such as “Each Train Requires a Separate Fare!” “ALWAYS Touch Your Card to the Blue TAP Circles at the Turnstiles or Validators Before Boarding!” or “Seniors Get Discounts!” It would also help if the “help” option was, instead, an interactive “information” option that took you to a list of things you could get more specific information about, such as transfers, fares, maps, passes, basic how-to stuff, timetables, and so forth (instead of the achingly slow and not particularly helpful scrolling screen it is now).

Things got fun at the Rosa Parks station, where we descended into the bottleneck that is the stairs to the Blue Line Platform to find a couple of Sheriffs waiting for us. They checked everyone that came through, making people anxious because the delay meant they were going to miss the train or buses they could see waiting below. At least they didn’t have the canines with them. Read more…

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Metro Diary: Planes, Trains, and Confusing Transfers with TAP

A middle-schooler shows a Japanese tourist at the Aviation/LAX station how to use the Metro system. (photo: sahra)

“Do you need any help?” I asked the tall Russian guy.

He was making a valiant effort to look nonchalant as he shifted his gaze back and forth between the Metro rail map at the Aviation/LAX stop of the Green Line and the directions printed out in his hand.

He needed to get to Hollywood and Western, he said. The Google Map directions got him onto the Green Line and headed east easily enough. But then, they directed him to pick up the Silver Line at the Harbor Freeway stop and do some other things that didn’t make much sense on his way to the 7th St. Metro Center.

I told him to come with me, as I was headed to the Sunset/Vermont stop, and walked him through the purchase of a TAP card.

Next to us, at the second ticket vending machine (TVM), a pair of French siblings was having trouble.

They had been staring at the machine for some time, unable to figure out why it was asking them for nearly $100.

I couldn’t figure it out either.

“You just need to put $3 on the card – you’re only taking two trains,” I said, pulling the girl over to the map to show her the route to take.

We walked back to the machine and began the transaction all over again. Read more…

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Metro Diary: Getting Harassed by THAT Guy

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

AS A FEMALE WHO tends to move unaccompanied through the city by bike or on foot, I get harassed.

A lot.

Several times a day.

Every day.

As in, I often can’t make a move in public without someone reminding me I have lady parts and/or offering to service them.

The intrusions range from hilarious declarations of love and proposals of marriage to bizarre flashes of drive-by penis from masturbating motorists to more frightening threats of rape and associated mayhem from those whose advances I spurn. Sometimes the intrusions are physical — a smack on the behind while I’m riding from a passing motorist or an opportunistic grope in a crowd — and sometimes I am offered cash for services I do not provide.

The less obvious but more frequent kind of harassment often comes in the form of that guy.

That guy on the street that decides to walk with me while I’m trying to do unobtrusive street photography. That guy that thinks he’s the only one that has ever asked me whether the bike I am riding is actually mine, how far I go on a daily basis, where I am coming from, where I am going, and can he ride with me. Or, as happened yesterday, that guy on the train that loudly decided to make me his new best friend and involve the whole train car in the process.

I heard him as soon as I stepped onto the Blue Line at Imperial-Wilmington. He was loudly talking at a woman sitting across from him about things that seemed to make no sense.

Catching her eye, I gave her a questioning look, silently asking whether she needed some help. In that moment, he spotted me standing at the front of the car and it was all over. Read more…

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Metro Diaries: 6 Stops with Daniel the Candy Man

“Two for a dollar…” Daniel poses with his Skittles just before he sold them to his colleague and went off to buy more chocolate to sell. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“I GOT ARRESTED once,” Daniel said, cheerfully.

The charge was “disturbing the peace” and carried a fine of nearly $400.

“For selling candy??” I asked.

“For selling candy,” he said, shaking his head and gesturing toward his box of Skittles.

He agreed to 11 hours of community service, but still ended up paying a $175 fine.

“For selling CANDY,” he repeated.

The other riders packed into the Blue Line shook their heads in disbelief.

“I’m not disturbing the peace…I walk through fast saying, ‘Fifty cents. Two for a dollar. Fifty cents. Two for a dollar.’ I keep going…” he demonstrated, walking up and down the aisle. “If people want something, they stop me. Otherwise, I don’t bother them.”

Passengers behind him nodded. To many regular riders, he and other vendors are part of the landscape — and not necessarily an unwelcome one. Within two stops’ time, he had managed to sell the half a box worth of Snickers bars he had been holding when I first spotted him at the Washington-Grand stop. By the time he reached my end of the train, all he had left were a few citrus Skittles, and people continued to approach him for candy while we chatted. Read more…