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Area Baby Rides Metro, Has Wonderful Day.

Go towards the light young grasshopper. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

"Um, excuse me," I stuck my head out the door and called out to the Metro employee who was chatting on her phone on the shady side of the elevator.

"Someone just peed in here."

Indeed they had.

The sizable puddle of light yellow liquid shimmered and sloshed along the back wall, filling the elevator with a pungent, alcohol-tinged aroma.

"Oh yeah. I'm here to clean it up," she said, and went back to her phone call.

I shrugged and looked at my one-year old nephew.

"You're just glad you're not the one who made the mess this time, huh?" I said.

He gave me a huge grin and down we went.

Pee notwithstanding, I was excited to be able to take him on the train.

For the few days my sister and her husband had been in town from Wisconsin, we had driven most places and it had been miserable.

Traffic had been insane. The kids -- aged one and three -- were bored being cooped up in car seats. And, my sister was intimidated by what she saw as aggressive tactics by L.A. drivers.

So much so that she announced she would no longer read signs.

"It's too overwhelming!" she complained. "And, they don't make any sense!"

We were all so frustrated with each other that, when we got to LACMA at about 3:30 one afternoon and she wanted to park on the street instead of around the corner in the museum's lot, I just gave in. We all wanted out of the car very badly.

I pointed up at the parking restrictions posted on the pole in front of us and told her to check that we were OK to park there. Annoyed with me and apparently still refusing to read signs, she said it was fine and to stop harassing her.

"This is why I never drive!" I said to myself as I sprinted back to Wilshire Blvd. at 4:20, when the realization finally hit me that we had parked in an anti-gridlock zone.

The tow truck was already there, ready to hook the car up. So was the $163 ticket.

"Now you see why I ride my bike everywhere," I told her later. "I couldn't live in this city if I had to drive."

* * * *

When she suggested I take the car to drive the baby around while she took my niece to Universal Studios, I told her, "HELL, NO."

Boy meets train. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The idea of driving a defenseless baby around horrified me.

I don't know how parents do it -- I would be terrified.

"I'm taking him on the train," I said.

She looked skeptical.

She had told me before all she had heard about L.A.'s public transit was that lots of people got shot or stabbed while riding it.

We really need to work on our PR, I thought.

"He'll be fine."

And he was.

In fact, riding Metro with a baby is actually a lot of fun.

Not only is there so much to enthrall a baby -- so many people, so many noises, so many things moving -- babies enthrall train cars. People waved and smiled, asked questions about him, introduced their own babies, shook his little hand or poked at his stomach to make him giggle, and talked about their families.

Perhaps the best part was that I got to hunker down and hang out with him. So, not only did I not lose time with him, I gained the opportunity to talk him through what he was seeing.

Finding a place where he could run around safely was a little harder.

He got his feet under him 4 months ago or so and it rocked his world. He moves in short bursts of lightning speed with the grace of a drunk -- arms flailing, mouth open, and gurgling happily the whole time.

Like a drunk, he also falls a lot.

Which is the problem.

So much of L.A. seems to have been peed or pooped (and, occasionally, vomited) on by either dog or man that safe AND sanitary places are in short supply.

I first thought about heading to Grand Park's splash pad, but a friend had alerted me that it was closed. So, we got off at Hollywood and Highland, only to find their fountain had broken down the day before, too.

"Back to the train," I told him.

He grinned.

Even without the splash pad, Grand Park turned out to be the perfect place to take him. The openness of the space and the turf-like grass was ideal for a kid to throw himself around in. The incline portions of the park are set on gave him a little too much downhill momentum at times. But if he fell, the landing was pretty soft.

"You should check out Exxopolis," a man told me, watching the baby charge toward a couple of men chatting in pink chairs (he had discovered the pink furniture made a nice sound when he banged on it). "He'll love it."

"That sounds great," I said, scooping my nephew up just as he reached the men. "He's dying to just run himself silly."

Created by Architects of Air, Exxopolis is a traveling, inflatable Luminarium made from soft but durable PVC. If you had seen it sitting on the edge of Grand Park either this past weekend or the weekend prior, you may have described it as a sort of miniature alien city. And you probably thought the aliens did not have particularly good taste, as the gray exteriors were not exactly awe-inspiring.

The interior was an entirely different story.

The daylight filtering in through the colored "windows" bathed the rubberized tunnels in warm hues and gave them a magical and disorienting quality.

My nephew was ecstatic.

He barreled from chamber to chamber, giggling hysterically, running into the soft walls and rolling down onto the floor, only to pick himself up and launch himself in another direction.

At one point, Capoeira dancers came through and performed some amazing leaps and flips in one of the larger chambers, drawing the visiting explorers in to watch. We had been warned at the entrance that we might experience a "random act of world culture" and that we should just "let it happen."

My nephew had zero interest in letting random world culture happen and tugged me back toward the tunnels of light, now pleased that he had more space to himself.

When he finally collapsed in a heap in giggles, too tired to run anymore, it was time to go.

We headed back up the hill to the Metro station, where we encountered the pee-filled elevator.

It was gross, and I thought that it would have been nice if the Metro employee had given us a head's up before we stepped inside. But if that was the most stressful thing that happened to us all day, we really couldn't complain. Having well-cared for parks and art installations within easy reach of transit meant I got to spend more time helping my nephew learn and grow. It gave him more exposure to different kinds of people. And, I got to spend more time tickling him instead of stressing out about parking or somebody cutting me off.

"You like trains, huh?" I asked when he pointed, grinning, at the train pulling into the station.

"Me, too."

Exxopolis = baby heaven. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

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