Metro Conversations: Violence in the Public Space

Sunday night at the Metro. Wardlow stop in Long Beach. Waiting to go back to LA via the Blue Line.

15 minutes after I get to the stop, the Blue Line to LA comes. I walk in at the end of one car, flip my bike over, see a family occupying the first few rows of seats, walk to an open window seat next to a young black lady.

Plop down. Look around.

In front of me, a black family of 6. Behind me, a middle-aged Asian couple. Nothing too remarkable, just every day on the Blue Line.

At the Imperial/Wilmington station, a pair of white kids come in. One of them looks like NBA Basketballer Dirk Nowitzki. They sit on the side adjacent to me, divided only by the aisle.

I don't notice that one of the white kids looked like Dirk Nowitzki until minutes later when a flying sour patch kid pegs him. Pegs as in darts right at him. Right in the back.

The throw looked very intentional. It came from where our backs were turned.

The flying sour patch kid originated from one snickering pre-teen, early-teen black kid near the mid-car door. He was laughing it up with about 5 or 6 other snickering pre-teen, early-teen black kids.

Another flying sour patch kid was thrown Dirk Nowitzki's way. I looked his way and he and his friend were getting visibly annoyed.

I was too.

30 seconds later.

Another one. Kid in the back smiling mischievously.

He finally turned back and looked at them.

Apprehensive about what he might say, he finally said in a British accent, "Can you please stop that?"

The British accent didn't do him any favors. The kids ripped into and played with his accent. They told the sour-patch kid thrower that he was going to get beat up by the British guy. In the meanwhile, they also flirted with the idea of possibly beating the British kid down.

The British guy could only sit looking back at them.

Before you know it, a sour patch kid, obviously thrown, landed where I was seated.

Slightly empowered by the British guy's reaction, I looked back at the offender and put my hands up as if to say "What?"

It wasn't meant to be a threatening I'm-gonna-fuck-you-up-What?" more like a "what the fuck are you doing" kind of What?

They left me alone for a good 5 minutes after I did that.

Under their breath, the British kids who'd incurred that initial barrage of flying sour patch kids were building tension. I heard one of them mumble "they're just niggers anyway." Being in this situation, I could understand why they would think that, not that I condoned race-baiting.

The black kids spent the 5 minutes they left me alone verbally playing/taunting a young Latina girl who was seated behind the British kids.

They asked her multiple times if she gave head. Witty in her own right, she said that she was surprised that anyone would consider having sex with any of them.

One of the boys then said that they would pop her. It wasn't clear whether that popping was sexual or violent, but either, way it's not really a way you'd talk to someone you don't know. She was trying to stand her ground, but faced them as if she knew them.

By this time, the entire train had grown visibly annoyed at what these boys were doing. They were annoyed at the rowdyness, the harrassment of ordinary folk.

But no one was speaking up. The Asian couple would've done a million other things than be on the Blue Line. A Latino dude with a bike and a Rose Bowl 2007 Michigan sweater looked every once in a while to the back where those boys were.

Tired of the verbal games that these boys were playing, the girl moved into the open seat next to me. I had my bag slightly on the other chair, but the Asian guy in the back lightly nudged me to move my bag so that this girl could sit.

The boys saw this and chided her out loud.

They said that she was "a ho running to her boyfriend." Having done nothing except move my bag slightly so she could sit next to me, I became the target of laughter again and said that "you in the glasses, you just protecting her to get pussy."

I looked back at one of the boys diagonal to me, remembering Adriel Luis' facebook wall post on my wall and trying to bring good vibes, I said "C'mon fam."

I wasn't trying to be mocking or anything by calling him 'fam and in a way that some would consider "deficient" English, I was just genuinely trying to engage with them.

He said, "Fam? I'm not your fam!"

I said, "Well, I don't know, you could be."

After a slight pause, I looked at one of the group members with glasses and another kid behind him he was taking up two seats.

I said, "I ain't trying to fight ya'll. You know, just chill ya'll, folks are just trying to get home." I was just trying to tell em that it shouldn't get that serious and that they were seriously stirring up something.

They nodded and seemed to be getting where I was going. I was just trying to establish an air of respect for them.

One of them remarked "man, he got a duck tail," referring to my newfound tail haircut.

I said, "yeah, it took a while to get."

One of them asked, "yeah, how long did it take you?"

I said, "eh...about 4 months."

I wish I could say that we talked some more. I wish I could say that the mocking, and them being loud in public all ceased after the interaction. It didn't.

About 2 more sour patch kids landed my way.

However, the throwing was not really recognized or celebrated by the rest of the boys. They didn't mock anyone else or me for the duration of the ride, least out loud.

The rest of the trip, we just heard them banging on drums and freestyling, conquering the shared Metro car airwaves of a Sunday Night on the Blue Line.

After interaction with the kids in the back died down, I looked at the white British kid and his friend. Reading the tension in their bodies, I told one of them "not to mind, they're just kids," hoping that perhaps they would just dismiss the incident to "being kids", rather than "being black."

That these kids

But I could easily seeing them get into all kinds of trouble with that public bravado. Perhaps the same need for bravado that drove Cambodian and Latino kids to kill each other in Long Beach during the 1990s and 2000s.

I wanted to tell these kids that they were fostering resentment in ordinary people of other people in their category. I wanted to tell them who Oscar Grant was. Someone was really annoyed by him in the moment as well.

I could see the violence wanting to rage out in the white British kids and the black kids as the white kids walked pass them to exit towards the Staples Center/Convention Center. The white British kids wanted to show that they weren't punks, the black kids hit the window back to show that they were a force to be reckoned with.

Violence or the threat thereof, sadly one of the more used languages in America.

I figured that the black kids really were just looking to talk. Keyword is "kids." And by "kids" I mean people who can be talked to and perhaps should be talked to, instead of having "other" elements, technologies, or entities (namely institutions) "deal" with "them." Elements, technologies, entities dealing with them instead of individuals dealing with them. Albeit on a television show, individuals showed to be less willing to deal face-to-face with black kids.

These kids on the Metro on this Sunday night were an outburst of energy. They were just calling attention to themselves, probably cause they had nothing better to do. I just did my best to try and engage.

Better that than dismiss and leave them to be put in another trash bag that we call our prison-industrial complex.

Metro Conversations: 99 Problems, and the Girl is 98.4 of them

As I was riding the Blue Line home to the Valley from the Del Amo stop today. It was strangely warm. Strange, because it hadn't been warm in a while, at least it seemed like a while.

Though there were some stupid kids obstructing the stairway while I ran up with my bike not even knowing when the next train was coming, I'd made it to the stop just on time!

Locate a car with space for my bike at the ends of each car, not the actual designated bicycle areas in the Blue Line which most people don't understand, especially in traffic, is in the MIDDLE of the car.

Get in. Flip the bike. First few rows close to my bicycle, taken. About 2 rows of seats down, see a bunch of Asian kids napping, sat next to one.

Next stop, Artesia. A whole bunch of people get off from the first two rows, allowing me to sit on the right-hand side as close as possible to my bicycle, while not sitting on the handicapped-reserved seats.

The nuances of my public transportation sitting habits.

I even decide not to jackass it today while sitting down. That means I take the window seat, allowing space for a passenger to sit on the outer seat.

Usually, because I'm always on the lookout for my bicycle, I want to be able to access the bicycle freely, so I sit on the outer seat, preventing others from sitting down and retaining a domain of 2 seats, though I am technically only occupying 1 seat.

I do this because I hate getting sealed and trapped in a window seat by some stranger, and by "stranger", I usually mean probably some other dude. Today, I decided that it didn't matter.

I pull out my so-obviously pink netbook, remember all the work I still have to do, and get crackin'. As we near the Compton stop, some Latino dude with a mustache and some kind of tat on his arm rolls out of nowhere, plops down, and asks me how far the Washington stop is.

Being near the Compton stop, I say, "about 20 minutes" or about "4 or 5 stops", unsure really of how far we were.

He looks kinda disheartened. He asks me where the Green Line stop is.

I think for a split second and say that it's the next stop. But after recognizing that the Green Line stop is pretty far from his request of "Washington", I ask him "wait, where you tryin' to go?"

"Monterey [Park]. But I gotta get to Union Station."

A native-colored woman with a baby in a stroller joins our running conversation. "Oh you just take the train all the way."

I elaborate saying, "yeah, you just stay on the train. You'll have to take the red line to Union Station. Then you take the gold line." Clarifying my own thoughts, I repeat.

Yeah, stay on this line till the last stop. Get on the red line, it'll be about 10 minutes to Union station. And from Union Station you go to the Gold Line.

Visibly flustered by all the trains he'd have to take, he says, "man, I'm lost. I left at like 12."

By then it was around 3:30 in the afternoon.

"Man, where you coming from?"

He says "Anaheim."

Excited that he might mean Anaheim St. in Long Beach, hoping he might be a part of the Longos gang in Long Beach and therefore provide an "in" for my research, he clarifies that he means "Anaheim", the city, to my slight dismay.

Given his confusion over the train stops, I ask him, "this your first time on the train?"

He nods yeah. "Man, I'm gonna be late!"

I give a nod and say "Yeah, you really have to plan your trips out on the Metro."

He says "I woulda left earlier if my girl hadn't snapped at me."

I say, "Oh damn, what happened?"

"I just broke up with her, found out that she was cheating."

"Ohhhhh man. I feel for you dude."

It was interesting that we shared this connection, straight male to straight male. It didn't matter that he was Latino, looked like a former gangbanger and that I was a privileged ass Asian graduate student typing away on my computer.

He tells me that they had been together for 4 years, and had a kid together. He had a job at a Japanese restaurant in Monterey Park, which he used supported the both of them and their child. He was wondering if the kid was his. He was fed up, he was disgusted, he was feeling bad.

I wanted to communicate that the pain was somewhat shared.

My own experience fresh in memory, I tried to assure beyond the standard, true, but somewhat empathy-lacking responses of "move on" or "there are plenty of fish in the sea."

"Man, I'm going to start drinking again."

"Man, don't do that. You know what I did? I just wrote a lot, just expressed everything. I know it feels like you just want to do something. You talk to anyone?"

He told me that he hadn't had the chance to.

And here he was on the train almost late to work.

We continued the conversation. After checking his phone, he decided that he was not going all the way to Union Station but was going to catch a bus from Grand Station.

I asked him why he wasn't driving. The reason? He'd lent the car to his girlfriend. A car he'd been driving with no problem for 7 years. And it had broken down earlier in the week.

"You know what the worst part is? She took my rent money!"

To me that was sort of an auxilary piece of the puzzle. I told him, "Damn, I'd buy you a drink," remembering how my own godsis fixed me one when I rolled over after a break-up.

I spent the rest of the ride trying to hear the dude, cogitating my own experience with break-ups. We were nearing the Grand Station. We were talking about how the experience sucked at the moment. Then he said something interesting that I also thought about a lot.

"You know what? It's all good, I think Kharma will come back on her."

"Heh, yeahhh, I know what you mean."

Responding to Anti-Bicycling Sentiment in LA

Bike plan about to be approved by LA City Council as reported by the LA Times.

Reading comments by everyone, picking out the "knowlegeable-seeming" ones not hellbent on picking random internet fights.

LA Times User PauvrePavillion posted 6 straight times on the article. I've posted his comment after my commentary.

While he seems to be fine with building dedicated bike paths, he concludes this: people riding bicycles don't belong on the same road as people driving cars.

It's as if people driving cars dangerously and hitting bicyclists was an established law of nature, difficult, machines that worked reasonably well, with random acts of misfire.

S/He neglects the fact that people driving cars are just that. People driving cars. "People" meaning "individuals!" Individuals with plenty of "control", perhaps an excess of it. "Control" in the sense that if you have a vehicle, you can move at your own pace, travel more spontaneously and further, and most importantly an established "ownership" of the road.

It becomes "your" right to maneuver as fast as you can, as long as these other damn car-drivers weren't on the road.

I drive a car too, on occasion. I understand that the priority on a given day with this extreme control at disposal, is that the main goal is to "manuever" or weave through traffic, and it becomes a game, where a driver tries to find "ways" to get to places much faster. This "game" is predicated on the cultural expectation, the expectation that the streets of Los Angeles belong to those who drive cars. And when bicyclists appear either on the periphery, or even GASP! in the middle of a lane, they disrupt the "game" in progress.

I understand the point that accidents do happen with bicycles on the road, but then again, accidents happen even without bicyclists on the road. They kill pedestrians too! Maybe we should get cars off the road then?

Gas is rising astronomically ($3.65 a gallon at a local Arco Station last I checked), and more importantly, biking on the road is the freekin' LAW. California Law. There's enough people who ride on the streets, and they don't have much if any backing. The bike plan's a way to build momentum to get more infrastructures that might eventually ensure a lot more safety.

LA Times User PauvrePavillion said:

More cyclists on the roads means only one thing... more dead cyclists.

Based on results, public roads are neither an appropriate nor intelligent place to ride a bicycle. If sharks were taking out ocean swimmers off the coast of Newport at the rate that cars take out cyclists in Orange County, you would conclude that it is fool hearty to swim in this location… and you would be right.

Catastrophic accidents happen with regularity not because the drivers are out there trying to hit the cyclists but because bikes and cars are an inherently dangerous combination. One is slow and fragile. The other is quick and carrying from 3,500 to 6,000 pounds or more. Accidents are going to happen and riders are going to get killed.

Another more "reasonable" rant is a call for people who ride bicycles to get on the sidewalk on "busy" streets.

Comment by LA Times User Lost-Angelr

Bicyclists - If its a busy street, get on the side walk. Do not ride like its Venice when its Olympic or 6th Street, Sunset, Santa Monica... Melrose... or any other major street. Don't slow down traffic, do not claim your lane when its a CAR road... get on the side walk and ride carefully, pedestrians are also important for you to consider. Take small streets, you're more able to maneuver and use small streets to your advantage. BUT stop at stop signs. OBEY road and street and sidwalk LAWS.
I've flipped through the DMV manual and safety tips for bicyclists, but I didn't come across anything that said ride on the sidewalk on "CAR roads."

Obviously, I'm just being a smart-butt.

I know there are some streets with a high amount of traffic and that for my own safety it would be best if I didn't take those roads.

However, what gets me is that legally, we have the right to be on there. Again, California. Law.

But it appears that the "culture" established on those streets, that of people driving cars, is completely impinging on my legal right to ride my bicycle. What has been established by people who drive on those streets is an informal law, reinforced and practiced everyday. What gets built in driving on those streets with only cars, is an expectation. An expectation that they as people who drive cars have the ultimate domain over the roads.

People who drive aren't out to get bicyclists and bicyclists are not on a mission to disobey every traffic law.

Whatever mode of transport we choose, we are all just people (less I missed a few cyborgs born with pedals on their feet) trying to "get in, out, around" Los Angeles.

How we "get in, out, around" Los Angeles, is dictated largely by the environment we choose to create ourselves, both through law and everyday practice.

A bunch of people created the large 4 lane quasi-highways in the Valley. A bunch of people created a "CAR-road" like Wilshire Blvd. A bunch of people created the industrial zones of Vernon. If we are to meet the US demand of not depending so much on oil, if we are to build a "world city" with a more "community" feel to it, it would really help if the people with the capital would do some things on those streets to make the environment conducive to both cars and bicyclists.

Fixing the environment is one thing. It is the long-term solution.

But the long-term can't be the only solution, because I still gotta ride my bike to school later today, starting from my corner in San Fernando Valley down to the "bike-friendly" Long Beach.

Considering that 630 people who rode bikes were killed in 2009 in the US, while those who ride bicycles cannot kill people who drive, it would be nice if people who drove in LA could learn one simple thing if antyhing before they head out to drive today: EXPECT bicyclists to be on ANY road, it's the law!