Sunday, October 10, 2010

Slim Margin

Depending heavily on public transportation sometimes can lead to a severe letdown, if you can believe it. I believe I've made reference to ways in which this is the case plenty of times either directly or in passing, so I realize I'm really testing my small but spirited readership's appetite for such stories here. Even so, I can't resist relating a recent commute from my temporary home in Glendale to the location of my Toastmasters meeting in Burbank. To those familiar with LA geography but unfamiliar with the peculiarities of LA's Metro, that may sound as if it must be one of the easier trips I would have to make. It certainly isn't the worst, but you ought to be aware as I tell this that it's not a trip I relish embarking upon. However I figure it, the trip takes three buses, and can't really be done in less than an hour and ten minutes.

It's less the time that's the problem and more the connections. I see each itinerary as a chain, with the trains and buses being links. A single link is fairly impervious to failure, being as it's welded upon itself- likewise, a trip of a single bus or train is pretty dependable. Each link added presents another opportunity for the chain to snap. A trip depending on two buses and/or trains is more likely to meet with difficulty, and three are worse than two. They break down, they get stuck in traffic (trains excluded), and they run both behind schedule and ahead. Behind one can cope with. Traffic one can anticipate. Running ahead of schedule is the real problem. You'd think it would be a good thing, and it can be if the thing you're expecting doesn't work out and you start praying for the miracle of a bus coming when it's not expected. I'm grateful in such cases, but don't forget that my salvation is the damnation of some other commuter I don't know. I've been that other commuter. In the incident I'm thinking of, I was that other commuter some four times in the space of little more than an hour.

It takes around seven or eight minutes to walk from where I'm living to where a particular bus stops. Actually there are two that run the same route, one being a kind of express version. On this day, as I approached the stop from the opposite corner, I saw the local pass by. I was unconcerned, as it wasn't that one with which my planned route began. I became concerned when the other one also passed, three minutes early. That's the difference between everything working out and what happened. Now, I freely admit I ought to have known better than to expect I could show up just on time each time and not get burned this way, but contrition doesn't change a thing. I got an unexpectedly early local from there, and managed to about catch up enough to get my planned second link. I say I 'about' caught up, as I got there in time to watch that bus pull away as well. This happened two more times, each one delivering a battering blow to my changes first of getting to my destination on time and then of getting there at all. I got there with about five minutes left before there would have been no reason to go inside at all.

It happens, if seldom so many times in one trip. Being late for a bus by 30 seconds can make you late for your plans by that many minutes, and if it happens more than once, your plans will rapidly fall through. It's something that I can't put a happy face on when talking to motorist friends. I'll never enjoy parking or one-way streets, but I'll always love the forgiving nature of an itinerary planned out for a private car. If there's anything positive that the incident wrought, it was that this was an excellent opportunity to test my hopefully improved ability to achieve a state of serenity in the face of unchangeable hardship. I did better than I might have, but found myself feeling angry towards innocent people pulling the cord for a stop, and sometimes unable to keep my attention on something I could change- the pages of the book I'm reading.

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