Back to Freda’s stories

Public Transportation

Freda Isaksen

There was a time when a person might say, “Let’s go for a ride today.” A family or friends would get in their car and drive a few miles to the outskirts of the inner city and enjoy a picnic or walk and return home easily. But today, who is inclined to brave the congestion, the smog and the traffic, not to mention the dangers of random freeway shooting or holdups? On the other hand, why stay home as a hostage of the times when there is so much to enjoy around us?

My knowledge of public transportation in the city and the suburbs around Los Angeles is limited, but I do know about the local Blue Bus of Santa Monica as for several years past it has been a pleasurable experience for me to use these buses as an alternative to driving my car. To let them do the driving gives relief from the stress of operating a vehicle and also offers an interesting experience as one sees the streets and buildings from a different perspective. The other passengers on the bus are so diverse that observing them is a never-ending educational experience. I would like to tell of some of my encounters whilst riding the bus.

The drivers on the Blue Bus seem not to be harassed and will often greet oncoming passengers with the time of day which is acknowledged by the riders and repeated upon disembarking.

One operator, who has recently retired, would sing popular songs and operatic melodies during the journey; his voice was outstanding and made the trip enjoyable. An article about him was published in the local paper.

One day I sat next to an elderly lady who obviously wanted company and told me her life story. She was 98 years old; her grandparents crossed the country by covered wagon, although she has a small family, she rarely sees them and is very lonely and takes the bus ride to a different place every day. She wore a self-hand-knitted dress, hat, sweater and purse. Later I regretted that I did not find out where she lives as I thought that when she reaches 100 years she would probably appreciate some recognition. I hope to see her on the bus again and I’ll ask her for her telephone number.

Very often, people complain that immigrants to the United States do not attempt to learn the language. On one occasion two Asian girls who were sitting behind me were conversing in very hesitant English. One of the girls started to speak in her own language whereupon her companion said, “No, you must speak English.” I thought these girls will surely learn very fast.

A man sitting opposite me was twirling his worry beads. A passenger sat down next to him and had a toothpick in his mouth which he twirled around constantly. The two of them were so amusing to me as their habit indicated a certain trait, alike but complete strangers.

A lady got on the bus outside a police station. I heard her tell the driver that earlier in the day she had ridden the bus and upon alighting she had seen that the zipper on her purse was open and her wallet gone. She suspected that the person sitting next to her had stolen her wallet, so she had just reported the incident to the police.

Very often there are not many passengers on the route at a certain time of the day and the bus rattles along as it needs ballast to ensure a smooth ride, but at other times this problem is solved when a group of high school students boards the bus. I find it interesting to observe these young people and imagine by their behavior and appearance what their school achievements could be. Some faces seem to reflect intelligence or otherwise and their behavior expresses to me a lot about their characters. Of course I could be wrong. I have noticed identical twin girls on a certain route and I like to unobtrusively look for minor differeneces in their appearances.

If I travel the same route at a certain time inevitably I see the same people and some of them will repeat the same idiosyncrasies. The lady who smokes a cigarette and never discards it until the last moment before boarding.

The young man who never has the right change and asks the passengers to change a dollar bill every time he boards the bus.

The man who rings the bell requesting to get off, then remains seated, and when the bus stops calls out, “I’m getting off.” The driver does not hear him and drives off before the man stands. “Don’t you understand English?” screams the man.

I have met people from foreign countries asking for directions. A lady from Alsace-Lorraine told me a little about her country. Another time two girls approached me while I was waiting at the bus stop. They were visiting from Italy and were walking to the beach in high heels, a distance of about six or seven miles. I suggested that they take the approaching bus. By a coincidence they were on the same bus as I on the return trip, they thanked me profusely.

Will someone join me for a matinee at the music center in Los Angeles? We can board the Blue Bus in downtown Santa Monica or other designated stops until it enters the freeway in West Los Angeles. A fast ride will take us to downtown Los Angeles where several local stops are made before stopping directly outside the Music Center. We’ll see the show; maybe enjoy a snack and then board the bus back home again.

Another day we can continue on to Union Station where we can take an Amtrak train to a desired destination. Many times I have chosen to travel this way to San Diego. The train follows the coastal route and it is a pleasant scenic route.

Do you attend a class at UCLA, or maybe have an appointment at the Medical Center or the Eye Clinic? Why bother to hunt for a parking spot? The Big Blue Bus is always close to the entrance.

You don’t have a reservation for your car at the Getty Center? You don’t need it; the friendly bus driver will drive you there.

In my case, I do not ride the bus out of necessity, but this means of transportation is important to the elderly and the handicapped. Buses are equipped for the wheelchairs to board and the cost is minimal for all. So although I will not give up my car, I will continue to travel on the bus and I’m sure I will have many more memorable encounters with interesting people.

At the corners look to your left for the Big Blue Bus approaching. Save your energy, your frazzled nerves and the high cost of gasoline and board the transportation that’s there for everyone.

Copyright Freda Isaksen 1986–2006. Permission to reuse for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided that the text is unaltered and the original source is acknowledged. For more information, contact isaksen at

Back to Freda’s stories