By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
A man with a fishing pole joins me on the 55 Monterey Express bus and whips out a cellphone. A painstakingly detailed discourse on the nitty-gritty of angling ensues. He describes the locales he fished, camped, and "drank beer and stuff" in Shasta County; the weekend's weather conditions; his strategies in selecting bait — even sharing what manner of worm he deemed appropriate. His monologue stretches past a quarter of an hour, and he still hasn't caught anything yet.
A familiar sensation comes over me. Just as every time I watch a production of The Merchant of Venice, I think maybe this time — surely this time — Shylock will emerge victorious, I begin to pull for the rainbow trout on the angler's line. It is, as ever, a futile endeavor. Shylock will always finish a forced convert and broken man, the fish end up in the frying pan, and the angler yammers unceasingly at 7:55 a.m. It's in the script.
The 55 rolls through San Jose, Morgan Hill, and Gilroy before depositing passengers at the Prunedale Park and Ride, a smallish parking lot tucked among a eucalyptus grove, the freeway junction, and a cracked, weedy street. There are no restrooms in sight, so I ask the Caltrans crew towing a traffic cone-orange Porta-John if I can use theirs. "What for?" the foreman asks. This question catches me off-guard; there are only so many things to do in an outhouse. After admitting my need for the facilities, permission is granted. I was asked only because "one time a guy put graffiti in there." Ah. That had not occurred to me. But, if it had, I probably wouldn't have answered the foreman's question by stating "I intend to vandalize your Porta-John."
The 29 Salinas glides up at 10:02. After not quite six hours on the road, we've traversed just about 100 miles. A handful of men emerge from the shade of the bus shelter to board. Most of them are toting bags stuffed with clothing; well south of San Francisco, we have solidly passed the point where passengers are riding transit because it's convenient or environmentally responsible. This is the trip of last resort.
Tony Perez's car broke down, and he has taken a series of buses from Los Banos, where he lives with his wife and three children. He's toiling in a Coca-Cola warehouse near Salinas and crashing with family during the week. His story is interrupted by the HAL 2000 monotone of his cellphone: "Excuse me, boss: You have a text message." He wanders off the bus with his gym bag slung over his shoulder. To his right is a store adorned with an unintentionally ironic sign: "HEAVEN ON EARTH. Everything on Clearance."
When the driver cuts the engines and staggers off to use the john at a Soledad Taco Bell, a pair of tangerine-sized furry heads squeeze out of Kim Rodriguez's purse. A friend discovered the weeks-old kittens abandoned on the railroad tracks, their eyes still shut. But an auto body shop is no place for a pair of mewing kitties, so Rodriguez is stuck babysitting cats on the bus. Again. "Always I'm the one who gets abandoned kittens," she says wearily. "I'm the one climbing a tree or hearing them crying under the truck. Always." Sparky and Astro are the only male animals on the bus, and Rodriguez is the only woman not clutching several small children and bantering in Oaxacan. The driver emerges from the Taco Bell restroom, which he presumably did not vandalize. The kittens are hurriedly crammed back into the bag.
Grapevines give way to brambles, which surrender to pavement. The large bus navigates ever smaller streets in ever smaller towns. At one point, we enter a strip mall and actually drive through the alley behind it, inching past flattened cardboard boxes and apron-wearing men smoking cigarettes.
The coach eases past the cemetery, the trailer court, and the electric blue tent of the visiting Circo de Mexico. It shudders to a halt in front of the dialysis center at Mee Memorial Hospital in King City at 18 minutes after noon. According to the schedule, I should be finishing my journey in Los Angeles exactly 24 hours from now.
The signs marked "Downtown" lead me past several blocks of taquerias, carnicerías, and other establishments ending in "-ia." Downtown abruptly ends, however, at a massive corrugated iron warehouse featuring a large clock stating the time as 6:20 — which it will be, in some six hours. The site once hosted a train station where Errol Flynn and other Hollywood notables used to roll into King City to hobnob with William Randolph Hearst; the media titan once owned Connecticut-sized tracts of land nearby and maintained the "Hearst Hacienda" in the Valley of the Oaks. Now, according to an orange-helmeted worker, we are standing at a washing facility for the plastic boxes used to transport crops from the field. When asked how long the clock has been broken, he cocks his head. "The clock is broken?"
My itinerary calls for a four-hour layover in King City, which prompts the question: "What do you do for four hours in King City?" If you're me, you head to City Hall and ask to speak to the folks in charge. Queried where King City got its name, city manager Michael Powers and finance director Jim Larson point to a portrait of Charles Henry King, a white-bearded gent bearing a resemblance to Frank Morgan, the actor who played the Wizard of Oz. Yet neither administrator could explain the significance of the rather odd artwork directly across from King in City Hall chambers: an oil painting depicting a dilapidated two-story house. "That's just pretty," Larson ventures.
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ok, first of all, i want to address some of the prices & timepoints, & 'transfers'. (for the record,I am the author of the original hitchiking site: http://www.legendaryrob.com (mind you, some of it is outdated, and some of it is politically correct, but i stand by my statements, re, safety (and dan savage agrees with me; closet cases are creeps, generally).--anyhoo, never mind the politics: lets start with the cost he says $41., i can save him some $ firstly: take any given samtrans allnighter on mission to palo alto caltrain station from downtown sf .(around $4.), then buy a 'super express' all day pass' from VTA $12.-this will not only get you on the #22 bus to downtown san jose, it will include your MST fare all the way to king city.--now, at king city, you now have of course to wait on the ft hunter liggett bus, (M_f only)but thats your lookout.,*(it was originally going to only allow military onboard, since ft hunter liggett is a 'closed' fort, but I guess thats not an issue anymore. buy an ALL DAY PASS on the slo county system-$5.oo. get to sant a maria: ok, I take issue with the idea that a 4 mile walk is a 'transfer', but whatever.. however the clean air express (m-f only) is around $7., then, yes the VISTA coatal express, is around $3.50 (they are SUPPOSED to accept/issuetransfers from sb area systems,(according to santa barbara MTD) but I have yet to see them actually DO so), then, yes, the transfer from pacific view mall in ventura to thousand oaks transfer center. (again, the rt 161 from To is ONLY M_F).however, a MTA DAYPASS is $6.00.it will get you ANYWHERE in los angeles county, and, get this: one ride thru long beach to the VA center, where you can get all the way to the carl's jr in san clemente for a little under 2 bucks.at carl's, you can buy an all day pass for North County transit/san diego transit for around $5, it goes thru camp pendleton, and oceanside, and includes most transit vehicles in san diego county.(trolley, the SPRINTER train from oceanside to escondido)* walk across border, and you can catch a jitney to downtown tj for about a buck.-you are on your own from there.--so, I have just got you 100+ miles furthur for a buck or so less. now, your writer also overlooked a MUCH easier (and cheaper) amtrak return: the pacific surfliner from the BURBANK station to the caltrain station in SF is ALWAYS around $50 bucks.the articles author, took the very expensive coast starlight service instead.--the pacific surfliner, goes from as far south as downtown san diego to either santa barbara or SL depending on time of day, and then AMTRAK (not greyhound) shuttles you up the coast- thru paso robles, king city, salinas, san jose, sf, then it goes to oakland or emeryville.
now, on to prundeale: there IS a restroom near the prunedale park& ride-no less than a football field away is a chevron station: (within eyesight) with a friendly staff, and (unlike a LOT of places in the bay area-you dont have to beg to use the can).(i'm looking squarely at the carls jr on powell & market here, folks: CA law says 14 seats or more have to have facilities for paying customers, and they have NEVER opened their damn bathrooms EVER, to my knowledge)--only carls i know that acts like that.grrr.
You could have taken bus provided by lowfarebus.com at McDonald (600 Van Ness & Golden Gate) at 6:30 am daily. The bus will arrive at Los Angeles Chinatown Metro Station (1231 N Spring St) at 2 pm the same day. Chinatown Metro Station is probably 10 minutes walk from LA Union Station. Total cost for bus ride is $45, one way. The bus co also gives you one free sandwich & one free bottle water. Bus has bathroom. You can reserve your seat via lowfarebus.com or gotobus.com.
Amazing that this is doable but my formally 7 hour commute (round trip) to work from Santa Cruz to Carmel (and only 5 days outve a 6 day work week) is now completely impossible.(Thanks MST) I love teh scenery but CentCal needs trains!
Congrats on surviving the trip!
OK, you've done this. But have you ridden the 38 from the beach to the Transbay Terminal? Or taken the 22 all the way to 3rd and 20th after school lets out? You do that…then we'll have something to talk about.
What a great way to let people know that public transportation is as available as it is throughout California. I have been amazed to find out how much of the state is accessible via transit, especially since California's reputation is that of a car culture. The army financed bus line from King City to Paso Robles was especially interesting. I had wondered about that leg when I started to read the article and was not familiar with this piece.A few months ago I read an article about a similar trip from Pittsburgh to Florida, but that trip did involve a few legs on Amtrak as there were more gaps between transit lines.Thanks for a wonderful article.
Life is short and while we are waiting for the big moments, it's good to be reminded that life is really in the small moments, an adventure unfolding all around us. Using Mass Transit puts us in close proximity to a broad scope of humanity. Whether traveling by bus, train or ferry from town to town or just across town, remember to put down your book/IPad/Itunes once in awhile and immerse yourself in the experience of being a passenger on life's journey, 'it's a trip!" Great article
Back in the 1980's, there was a story in (possibly) the LA Times about two young men who went from West Covina to San Diego on transit bus lines. Took them all day, and they wound up coming home on Amtrak, but it was still an interesting story if you're a transit fan. Back about a hundred years ago, a group of electric railway officials did a cross-country trip from either Boston or New York using nothing but trolley lines. This was only possible for a few years, and there was one gap in upstate New York where they had to "cheat" and take a steam train, but again, it was quite an adventure. (Some day, I'll write up my cross-country, El Monte to Boston and back on the Greyhound journey--what I call the Dog Tired Tour of 1977)
Awesome job, Joe! The Muni Convention ( http://goo.gl/XE89L ) is proud of you! I totally want to do this.
There are two types of people in the world. When presented with the idea of going from SF to LA (or some similar distance) by hopping from local bus to local bus,
Type 1 folks will say: That's crazy. Why not just fly/drive/Amtrak/Greyhound it?
Type 2 folks: Sounds like an adventure! Let me see if I can get time off work....
If you can get to LA from SF by bus, why stop there? I did LA to San Diego (and could've caught the trolley to the Mexican border) in the 1990s: http://users.humboldt.edu/jcba...
I LOVE road trips and am familiar with almost every mile covered in this odyssey. What a great eccentric idea done justice by the right tone and style.cheers,
Just sad. This writer is trying to do it the hard way when it's way more convenient to just buy a Greyhound bus ticket and go from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles. It would be like in Japan trying to go from Tokyo to Osaka on all local trains instead of taking the vastly more convenient Shinkansen "bullet train."
Great story. This trip was done in reverse from San Ysidro to San Francisco 30 or forty years ago and chronicled in either the LA Times of the SF Chronicle (pardon the pun). Then the writer had several long hikes between the Central Coast cities because there was no public transit in place then.
Thank you, Joe - what a great article! One day I too shall do this, if only for a bet or worthy cause.
great solution to all the homeless that come here for the welfare magnet and havena one way bus tix to la
The Greyhound fare from Oakland, ca to Los Angeles, ca is $42 if you buy it on the web. Takes 12 hours to get to LA by greyhound.
And the "one hour" flight from SFO to LA actually takes at least four hours (including the three hours you will need to clear the security but NOT including the time it takes to get to the airport - and then of course at least another hour to an hour and a half to get your luggage and get from the airport to anywhere near where you are actually going.
It takes me 5 and a half hours to get from my front door in SF to my brother's front door in LA, by care but last weekend I decided to fly. It took - 6 hours! and it cost nme $328 for the ticket, plus $30 for long term parking at SFO.
How on earth did you visit Ventura and not comment on the gigantic, snaking house sculpture at the bus stop? It's at once hideous and entrancing! http://www.wayfaring.info/2009....
From afar, it looks even loonier. Also, they're totally ineffective as bus shelters, as pigeons nest in the upper reaches and crap onto the benches. Mark Ulriksen did depict the house in his illustrations, and I documented it on our Google map of the trip:
Great little travel piece. I've often wondered myself whether this trip was possible. Thanks for giving my day a much needed lift.
I rode a greyhound from Santa Maria to Oakland. It was an amazing trip as I was just visiting CA after finishing college. I ended up staying in the bay area for 4 years and meeting my husband. We live in FL now and have a baby boy. None of that would have ever happened without the bus trip. I couldn't afford a plane ticket and I was unaware of the train option. Wow the story took me back. The smell of the bus. The fields of lettuce, the variety of humanity I met.... Good read. Thanks for sharing.
Interesting article, but you do a bit of a disservice to the uninformed by making it appear this is the ONLY way to get from SF to LA without a car. Once you got to San Jose, you could have transferred to an Amtrak Coast Starlight and been at Union Station in LA something like 10 hours later. Or you could have taken a Greyhound bus and gotten there in a similar amount of time. You might instead have claimed you were traveling from SF to LA using only Local Public Transit lines. It would have been more honest and less misleading
The title "in transit" let me know that this wasn't about a trip on Amtrak or the Doggy Bus. Although I've traveled between the Bay Area and LA by train, bus, pickup truck, furniture van, an assortment of cars, various aircraft, and a cruise ship, this mode of travel I will leave to the young and adventurous.
Thanks for the compliment. I'm confused, however, at how you managed to glean any inference in my story that "this is the only way to get from SF to LA without a car." You also chide me for not claiming I was "traveling from SF to LA using only Local Public Transit lines." You have somehow missed the headline and repeated references in the body of the article stating just that -- in fact, the sole conceit of this story was to travel form San Francisco to Los Angeles on public transit.
Thanks for reading anyway.