Regular Source readers may have noticed the Fred Camino byline missing from posts during the last month. The reason: I’m no longer a contributor for The Source because I’m no longer an Angeleno. Life has taken me to the opposite side of the country and I’m now living my car-free life in Brooklyn rather than downtown Los Angeles.
While I’m excited that I’ve relocated to one of the most transit-friendly places on Earth, it’s not without a sense of bittersweet fondness for the city that unexpectedly set me on the path to car freedom.
Technically, I owned a car for two of the eight years I lived in Los Angeles – but that Honda Accord spent much of those two years parked and collecting soot. My introduction to moving around L.A. without a car really began the moment I moved to the city.
I didn’t mix well with L.A.’s traffic and thanks to landing an apartment a short walk from the Hollywood/Western Red Line station, I did mix well with L.A.’s slightly secret transit system. My first boss in L.A. – a man who had lived in the city for 16 years, mind you – had no idea L.A. had a subway when I told him that’s how I was commuting to work.
The good news is that eight years later L.A.’s transit system is becoming less of a secret thanks in part to Metro’s marketing and in part to a cultural shift in Angelenos. The fact that almost 68 percent of us voted to tax ourselves for a better transit system in 2008 shows that I wasn’t the only Angeleno looking for an alternative.
But I wasn’t content to wait 10, 20 or 30 years for the transit system to grow – I wanted out of the car immediately. This is how I did it…
1. I moved to downtown L.A. I gave up my car while still living in Hollywood, but quickly realized that if I wanted transit access to the maximum number of places in L.A. then I had to take part in the downtown renaissance. Downtown L.A. is a crazy place – it has amazing shiny bright spots and some of the grimiest dark spots you’ll find in the city – but it’s also one of the few places in L.A. where you can walk on real city blocks and hop on trains and buses that will take you to almost any spot in the county.
2. I made my neighborhood my base. L.A. is a city where people won’t think twice about driving very short or very long distances to get dinner, go grocery shopping or hit up the gym. I chose to live a different life. My L.A. was small – mostly confined to my downtown L.A. neighborhood where I could walk to the things I needed on a daily basis. My grocery store was two blocks away, my gym was two blocks away, my favorite bar was a block away, my favorite restaurant 4 blocks away. The beach? That was for staycations, it’s not in my hood.
3. I rolled with the punches. Look, L.A.’s transit system isn’t perfect. But you know what? No transit system is perfect. And in my opinion, the annoyances of riding transit in L.A. are far fewer than the annoyances of driving a car in L.A. Sure, buses can be late and slow and the trains don’t run 24 hours a day. But when you’re in a car, traffic is just an unpredictable as a bus schedule (and likely the cause of the your late bus) and parking in many parts of the area is pretty much guaranteed to be a (pricey) nightmare. Not to mention, if you’re under 34 a car accident is the most likely way you’ll die. And think about this: most would say that L.A.’s transit system is improving. Very few would say the same of traffic.
4. I got involved. I did it in my own internet-centric way, but my choice to go car-free actually threw me into civic involvement in a way I never imagined for myself. By choosing a lifestyle that was not the established norm, suddenly I had something to advocate for, promote and defend. I started a blog, I attracted like-minded individuals, we had discussions, I attracted the attention of the transit authority, I began blogging for them – and in the end, maybe I’ve impacted just a few people to consider a different sort of lifestyle in Los Angeles. I like to think I’ve had more of an impact on this city than I ever could have imagined when my Honda and I first arrived.
Living in L.A. without a car is not impossible, it’s not horrible and it’s the only way I could truly love L.A.
Looking back at all my pictures tagged “metro” really makes me realize how essential the public transit lifestyle was for my experience of the city. Memories of Metro adventures with friends, hopping on Metro with my girlfriend to dine at any of L.A.’s fine restaurants, showing visitors around or just taking solo adventures to explore my adopted city are memories I’ll never forget.
Go Metro, Go L.A. I’ll miss you, but look forward to returning to see the continued progress.
And to those who have read my ramblings over the years, thanks for your support. I’m on all the standard social networks, link up if you’d like to stay in touch.
TOMORROW: Fred’s impressions of transit in New York.