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Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 16th for Wales and Mexico

On September 16th 1400 AD Owain Glyn Dwr raised the banner of Welsh resistance and a rebellion ensued to make Wales a nation once again. Free from servitude to the English crown and free to make it's own treaties with foreign nations. There exists in Welsh legend the "Mab Darogan" Son of Prophecy who will rise to lead the Brythonic Celts in their time of greatest need. In 1400 Owain was believed to have been that person. His rebellion was successful at first but ultimately failed. His banner is still raised today and the inspiration of his uprising may yet lead to an independent Wales. We shall see but the future is filled with hope.
In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain and placed his brother as King of Spain. The people of Nueva Espana saw an opportunity to overthrow Spanish rule. On September 16th father Hidalgo with his co-conspirators Ignacio Allende and Dona Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, rang the bell of his little church and delivered El Grito de Dolores The rebellion was successful, Mexico was born and all over the world Mexicans celebrate this day and in Mexico city the President rings that same bell used by Father Hidalgo and reads to the crowd El Grito. At the end the crowd erupts with cries of "Viva Mexico"
In Mexico and for Mexicans, the future is filled with hope.
I'm writing this just before I go to work. This is the weekend closest to Mexican Independence day so this is when the fiestas take place. Los Angeles has a large population of native Mexicans and also Chicanos, the descendants of those who were here before the American-Mexican war. the celebration has always been a fun occasion though most of the main streets in and around L.A. get closed down for the parties. This year there will also be protests about Arizona Immigration laws and "Justice for Manuel Jaminez" that I wrote about in my last blog.
There are 5,500 miles between Wales and Mexico. The languages are different, we don't even speak English the same way, but we all have our reasons to protest and we all have very human hopes and dreams on a personal level. For our nations and our peoples, whatever the pain of today, the future is filled with hope.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Riots in Los Angeles

This blog started off as a humorous way to make comparisons between my experiences as a bus driver in South Wales and Los Angeles. I also thought I could spout off a bit at what I perceive as the shortcomings in public transport across two continents. Sometimes things happen that just ain't so funny and this Tuesday saw one of those things. Manuel Jaminez was shot to death by police officers and that's when the shit hit the fan.
Three LAPD officers on bicycles were patrolling the Westlake district of Los Angeles, Manuel Jaminez was weilding a knife. The Los Angeles Times had the story.
For a bit of background; The area where this took place is just to the west of Los Angeles city centre, if you saw the movie "Volcano" you may remember the lake that was boiling at the beginning of the movie. That lake is in the center of McArthur Park. The north edge of the park is 6th street where the riots described in the article took place. There's nothing new in having a riot here, there was one 5 years ago it was reported on Fox news you may notice the phrase  "the marches were peaceful until this evening when the LAPD used force to break up the crowd" That time the demonstration was in support of "Illegal Aliens"
The police officers were from the Rampart division of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) For my friends in Europe, the LAPD is employed and funded by the city of Los Angeles. There are a number of Divisions around the city. Rampart patrols Westlake among other communities and relations between the citizens of these communities and the police department have been strained for many years.
The three officers including the one that fatally shot Jaminez were themselves Hispanic. The situation is a tinderbox. Since Tuesday there have been peaceful marches every night. A shrine has been set up on the spot where he was killed and marchers have been keeping to the side walk and behaving in a generally peaceful manner. however a demonstration is planned for Saturday. that is likely to get out of control. Everyone is fearing the worst and tensions and emotions are running high.
Coming from the United Kingdom where the cops don't carry guns, I know that if someone was stupid enough to attack three cops with a knife, he wouldn't be killed but by the end of it he would wish he was. Here in L.A. rightly or wrongly, this is seen as an attack on a Hispanic community even though the police were of the same background. I refuse to make a judgement, I just do not know all the facts, I do know that I'll be in work tomorrow trying to do my part to keep the bus drivers and their passengers safe. I'll be one of those detouring the buses around any disturbance. I'm safe enoughbecause I operate from the main headquarters building and anyway, I'm hoping that everything will be relatively peaceful but I'm prepared for the worst.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

To Strike or not to Strike

The United Transportation Union called a strike vote and the vote was 87.5% in favor of a strike. That doesn't mean a strike is going to happen. It just means that at this point the Union can continue negotiating with the management knowing they have this loaded gun up their sleeve. The percntage may look high but in the past the percentage has been well into the 90's. members of the Union will vote for strike action though. To do otherwise would leave the Union almost weapomless in the face of management. An overwhelming majority is essential but the fact that, for once, the Union failed to get above the 90% threshold demonstrates that there is little enthusiasm amongst the membership for industrial action. Still, a significant majority is still all that is needed and that's what they got.
What happens now is that the Union is in a position, at any time, to halt negotiations and call a work stoppage. Under California law the work stoppage does not necessarily come into immediate effect. The comany can seek an injunction requiring the Union to hold off for, what is normally referred to as a "Cooling Off" period. During this time it is hoped negotiations can continue and a deal reached.
Here's the rub; if the union call a strike and the management ask for a cooling off period, the timing is such that the walk out could be delayed until December, just in time for Christmas. That is a two-edged sword. No-one wants tp strike just before Christmas, the most expensive time of the year for most of us. It is also traditionally the busiest time of the year for public transport. No buses or trains on the run up to Christmas would leave Los Angeles in chaos. Los Angeles has a thriving garment district, jewellery district, Toytown that supplies a wide range of children's gifts at wholesale prices and Broadway with it's varied stores from exotic perfumes to electrical goods. Every Christmas Los Angeles is packed and so is public transport. Neither side of the table wants a strike. It is in nobody's interest, but this is L.A. and crazier things have happened.
Every three years the Union and Los angeles metro get together to work out the details of a contract. The contract sets out the wages and benefits for the next three years. So for the period of the contract, the company pays us and we agree not to take any industrial action. It's not a happy situation, it means that every three years we all put our lives on hold. vacations are only tentatively planned and it's hold off on that new car or new furniture because there may be a strike and any money you may have gets eaten up in just staying alive over the strike period.
The United Transportation Union has six locals (Branches) the chairmen of each local plus the general chairman form a "Committee of Adjustment" They meet with a team selected by upper management. Most of the people on both sides of the negotiating table are known to me personally and I have a high regard for them all. They are men and women of integrity, and I say that from personal experience. That can also mean that they will be stubborn when they are convinced they have the right of it. As things stand the dice could roll a number of ways. Which way is anyone's guess at this point but once again we are all holding our breath.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Welsh School and Los Angeles Buses

 Dyfrig Jones is a Nationalist councillor for the Gerlan ward in the Welsh county of Gwynedd. As a Welsh separatist he has been a lifelong supporter of furthering the use of the Welsh language at all levels and has fought valiantly in the past to ensure not just language survival but its growth and development. Recently a decision was made by the County Council to close a school, Ysgol y Parc. The council decision was based on fiscal necessity, the school housed 18 pupils. I suspect that here in America the decision to close a school that small would hardly raise an eyebrow but in Gwynedd it caused a storm of protest. Dyfrig was one of those who voted to close the school and it resulted in Ffred Ffransis, a respected and well known figure in the Welsh community, calling Dyfrig and others who voted for the closure "Traitors" Osian Jones, a friend of Dyfrig since they were 15 also referred to them as traitors, another member of the audience referred to the councilors as "Pigs" Dyfrig talks about it on his blog; Blog Answyddogol  (The Unofficial Blog) it's in Welsh but if you use google translator you will probably get the gist of it.
Celtic passions run hot and there is a lot of anger about such decisions, especially in Wales. Because the school is in a small rural area and is a Welsh speaking community. The children will be moved out of the community and that is what has raised passions. The existence of the school ensures the future of the community as one where the natural language is Welsh. The first language of the children is Welsh. Such heartlands are necessary for the survival of Welsh as a living language, not just an academic interest. These Welsh speaking communities make a vital contribution to the vitality of the only living language that has written poetry going back to the 6th century.
This brings up a major point. What happens when ideals and principles face the harsh reality of fiscal restraint. How do we balance the things we believe in with the things we can afford?
The question of Ysgol y Parc, put in its simplest terms is the question of how to protect and improve the quality of life of a community.
To put a different perspective on this; Wales is about 8,000 square miles. Los Angeles is about 4,000 square miles. I've driven buses all over Wales and L.A. and L.A. has its communities too. They need protecting and they can get pretty upset when threatened. Unfortunately there is a very real threat looming. The United Transportation Union representing some 3,500 bus drivers, just had a strike vote. The vote was 87.5% for strike action.
 Here's the problem: In this recession with layoffs and not much happening to boost the local economy, not to forget rising gas prices, more people are riding the buses. Trouble is no bus company can operate from the fare box, aid is needed, from the federal government and the state government. In these austere times spending on transportation has been cut. A large portion of the funding also comes from sales tax. With low spending on luxury items that money is not what it should be. So the company and the union are at loggerheads. The bus company points to the sad and sorry cash register and the deepening recession to propose what amounts to a steep reduction in take home pay. Also, even though demand is rising the bus company intends to cut services.
I don't really have a solution to any of this. I can't see a satisfactory end to the problems of Gwynedd or the problems of Los Angeles. Not that I'm a pessimist by nature, I prefer optimism, I would like to see a rainbow's end. There are those in Wales and those in the Bus Rider's Union who say that when the monetary based system fails the community then it's time to change the system. Perhaps it is but let's not have too much malarkey on the streets this time. My instinctive sympathies lie with the pupils of Ysgol y Parc and the drivers and passengers of L.A. Los Angeles needs a full and efficient bus service with a far more efficient use of resources than is the case at present and the County of Gwynedd, and Wales itself for that matter, needs a way to have a more real control over it's resources and a wider perimeter for its functions. Including innovative ways of funding. When it comes down to it though, all that corporate leaders and elected politicians can do is cut. When will anyone reach out and grab the creative solutions that are staring them in the face.
 I fear I'm asking too much.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Goodbye old Friend

Writing this blog about life as a bus driver in Los Angeles and comparing it with my previous life as a bus driver in Swansea has triggered many memories of the things I did and the people I knew back in the day. Sometimes the memories can be quite painful. I just received an e-mail from Swansea, letting me know that an old friend, Mike Christmas, had passed away. His funeral is this week. Mike and I worked for South Wales Transport back in the 70's and 80's. I remember his payroll number was 1470. Large corporations, especially in the transport industry, know you by your number rather than your name. My number was 1520 as a bus conductor, when I became a driver it changed to 707. Odd how I can remember these things. With Los Angeles Metro my number is 18853, Nothing changes.
I was grateful to be told about Mike's passing though it saddens me. We were mates and at one time he lived in the next block of flats to us in Sketty Park. He and I were both on the Union Branch committee. Basically we were shop stewards, back in the days when a Union was a Union. One memorable occasion comes to mind. The labor party was in government, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and the Chancellor, Dennis Healy, announced there would be deep cuts in Public Transportation funding. The Transport and General Workers Union staged a rally in London. Mike and I were among the attendees. We heard stirring words from our leaders and then it was decided we would all march on Parliament and tell the inmates how they should be running this asylum. There were about 3,000 of us from all over the UK. Mike and I were among the first to get to the Parliament building and the police hadn't been expecting this. Every one of us had the right to visit our representative there but we were too much to handle at one time. So they let us in. Me and Mike walked up to this cop and said, "We've come to see our MP" The officer calmly directed us which way to go. We met another cop who also gave us directions. The third cop advised us to go through a door and that's when we found ourselves out on the street. The sneaky  buggers let us in one door and out the other. All our attempts to regain entry were met with "If you wish to see your MP sir, you must go to the front of the building." By the time we got around to the front, reinforcements had arrived to keep us orderly, conference rooms inside Parliament had been set up and Spokesmen for the government were there to talk to us. Cleverly done but they have a thousand years of experience at being sneaky and they've learned it well.
Mike and I were very active in Union work back in Swansea. We didn't take any crap from the management and, to be fair, they didn't take it from us. Branch meetings were usually small affairs until there was a threat of a strike, then the Union hall would be packed. Negotiations with management were far more participatory than they are here in America. Here, a committee of full time officers meet with the management in executive managerial style to negotiate contracts. In Wales all the local officials are volunteers, there's no financial reward. In L. A. Everyone in the Union gets paid. I can't bring myself to be actively involved in the Union over here, the whole structure is too far removed from the people it represents There is no real impetus for change though, because there is no real experience of anything better. Migrant workers from south and central America are used to a high degree of corruption so their instincts are to mistrust while the average American worker believes that their Union is the best in the world. They see democracy where none really exists because the comparisons are with immigrants who have been running away from tyranny and corruption.
I never believed Mike could be corrupted, he always was very firm in what he stood for. In fact he could be quite obnoxious at times if you didn't agree with him. He saw anyone who sought promotion as someone climbing a ladder on the backs of his workmates. I didn't always agree with him and we had our disagreements but he was a good friend. It grieves me that I can't be there for the funeral but he is someone else I will be looking for at Calan Gaeaf,

Friday, August 13, 2010

From Swansea to Los Angeles

My friend, Matt Davies sent me this photo along with a couple of others. He'd been to a motor show and they had some of the buses that he and I used to drive back in the 70's and early 80's. He sent me them in an e-mail entitled "Nostalgia Rush" and that is exactly what it was. I remember the training bus we had. It was similar to this one but older. It had a crash gear box. That meant that in order to change gears you had to match the speed of the engine to the speed of the rear axle. There was no power steering and automatic gears were a dream of the future. Back then the definition of a "Good Bus" was one where the heaters worked.
When I learned to drive a bus my instructor was Elwyn Richards. He was a tough old bugger. He and I both spoke Welsh but my driving test had to be taken in English. The only problem with that was, in English, I would get mixed up between left and right.
Funny thing is that since living in America where I hardly speak Welsh at all, when I do speak Welsh I get mixed up between Wednesday and Friday.
Anyway, Elwyn got so pissed off at me turning the wrong way, like going left when he said right, that he cured me by smacking me around the ear. It would be "Turn right!" (Smack) "Turn left!" (Smack) and that is how I learned left from right in English.
Things are a bit different here in L.A. We have a modern fleet powered by Compressed Natural Gas. Gone are the days of Diesel. There's not a manual shift to be found and you need to be a computer expert to fix them these days. Everyone has to be politically correct. There's no smacking around the ear and be careful you don't hurt any one's feelings. I'm lucky though, I can curse in a language no one here understands.
I'm an instructor myself these days, Got my certificate from the Federal Department of Transport. The Transport Safety Institute. and a few other bits of paper that would surprise some of my old colleagues. Yes I teach Americans how to drive a bus. I think a lot of my old friends who remember the trail of destruction I left behind me when I was first driving might view this with horror. The wonderful thing about being here is that no one does know me from back then. I'd been a bus driver for almost 20 years before I came to Los Angeles. No one can point a finger and recount my past disasters.
Differences aren't just in the buses though. Over here the Union, (United Transportation Union) is currently in negotiation with the management. Things don't look good. In this present climate no one wants a strike and I'm certain that There wouldn't be a strike if things could just stay as they are. Unfortunately the company may want to take things away, reduce what we have without increasing anything. That could bring on a strike. There may well be moves to increase the amount Drivers pay for medical benefits, reduce the number of full-time drivers and increase the number of part-timers. Other items that could have a negative impact on the standard of living of the staff could result in industrial action.
I hope not. I hope everything can be sorted out but right now I'm not hopeful.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bus Fares and Green Shield Stamps

Some people may remember the days of Green Shield stamps. These were stamps that the retailer would give you every time you made a purchase. The stamps could then be exchanged for items at the Green Shield shop. They were all the rage at one time and it was a brave shopkeeper indeed who didn't stock them and occasionally do promotions where you got double or treble the stamps. From the local corner shop to the big supermarket, Green Shield Stamps were everywhere.
One of the bus drivers in Swansea, I think it was Desmond, found a book of stamps on his bus. Des' was quite a character and he started handing out stamps with the bus fare. He told the passengers that the bus company was trying out stamps as an incentive to get more people to ride the buses. It was a good joke except then South Wales Transport started getting all these phone calls from irate passengers complaining about the drivers who were not giving out stamps. They insisted that the other drivers were keeping the stamps for themselves instead of handing them out like that honest guy Des'.
The odd thing about bus companies is that they think that the only incentive they can offer to people for riding a bus is that the bus goes down a certain street. That's it, never a thought to what else they might do to encourage more patronage. Instead if a bus doesn't carry a lot of passengers the service gets cut. That is not a business model geared towards survival or even common sense. It would be nice to point at one bus company and say "This is wrong" but it's not one company, they all follow the same suicidal tendency and if it wasn't for government funding and government bailouts, from before the word became popular, there's not one of them that could survive.
The "Experts" that bus companies listen to aren't any help either. They are more likely to contribute to the problems rather than bring positive solutions. Last year I attended a planning meeting that was being addressed by a panel of experts who spouted so much rubbish that I ended up stuttering in the effort to say something constructive and be polite. I heard talk of what had been successful in Philadelphia and Detroit and so obviously it's going to work in Los Angeles. I was wondering what dream world they live in or must they spout intellectual drivel in order to get paid. It continues with more and more of these meetings and conferences that have no relevance at all to the current passengers and are even further removed from bringing more people to the passenger seat. What was both irritating and amusing, but mostly irritating at that planning meeting I attended was one highly educated bloke who, whenever a point was made, would reply "Now how can we turn that into a positive statement?" I wanted to smack him. Not everything is positive. The world has negative and positive elements and problems are never solved by this kind of psychological mumbo-jumbo. More especially, this kind of thinking is not the kind of thinking that reflects the experience of bus riders. Before any planning can work, somebody needs to talk to real people.
Here in Los Angeles there's an organization called the "Bus Riders Union"
They're a radical group with some very liberal left wing views and that scares the hell out of the powers that be but they have real people in their membership. Some Honest to God men and women who are fed up with a company that ignores their real needs and want to be heard. I'm not talking about student activists or 60's intellectuals, they have more than their fair share of those, but the kind of people who need a decent bus service.
It's time to take them on board at these planning meetings. Maybe then we'll start to see some meaningful plans.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The talking buses of L.A.

One of the most embarrassing moments in my life, and there have been many, occurred many tears ago in the Welsh town of Carmarthen. Back in the day I used to enjoy singing in folk clubs, I don't pretend to be a singer by any means but I've always enjoyed the folk genre. On one occasion I was invited to MC a folk concert in the above mentioned Carmarthen. The concert was bi-lingual and I didn't think I'd have a problem with that. Welsh is my language after all and I'm fairly profficient in English. I was doing quite well until I introduced a band named "Aberjabber" Remember I'd been switching from Welsh to English all night and I'd been fed a couple of beers. That's my excuse, because instead of introducing "Wales most up and coming band" I introduced "Wales up, and most coming band." In front of 2,000 people.
Words are tricky things and America is a place where it's so easy for the unsuspecting to trip up. There are numerous stories of the British traveller who has got off the plane, having spent at least 12 hours without a cigarette, walking into a bar and asking the bartender if he has fags for sale. or using words like "I could kill for a beer and a fag."
In America it's quite common to meet a man named's short for Randall. However in the rest of the English speaking world "Randy" means "Horny" I have a friend who is an executive director of an advertising company. Yes, his name is Randall, he told me how he went to the airport to meet an Australian businessman, He cheerfully stuck out his hand and said to the man's wife "Hi, I'm Randy." The Australian grinned and replied "Well good for you."
Driving buses in Los Angeles is full of linguistic perils, especially if you are a somwhat friendly sort of bloke, living in a country where "mother" is only half a word. It doesn't help that L.A. is a melting pot of languages and cultures from places I'd only heard about before coming here. My problems are only compounded by accent. At least that is what I'm told. Apparently I have a strong Welsh accent. Never knew about that until I came here. I always thought that I talks proper, like.
Strangely, to me anyway, people get confused by my accent. I have been accused of being German, Czech, even Philipino but the most common mistake is that I'm thought of as Irish. Amongst the Hispanic population I have often been referred to as a "Pince Leprachaun" (The word "Pince" means something like "Goshdarned" but don't use it in case it means something much worse)
However the MTA has come up with a solution. An automatic voice. There's a law in America that bus driver's are supposed to announce the bus stops, that used to be a lot of fun for me and the passengers got quite amused by it as well. Now the buses are hooked up to a satellite system that tells the bus exactly where it is and a robotic voice tells the passengers which stop is coming up next. Cool, it takes a lot of pressure off the driver. There is one thing that no one ever talked about though and it's interesting to watch it play out. Because of the large variety of languages and cultures there is also a large variety in the way street names are pronounced. It is natural to look at a word and pronounce it using your own terms of reference. Now, thanks to modern technology, there is one standard way of pronouncing street names. It's still too early to say but I suspect a subtle shift in L.A. culture. Whether that is good or bad is to be seen but no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
One other thing I have to mention is the light rail that's run by the MTA. It's the only part of the company that has plans for growth. The amusing thing about the trains is not only do they announce the stations that are coming up. They also announce that the trains are leaving the platform with the words "Stand clear the doors are closing." There is a sinister, almost Hitchcockesque, pause between the word "doors" and "are" almost as if something evil is about to be said. The other part I find amusing in my own twisted way is that the message is bi-lingual. English and Spanish. The interesting part is that English is spoken first, by the time the Spanish message is sent the doors have closed and if you didn't understand English then you're S.O.L.
We have a pet, her name is India, my teenage sons have asked me that when their friends are around I should not pat her head and affectionately refer to her as a "Silly bitch" There is no such thing as a female dog, it's a contradiction in terms, but apparently it's just another thing to learn in the linguistic minefield called America.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Sunday Rant

The temperature is in three digits here in L.A. and that brings on all the old problems. Funny how, when I worked for South Wales Transport the heaters never worked, here in Sunny Southern California the air conditioning doesn't work. At least we could wrap up against the cold, heat is something else and it makes tempers rise. Especially when someone decides it's too damn hot and they can't drive anymore. Then that bus is on stop and the bus behind has to take up the slack. The bus gets overcrowded and there's a tinderbox in more ways than one.

It doesn't help that some of the driver's here have no idea how to handle tricky situations. Metro pays a decent wage to the driver's and it used to be the culture that you got minimum wage for driving the bus, the rest of the money is yours for being a professional, for being the psychiatrist, the counselor, the friend to those who need the bus. Too much of that has gone out the window.
I'm the last one to say that the management of this company is anywhere near perfect. There's too much politics and not enough business running this joint, but I wish some of the driver's had a better concept of what their job is all about. When the guy in front starts passing bus stops , leaving people behind just because he's a few minutes late, leaving the driver behind to pick up his slack, I'm not thinking what's his opinion of the bus company or what's his opinion of the passengers. I'm thinking; What's his opinion of me? The objection I have to bus company hiring policies is one that's not unique to any company. It seems that all over the world the same thing happens. Everyone knows that not everyone is suited to being a bus driver, but the bus company Hires everyone. That's the first part here's the second bit where they go wrong. If you were to ask a Supervisor, or inspector in the UK, why they applied for promotion the honest answer from the majority is that they couldn't handle the passengers anymore. My question to anyone is; If you owned a business, any business not just transportation, would you promote into management the people who can't stand your customers? That's what bus companies do and what makes that worse is that the person promoted hasn't changed, he''s still the same. Only now his customers are the bus drivers and he still doesn't like his customers.
OK that's my Rant for today.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tamales and Bus Fares

I used to drive the 66 line. It goes from Western Avenue through Downtown Los Angeles out through East L.A. and ends up at the Montebello Metrolink center. Along the way I pass by McArthur Park. That’s the Park made famous in the Movie “Volcano” where a volcano erupts in Los Angeles. The lake where the water starts boiling is the one that dominates the park.

There’s a young Mexican guy that catches that bus in the evening. The bus would be packed by the time he would get on so he would stand by the front and we got to talking. He is in his early twenties and he’s married with two small children. He works all day at a job that pays just a little above minimum wage. He rides the bus home and this kid is so proud of his wife. He told me how she spends her day taking care of the house and the small children, yet she still finds time to make Tamales. Not for him to eat, she makes a bucket full of them. He says they’re the best Tamales anyone has ever made. In the evening, when he gets home, he picks up this bucket of Tamales and catches the bus back to McArthur Park. There he sells them for $1 each. In an hour they are all sold.

This young family is poor but they are going to make it. I’m sure of that. They are sticking together and working together and they are proud of each others accomplishments. However humble those achievements may seem to some of us, this young couple see each other as heroes, there is no way they can fail with that kind of commitment. I learned all this from talking to him and meeting his wife just once as she met him at the bus stop.

The other thing I’m sure of is that in years to come, when they have success and being poor is just a memory, they will think of these days as being the happiest days of their lives.
I have said more than once, and I’ll probably keep saying it, that mass transportation is essential to modern civilization. I just wish it was more effective.

There is a big fuss going on at the moment about the bus fare increase here in Los Angeles. It makes for some interesting reflections. Like the young family in this story. The monthly pass is going up by $13 so for the two of them that’s another $26 to find. Put it another way, the income from 26 Tamales is eaten up by the bus company. If they were a shop or a regular business they would pass the increase on to their customers, but the people they sell to are poor themselves. They are already charging all that their market can bear and they are too decent to raise their prices. For people like them, and there are a lot of young families in their position, the fare increase is a heavy burden.

For those with steady jobs and a fairly decent standard of living it’s not the fare increase that keeps them off the buses. It’s the lack of convenience.

The main reason why people do not catch a bus in L.A. is that it’s not that easy to get around by bus. Not in a timely and efficient manner. Without going too much into the details consider this. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority has almost 7,000 employees, all of them have a free bus pass but only 2% of them use the bus. Obviously the bus fare is not an issue with them. What is an issue is being able to get to work on time without spending hours travelling and switching from one bus to another.

There needs to be a complete overhaul of the way mass transit is considered in Los Angeles County and it needs to be a flexible one. Part of the problems we have here are because a system was set up and then engraved in stone. The Transit system in L.A. doesn’t need tinkering with it needs changing. It also needs problem solvers with the humility to realize that times will change and the solutions of today will become outdated and eventually must move aside for new innovations.

It’s time for a fresh outlook

Friday, July 9, 2010

It's a Wild Ride

There's been so much happening lately. I started this Blog with the commitment to myself that I would write it at least twice a week. I'm failing miserably. Not because nothing is happening but because there's so much. First there's the job; These days I only do an 8 hour day and that's enough. I used to work 15 or 16 hour days, I remember so many years with my children back in Wales, as well as the two in my present marriage, where I would be leaving the house while they were asleep and not get home until they were in bed. It's a common complaint among bus drivers. We get so used to the overtime that we find we can't live without it. Fortunately I'm in a different situation these days and 8 hours is what I do. At least that's what I do to keep the lights from being turned off.
Then there's everything else. All my life I've wanted to write and the online gigs give me the opportunity to do that. So I write these articles for Hub Pages I like to write about Welsh Mythology, and my sideways view of life. I've got a few other sites that I write to as well but that's the main one.
I don't spend my all my time in front of the computer even though sometimes I wish I could. There are so many other things happening and all at the same time. I mentioned in a previous post that I had been in the Mountains at a Druid camp. That's me in the forest. By the way, did you know that if a man is in the forest, alone, where no woman can hear him, he's still wrong. That was a great time and I might even put up some more photos, especially of the Labyrinth we built. Trouble is that at the same time I was off to camp, I had an invitation to a songfest, o folk-singing evening organized by a good friend and another party hosted by the Guild of Saint Helena's. That's a place for throwbacks like me, the common folk of medieval Europe, to gather together, sing and make merry. It was held at the house of another good friend, a retired LA PD lieutenant.
Then there was my son's graduation from High School. He has become a very accomplished young man. He played a leading role in high school activities all through his time there and now he has a summer job as a camp counselor at a summer camp in San Diego. Very proud of the young man.
Today I was at Hsi Lai, that's the largest Buddhist Temple in the Western hemisphere. I've been going there for some years now. It's a beautiful place with art treasures that have no price. Truly amazing. They also serve an excellent buffet lunch. All you can eat for a donation and the food is superb.

Tonight the wife and I are off to a Sacred Drum Circle. An Apache friend of mine, who also works for the bus company, holds a circle every Friday. My wife, being Apache herself, has always wanted to go. So tonight I'm off work and I'm taking her.
I want to write about all these things and tell of them individually. But this is a crazy life, it's meant for living and live it I will.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Homeles and Toothless

I never did see real poverty until I came to Los angeles. I thought I did, I remember I used to do a soup run from Rob and Betty's cafe in Swansea. The Cafe shut down when Rob passed away but it was a unique place. Open 24 hours a day, the homeless would go in there and get a cup of tea and a meal. If they could pay, OK, if they couldn't, that was OK too. I remember one evening this homeless guy wanted to buy me a cup of tea and I said no I offered to buy him one instead. Rob stopped me and pointed out a couple of things. He said I should let him pay for the tea because if he didn't spend his money at the Cafe he'd spend it in the Pub. When his money is gone, the Pub won't look after him but Rob and Betty would. I've remembered that all my life, the lessons I learned from that cafe and the couple that owned it.
Once a week a group of us would meet at Rob and Betty's and they would supply us with hot soup and bread. I was paired with a Priest, Brian, he wasn't comfortable with the "Father" thing anyway and neither was I. The homeless had their own jargon. The regular sleeping place was called a "Skipper" derelict buildings were called a "Derry" Brian and I soon knew where all the skippers were in town and we'd take them a meal. Brian didn't make a deal about the Priest or God thing, he'd sit there and swap jokes, ones a Priest shouldn't know I was thinking, but what the hell. I learned more than any school could teach about life and living tough.
So when I came to Los Angeles I had the ideas I had learned a long time ago. Only here it seemed much worse for the down and out. I got the impression that America is a very unforgiving country. If you make a mistake, or if things go wrong, you better have very good friends and access to compassionate people or you are in real trouble.
There's a section of Los Angeles that I refer to as the Homeless living room. Homeless people hang out there, sleep on the street and do just about anything. It's roughly a square block that goes from Main street to Towne and 4th street to 6th. In that area is the Midnight Mission and the Salvation Army. Volunteers staff the kitchen at the Midnight Mission, I've been told that Dick Van Dykestill volunteers there regularly. At the Salvation Army they look especially favoroubly on the newly saved and many of the homeless here give their hearts to Jesus two or three times a week. I got to know about this, and a lot of other things, when I drove all night on the number 10 line. It goes from West Hollywood to 6th and Maple. Right in the heart of the homeless living room. Many of the homeless guys here get some welfare money once a month and they buy a bus pass. They use a bus in lieu of a hotel room. They'll get on an all night bus and just sleep. The buses can get pretty stinky at night. It never bothered me too much but some of the drivers here would get upset. Another thing that most of the drivers here don't like is that when you get to the end of the line it can be tough to wake the buggers up. Some of them will even call the cops to get them off the bus. Who knows! if it hadn't been for Rob and Betty I might have been the same but I wasn't. I'd let them sleep. They aren't hurting anyone so who cares?  was getting a dozen regulars on my bus and a few more would drift on and off so I put coffee into two Thermos Flasks and took a packet of cookies. When I got to the end of the line in downtown I usually had about 20 minutes before I had to leave so I'd break out the coffee and cookies and we'd sit around and talk. Tell lies mostly but I learned about the homeless in L.A. I learned that in that little area of social services and jesus you can get anything you want. Drugs, Prostitution even Cuban Cigars. It's all there.
One evening I was on my own at the terminal when a woman from the cheap apartment block across the street, Felony Flats I used to call them, came over. She told me her name was Beverly and she offered me an exquisite pleasure, all right actually it was a blow job, for $5. "Because I like you" she said. So I asked her if she provided any warranty with that. A "Satisfaction gauranteed or your money back" deal. She didn't like that idea and I got the impression if I parted with any money I wasn't getting it back whatever the outcome. So I asked if she gave any freebies, how about a "Try before you buy" Unfortunately my attempts at negotiation were geting nowhere and she left but not without a parting shot that I wrote down afterwards. It was so good I had to memorize it. She said;
It's all about the money
And that ain't funny.
You gotta have cash
In this land of milk and honey.
Now that's poetry for you.

Friday, June 25, 2010

On her back with her legs in the air

Many years ago I was hobbling (That's moonlighting if your not from my 'hood) for a private bus company, "D" Coaches they were called, after the owner, Darryll Davies. One of my regular gigs was driving the Senior Citizens club from Clydach. I'll nevr forget the lady in charge of the bus trips, Elvira Jones. She was a widow in her 70's and she ruled with a fist of iron. I remember one day she was chivvying the old folk on the bus and one of them called her "Di-munedd" impatient everyone spoke Welsh. She looked at me and this 70 something woman said; "If I was to stand on my head and piss in my eye they still would not be satisfied." That loses soooo much in translation. Before telling this story I must point out that Elvira Jones never wore leg-irons. She was a stockings and suspenders girl, she told me so herself.
One day I had a bus full, mostly women, on a Welsh countryside tour. We stopped at a pub for a little drink and then headed home. Not too long after leaving the pub I got approached by one of them telling me that about a dozen of the old dears needed to pee.

It was going to be about 20 minutes before I could get to the next Town, Carmarthen if I remember correctly, and find some place for them to go. That was going to be too long. I was on a country road with no lights so I pulled over. There was a small bank at the side of the road, so I suggested that if they were that desperate they could slip out of sight and do whatever they needed to do. About a dozen of them took the offer. Desperation is a great motivator.

Before long a couple of them came to me for help. One of the old dears had slipped on the bank and they were too nervous to try and go down there to help her. I went over and there, on the bottom of a not very steep or deep bank, was the unfortunate lady. She was wearing those leg irons, the kind that Forest Gump wore in the movie when he was a kid. She was lying on her back, with her legs in the air, her draws around her knees and she couldn't move. I had to help her up because the other old biddies were afraid to go down in case they slipped and joined her.

I was more embarrassed than she was. I helped her to her feet and said something like "I'll help you up the bank missus, but you'll have to handle your knickers yourself." She just stepped out of them and I got her back to the bus. To the cheers of the old folk and the amusement of everyone because I was the only one blushing.

Ever noticed how public transport frquently makes an ass of itself. Falls down and just lies there with it's butt to the world and says;
"I only need a little help and I'll be back on my feet."
Back on it's feet yes but still with the leg irons strapped on. What I'm referring to in this little analogy is that no mass transit agency anywhere can truly be run like a business. The leg irons are the political pressures that management has to deal with before making any real decision. The result is that very few decisions, certainly no major decisions, are ever business decisions. They are political decisions and the only solution to difficulty is to cut spending and look for a hand-out from the government. It's like working for a boss who himself is on welfare.

Many of the decisions are themselves counter -intuitive. If we are short of money we have to look for extra work to make up the shortfall. The bus company answer is to cut service, reducing it's ability to earn. If a bus route has few passengers the common wisdom is to remove the service. What is wrong in making an attempt to attract passengers to the line. If any of us had a product to sell and were truly committed to that product, we would do all we can to promote it. If feedback showed flaws we may tweak it to improve customer desire. Finding alternatives to generate revenue makes much more sense than constantly reducing an ability to earn.

The constant search for more and more government funds is also a weak strategy. In times of fiscal shortfall the monies that have been so relied upon become scarce and the old lady starts down that slippery slope that ends up with her legs in the air asking for more help.

It's worth pointing out that if she didn't have the leg-irons on she probably wouldn't have fallen and even if she had she would have been able to get up with minimum assistance.

These are not the failings of one bus company but a general failing in mass transit concepts all over the world. A point I've made for more years than I care to remember is; Financial crises and corporate challenges present the opportunity to change a system, not the excuse for perpetuating it.

I don't believe I'm the only one who sees this so why doesn't meaningful change take place?

It's those damn leg-irons again. If we accept government cash then we are at the mercy of politicians. The people elected to scrutinize and regulate now dictate. True business decisions are over-ridden by political constraints. The ambition and agendas of individuals, the notion that to accept an idea that isn't mine will hamper my advancement, the fear that change will put me in the back of the room instead of up front where I am now. Someone who has friends in high places and can negotiate extra funds wouldn't want the company to stand on it's own feet.

So innovation and creativity are squashed. The only suggestions considered are those that tinker with the system. "Turn off your computer." "Recycle paper" etc. may be worthy reccommendations of themselves but they are treating symptoms not the disease. If someone has smallpox an ointment to relieve the irritating sores, while giving some relief, does not fight the sickness.

So lets strengthen the legs, get rid of the irons and show the old girl how she can get back to the road on her own. Then no one needs to be embarrassed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Down from the Mountain

This isn't about buses today, this is all about last weekend. The 21st of June is midsummer's day. In the Druid calender it's called "Alban Hefin" That's Welsh if you haven't guessed. I will hide nothing here, I follow the old Druid spirituality of my Welsh ancestors. I hesitate to call myself a Druid because Druids were a particular class with a very definite function in the old Celtic tribal tradition. That tribal structure and the view of Druids as Priests, Teachers and Judges no longer exists but I work at following their spiritual path and it works for me. My views on this part of my life are here;
and here
A life filled with Magic
I went to the Los Angeles national Forest, to a place called Jackson Flat.
Where I was camping is over 7,400 feet above sea level. To put it in perspective, the highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis, 4.409 feet above sea level.
There was quite a good group of Pagans there, not a huge number by any means but we made a respectable crowd. We sang and talked and held a ritual for the season. It was a good time for everyone and a refreshing experience. I came away feeling good about my life and the world in general. I felt renewed and ready to face the challenges that my life holds and prepared for the adventures yet to come.
The ancients saw Magic in the in-between places. The border between proprties, the indescribable place that is neither his nor his. Or the moment of midnight, that moment when it is neither today nor today. Such moments are where Magic happens, in the in-between places, in those times and places that are nothing, yet filled with potential. Such a moment is the Summer Solstice. There is a moment when the sun is at it's highest point in the year. An instant where it is at it's most powerful, then it declines. Such a moment is Alban Hefin, The Magic was there and I was privileged to feel it in the movement of the Earth and the movement of the skies. Most of all in the company of good friends old and new. Brothers and sisters on the long and winding road to the Summerland.
I also saw my very first live rattlesnake.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mass Transit in Los Angeles

The public transport system in Los Angeles had me puzzled right from the beginning. There is something here that I had never seen before. Usually Buses work from a central hub, there's a downtown, or city centre, area where the buses radiate out from and return to, like the spokes of a wheel. there isn't any of that here in L.A. Here evrything goes north/south or east/west. I thought this was, not only strange but inefficient. Its a great soundbite to say that buses can take you everywhere but people don't want to go everywhere, we all have a specific destination in mind, be it shopping, Work, Church or whatever. So why didn't the buses radiate out from a central location connecting these places? Why does Los Angeles have everything going in such a way that more than one bus is necessary for almost any destination? Surely radiating out from a central hub would be a better use of resources, a more efficient way of getting the travelling public to their destination with less buses on the streets.
The answers I have been given sound fair on the face of it;
First It has been pointed out that Los Angeles is a planned city. It didn't just "happen" the way most european cities grew as villages met and combined over centuries of growth. Los Angeles was construcfed with all the streets going north/south and east/west.
Secondly; Los Angeles does not have a central hub. The downtown area is disfunctional.Great strides have been made in recent years to improve and revitalize the city centre but it is still a long way from being a city centre in the way any other city has a central focal point.
The city centre is split into districts; A garment district, a jewellery district, a toy district and so on. There is a cultural centre with some world class music and art theatres. All what you might expect in a thriving metropolis but where it falls down is that no one wants to hang out here. Any where else you might visit these places and then go to a restaraunt or a coffe bar, you would stay a little while. In Los Angeles, you come here for your business and then get out as soon as you can. The perception for most is that if you try to walk around Los Angeles, some homeless guy is going to cut your heart out.
Add to that the fact that there is no pedestrianized area in Los Angeles, nowhere that transportation options can be centralized, and you have a disfunctional hub.
The unfortunate by product of this is that the surrounding cities in Los Angeles county have mirrored the basic outline of L.A. they too are built on a grid, they even name their streets the same and in the same order.
As an aside here, the way I remember the order of the streets in L.A. and therefore the order of the streets in most of the outlying cities is;
"From MAIN we SPRING to BROADWAY then over the HILL to OLIVE, wouldn't it be GRAND if we could HOPE to to pick a FLOWER on FIGUEROA"
The result of this is that the outlying cities are unable to form functional transport hubs even though their city centres are more welcoming than Los Angeles.
The situation here could be changed, at little public expense and a far better use of transit resources with considerable savings in the long term. What is needed is political will. It would require some imagination, creativity, a willingness to advertise to the population of L.A. the plans to improve the quality of transportation and of city life. Then just do it.
The layout of L.A. is what it is. To work with what we have it would be necessary to consider the Central Business District a Hub. Here the grid system can work with certain well advertised modifications. Including the aggressive advertising of the attractions that downtown has and relieving the public of safety concerns. It should be a desired destination rather than a necessary evil.
All routes need to be revisited, this time not with assessing the level of ridership but how do they radiate from the centre, how do they best connect with the places that people really want to get to. With that principle as the first consideration ridership will folow, unlike the present method of looking at routes that have poor ridership and then cutting back on them. That is the easy way, Any child can do that. The part where real thought would come in would be in how to make the overall system efficient and responsive to the travelling public. nothing short of a complete overhaul of the transport structure in Los Angeles City and the outlying cities of the county will ever give an optimisation of resources and a truly responsive and effective public transportation system.

Monday, June 14, 2010

America versus England

Tim Howard is my newest hero.
Let me put the record straight, I'm a Welshman, born and bred. I was 42 years old when I came to America. All the years I've been here I still don't care that much for American sports and I've never been that interested in football, or Soccer as they call it over here. I'm a Rugby man, always have been, always will be but what I saw in the America vs England game made me proud of my American citizenship.
That Saturday I was rooting for America. Like I said, I'm an American Citizen and Wales isn't in the cup. It may be the subject of another article somewhere but the truth is Wales will never be in the World Cup. What I mean by that is, that it doesn't matter how well we play. It doesn't matter how good the Welsh team could be, it wouldn't even matter if Wales won the World Cup. The English Media will refer to Wales as "The British Contribution" They refuse to recognize our historic nation in whatever capacity we approach the World stage. I'll continue that rant another time, for now I want to bask in the glory of being on a side that held England to a draw.
Yes, it's true that the American goal was a fluke, the ball should never have got in the net. That said, the glory of the game was that England could not regain the lead. They couldn't get their ball past the superb goalkeeping skills of Tim Howard even giving him a boot in the ribs didn't help the English side. The man is a national hero, America got the draw and held it.
We now have the one point and are ready for Slovania.
Ymlaen America!  ooops! that's me being Welsh again. Go America!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


My son reminded me of something that happened so long ago that it feels like another life. It happened while I was a Bus Driver in Wales, The city of Swansea is on the south coast of Wales and the Bus company I worked for was South Wales Transport.
I had this route that went past Tycoch college and in the morning I would have a bus full of students. There was one in particular that I remember, Sharon. Sharon's parents were from Jamaica, some place just outside Kingston, if memory serves me right. During the 50's a lot of people immigrated in from Jamaica, Granada and Trinidad. There was full employment back in those days, I may well write about that, Prime Minister Harold MacMillan (Super Mac) and his "You've never had it so good" speech. but I digress.
Sharon and I used to talk. She was lovely and I was quite smitten by her. I could tell she liked me too but I was married and it never went any further than just talking on the bus on her way to college. There was a fair bit of banter too; like the time when she offered me a piece of dark chocolate and I pretended I couldn't find it on her hand, or how she'd come on the bus, if it had been raining, with her hood up and I'd tell her to smile otherwise I wouldn't know there was anyone in there. She called me "White Trash" and told me that the only good thing about me was a white Christmas. It was all good fun and so inappropriate in today's oh so politically correct world.
The second and third generation of those who came to the UK from the islands integrated well into our culture and way of life. I don't say there was no prejudice from individuals, some people will always be that way, but I was never so aware of it as I am today in California. Here I find so many people who are uncomfortable in their own skin, they can't have that easy familiarity that I was so used to back home. It seems you always have to be aware of what you say and who is listening when you say it. The breath of fresh air here is the Black people, excuse me the African American people, who are not bitter and angry and who can relate to anyone on their own terms. I'm going to have to write about that too, but back to Sharon.
One day she got on my bus quite loaded down. She had a basket and a backpack and some other things and I asked what was happening. She said that this was her last day. College was over and she and her friends were doing a gift exchange. She obviously had a lot of friends. She also told me that her family was moving to Surrey. That's in south east England and it meant we would never see each other again. I remember saying "And we never even kissed" She said "You never know" We chatted a little more then, when we got to the college she asked me to help her off with all that luggage. I had a pretty full bus but I wasn't going to say no so I gave her a hand. Then outside the bus in the full view of all my passengers and anyone else who could be walking by, she kissed me.
I'll never forget that kiss, it was loving and passionate and everything a kiss should be, but what made it special was that it was just a kiss. Usually when you kiss there's something that goes along with it; Like a prelude to sex or the promise of something to happen later. There's always something else. But we were never going to see each other again so there was no ulterior motive, it was a kiss purely for the sake of the kiss.
When I got back on the bus I was blushing like a fool and the passengers were clapping and cheering. Total embarrassment and a flush of pleasure and joy.
I never did see Sharon again, I have no idea what became of her but I will never forget that day and I will never forget the Kiss.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I am a Bus DRIVER, Dammit!

As I mention in my bio I've been driving buses for most of my adult life. It's a career I've always enjoyed., a place I can feel at home. It's made me a lot of money and one thing that can be said about this kind of work is that, once you have your licence and as long as you keep it clean, you never need to be unemployed. I don't care what recession might come along or what the financial worries of governments local or national might be. There is always work somewhere for the bus driver. More than that, you can go to any country in the world and as long as you can communicate, there's a job waiting for you.
Another thing about this kind of work is that it's not work. Bus Drivers do not really work, Steel workers, Farm Laborers and Coal Miners, these guys work. All I ever did was push a bus around the streets.
But I'm proud of what I do. Mass transit is essential to modern civilization and the Bus Driver is right there at the front of this industry. The Bus Driver is the one who represents the company at the street level. People who would never complain to the office about the schedules and about the bus they just missed, will complain to the driver. Folks have also been known to praise the driver for outstanding service. That doesn't get to the boss either. All in all I've seen many more smiles than frowns.
Another part of this job is that it's a great way to get to know a city. I've been to parts of Los Angeles that most folks who have lived here all their lives have yet to see. I've seen the best and the worst of Los Angeles. I've seen acts of incredible kindness and humanity, I've also arrived on the scene just after a murder.
There are many tales to tell and a lot of people to talk about. the good, the bad and the downright disgusting.
There's another side to it too. I drove buses in South Wales then I drove tour buses all over the British Isles and most of continental Europe but Los Angeles is unique. That could be said about any city but in the case of L.A. it's even more so. The contradictions and peculiarities of the mass transit industry in Los Angeles could not be found anywhere else in the world. History and geography have all played their part in producing a transit culture unlike anything I've ever come across.
That brings me to my final point and the first thing that bothered me about bus driving in L.A.  and it bothers me still.
They insist on calling me a Bus Operator they even have this saying of "There are no drivers here" and they talk about "Smooth Operator" ersonally, it makes me want to throw up. I am not an "Operator"! An operator takes phone calls, I'm a Bus Driver It's who I am it's how I identify my self, It's what I've done and what I do to keep the lights on and bacon on the stove.
So whenever I hear someone say "There are no drivers here" I answer "Here's one and I''m damn proud of it."