Before I came to L.A. all sorts of people—friends, acquaintances, bail bondsmen—told me that there was no way I could go to L.A. and not drive. Well, I’m not going to learn to drive, I said repeatedly. You have to, they said. No, I said.
It turns out that, just a little over a week in, L.A. is turning out to be one of the best walking cities I’ve been to. Most of it is laid out on a grid, good for the directionally challenged like me. The majority of crosswalks have countdown clocks. There are few pedestrians, which means few aggressive New York–style people elbowing you. And the cars are not actively trying to kill you. In fact, they seem to be actively trying to not kill you. I have not gotten used to this yet. Every time I see a car about to turn toward me, I stop. But they always stop and wave me across.
I can’t begin to explain how strange this is. In New York, I live between Delancey and Houston, two of the most dangerous streets in Manhattan (Delancey and Essex, three blocks from me, has been called one of the deadliest intersections in the city). You can’t cross Delancey in the time the countdown clock gives you unless you jog. The intersection at Houston and Suffolk has a traffic light, but coming as it does just after a light at a bigger intersection a block down, many drivers don’t realize it’s there or choose to ignore it and run right through it. The best way to cross this particular intersection is sideways and waving madly. And then there are the taxi drivers, born maniacs who studiously apply the rules of the road. Of Egypt. My friend and I once nearly got run over at the intersection of Houston and Bleecker; the taxi driver was leaning halfway out his window for reasons unknown. I’m talking from the waist up, he was outside the cab. My friend swore that he was dead. Dead or alive, he kept right on going.
Taxi drivers here drive like normal people. There is an app called Taxi Magic that allows you to, yes, magically summon a taxi driver. They appear within about three minutes; it’s like having a chauffeur. The app is available in many markets, but not in New York City. (It has something to do with an NYC regulation preventing cabs from being dispatched; they can only be hailed. Which is pretty dumb.)
Add to that the buses somehow adhere to a schedule and arrive just about at the time Google Maps says they will; some bus stops even have electronic arrival boards. What is this, Japan? There’s a bus around the corner from my apartment that goes directly to Santa Monica Beach in 45 minutes. (Though I learned the hard way that Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade is tourist central. No, I don’t want to talk to you about my hair/the whales! Ack, Times Square flashback!)
So far the only disadvantage I’ve found to L.A. is that waiting for the bus in 70-degree heat with no shade to be found anywhere can be a bit unpleasant. Fortunately, I’ve never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. And yes, there are the perverts following you down the street making unwelcome comments, but New York City certainly has its share of perverts. The downside is here there aren’t enough other pedestrians to draw the attention of the pervert away from you.
And finally, people (the non-perverts) say good morning here. You’ll be walking down the street and someone will just say good morning to you, as if you were in some charming rural town. It’s shocking I tell you.
People say hello to you when you walk into a store. They’re happy and friendly. They don’t spit on you or kick you in the shins.
L.A. is so weird.