Taking the L.A. underground -- Ventura style

A plausible way around L.A.

By Ivor Davis 03/20/2008

We’ve all gone through the nightmare. You’ve scored expensive (is there any other kind?) tickets to one of those Music Center theaters in Downtown L.A., or it’s your chance to check out those incredible acoustics at Disney Hall.

In the ’70s or ’80s — for those of you who can remember the ’70s and ’80s — you could climb behind the wheel of your gas guzzler in Ventura and swing south on the 101. And you’d do the Ventura-to-Downtown-60-mile-plus run in 1 hour and 15 minutes — on a slow day.

In 2008 — forgeddaboudit! If your destination is Downtown you had better give yourself two to three hours, and even then you’re not guaranteed to get there before the curtain goes up or the concert master gives his “A” to the string section.

I kid you not. I’ve kept a sorry tab on the Ventura-L.A. time and distance for years. Many a night we booked dinner for 6 p.m., hoping to eat in leisurely fashion and stroll a few blocks up Grand Avenue for an 8 p.m. show. Before we even hit Victoria or Vineyard the traffic began to slow. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to phone the restaurant, cancel the reservation because of the clog, or even worse, make it to the restaurant 20 minutes before curtain up — cram dinner into 15 minutes, causing dyspepsia and aggression, not to mention exacerbating blood pressure — and that’s before you get to the theater.

I wish I could say relief is on the way (diamond lanes on the 101 — you’ve got to be kidding), which leaves us with one solution if you want to be revolutionary, bold and daring and do something most Venturans would never conceive of.

How about — ready for it — riding the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subway system into the heart of Downtown.
I know, I know. That’s pretty shocking to anyone who thinks the subway is a foreign means of transportation. You know: the Brits with their Tube, the French with Le Metro and New Yorkers with their grubby subway.

But the other weekend, heading to a play at the L.A. Music Center, we took the gamble — and surprise, surprise. It turned out to be a marvelous experience.

OK, ready? Write this down. You head south and get off the 101 at Lankershim Boulevard. Go north a couple of miles, and suddenly there it is at the Chandler intersection — on your right, a gleaming modernistic-looking glass and steel structure: The North Hollywood Metro station. And you can park your car for free and wait on the platform for the highly colored metro train.

We went on a Saturday afternoon, so maybe we missed the daily rush hour. And when I told friends in Ventura to risk this new journey they seemed impressed, until one of them snipped: “Why bother — by the time you get to North Hollywood you’re passed the worst of the traffic — and almost Downtown anyway.”

Yeah … but what about that unpredictable 15-mile slab of the Hollywood Freeway into Downtown?

But I must say the Metro Red Line ride was sheer pleasure. First of all it only costs $1.25 (if you’re older than 62 it’s just 55 cents), and once you’ve mastered the automatic ticket machines it’s smooth sailing.

The trains are astonishingly clean, not at all like those menacing Manhattan subways packed with gang members and dozing zombies depicted so horrendously in countless movies. (Actually, the Red Line, which cost a mere $5.6 billion to build, has also been featured in several Hollywood movies, including Lethal Weapon 3 and Speed.)

And what astonished me on my journey down was that no one took my ticket. In fact, would you believe the train runs on the honor system? How’s that again?

All the stations are likewise clean and sparkling. No graffiti. The ride to Downtown is 17 miles — and while the train can go up to 70 mph, it proceeded on this occasion at a leisurely pace, taking just less than 30 minutes through 12 stations until we arrived at the Civic Center/ Tom Bradley Station — that’s one before the end of the line, Union Station, which hooks up to Amtrak and Metrolink.

Because it was Saturday there were no hordes of office workers heading Downtown, as there are on weekdays. And the peace and quiet was a treat.

At Civic Center the up escalator deposited me one block from the Music Center and just a couple of blocks to Disney Hall. And I didn’t have to worry about the Music Center’s pricey parking or fighting the bumper-to-bumper procession of cars, with their attendant carbon monoxide poisoning out of the underground car park after the show.

But there’s still the point that you have to take your car all the way to North Hollywood. So you might want to park at the Woodland Hills station and then take the orange line to the North Hollywood red line station — and then to Downtown.

You can actually plan your preferred route. Just go to their Web site, www.metro.net and punch in the trip planner — and have fun on ways to take the train to Staples Center, the Convention Center, or even LAX.

Still, when all is said and done I suppose taking the L.A. Underground is so-called progress — although it still doesn’t come close to my hometown of London.    

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