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Letter from LA

The following is an actual letter from Marketa Jiraskova, a native Czech and former Radost waitress. In March, she made her first sojourn to L.A. in search of swimmin' pools stardom. Instead, she rode the bus... a lot.

It's another hot day in L.A. After my shift at Cafe Insomnia I caught a bus because the sun was so strong that I thought it would bake my back. Right now, I'm looking out the window at all the beautiful houses along Beverly Boulevard, happy that I was able to grab an empty seat. I see bi gardens, lots of green trees and colorful flowers. If I could just forget all of these people around me here, I would think what a nice, calm and peaceful city I live in. But the pleasant feeling slips away when I notice the person sitting next to me. It's some mentally defective man with eyes like a frog and lips and nose like a horse.

He's looking at me and making weird sounds, trying to share with me some of his impressions on life. I don't know if it's polite to answer him or just look somewhere else and pretend that I hear and see nothing. (I don't even know what he is saying!). I've decided on a third possibility, to continue writing you this letter. I should have known that when you see a bunch of empty seats on a crowded bus there would have to be a dubious character lurking.

Before I came to L.A. in March, I had mixed feelings. Of course I was looking forward to seeing something new, but I was a little nervous because all my friends in Prague told me that the most important think I'll need in L.A. is a gun. I almost bought one. But when I was on my way to the store I thought more about it and decided not to. I mean, I've seen a lot of America movies so I probably would know how to handle a revolver, but I just couldn't picture myself using one in a dangerous situation.

And I did good, because the most important thing to have in L.A. is not a gun, but a car. To be without a car in Los Angeles is to be without one leg. The city is so huge that you drive one hour or more to get out of the city and you're still in the suburbs. When you get bored at one coffeehouse and want to go to another, you have to take your car and drive 10 or 15 minutes, more during rush hour.

Here, public transport doesn't even exist. There are no trams and the subway is unfinished except for a few stations, in downtown L.A. I don't have my own car so most of the time I get rides from my friends, but when nobody is going the same way as me, the only thing to ride is the bus.

The first time I took the bus I was repeating in my head what many people told me: "taking the bus during the day isn't dangerous, but you better sit in the front and be careful." I didn't really know what that meant. Buses from the outside look quite pleasant, but they have black windows, so it's impossible to see inside.

I also thought that buses are for people who are trying to reduce congestion on the streets and freeways, but I was very wrong. Nobody in L.A. gives a damn about traffic. First of all, taking buses has no point or advantages. It's not cheaper, faster, or more comfortable. One ride on the bus costs more than a gallon of gas. Los Angeles, as is known in most places on earth, is the city of famous, rich and successful people. They show off their riches with the car they own. L.A. is not overcrowded with just any old cars. It has super modern and eccentric cars or cars from the seventies, sixties or fifties, which are very popular am0ong young Angelinos.

L.A. is a city of glamour and wealth and fashion. It is also a city of poor, hard-working people. You would never really see these people, though, if you drive in your Range Rover from your $6 million residence in Beverly Hills to some restaurant or club or party with the same kind of people as you. During my first few days in L.A. I thought that there was nothing more than movie stars and lights and amusement, but when I started to work in the cafe on Beverly Boulevard, I started to take the bus and see the other side.

On my first ride I put a couple of dollars into this machine next to the driver and waited for change, but I didn't get any. I got some piece of paper full of holes. Of course I threw it away after I got off the bus. I thought that maybe it was for a controller, but there aren't any in L.A. Somebody told me later that it was a transfer. Drivers have no money with them because in the early days they got held up so many times. Now everybody has to have the exact amount of money.

My first ride I sat right behind the driver because I was scared to go further back. I didn't even watch the people around me very much, but then I started to listen so I could catch some of their conversations. The irony is that I thought I would be the only person in L.A. with poor English. On the bus I may as well have been the only person on the bus speaking English at all. Everyone spoke Spanish. The most common passengers are the poor people in L.A. because they can't afford a car. The rest are children who aren't old enough to drive. In the front are old, gag grannies of fat middle-aged women with at least two shopping bags and even more small children.

When I got more courageous I ventured to the middle of the bus. It took me a few weeks before I was finally pushed there. There is this long seat in the back usually full of stinky, dirty, unshaven men who obviously ride on the bus from the first stop to the last. For them it's a shelter from the rain or from the sweltering heat.

There is one positive thing about L.A. buses: they have air-conditioning, so that there is always ice, cool air. For this reason the buses in L.A. can be quite a nice experience when you A) have plenty of time, B) don't need to be at any particular place, C) find a place to sit, and D) when there is no mentally defective person bothering you. These types are so common that I wonder if they are aware that they are all part of the same bizarre club on wheels.

Anyway, in the end I haven't really grown to like buses. I'd rather just ask people for rides.

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