Category Archives: Southern California Stuff

musings on LA, Palm Springs, and other parts of SoCal

So This Happened: Car Free to Car Lite, and Why


About three and 1/2 years ago (June 7, 2013), I sold my car and decided (after much thought and research) to live a life that was car free. I lost some weight and saw a different side of my city. I saved a lot of money. My stress level became palpably lower. I proved that despite all the cliches (which are class-based cliches, by the way), one does not need a car to survive in L.A.

Yes, I found that it’s possible to get anywhere in the L.A. area by bus, train, bike, walking, Uber, Lyft, taxi, Amtrak and the kindness of strangers. But here’s the thing: possible does not always mean convenient.

So this happened:


Blogger in front of the red Chevy Spark.

I moved to L.A. originally in 1981, and this is the lifestyle we led: Say I lived in Pasadena, which was true for awhile. A friend a few miles away would suggest how nice it would be to go to Hollywood for a few drinks and then later on go down to the beach for a while, play in the dark waves, etc, or go bar-hopping out in Santa Monica. Or have a bite to eat there. We’d often do things like this — which actually involve a 40 or 50 mile round trip in a car. It was common then and it was nothing, really. Gas cheap. We were young and energetic. Traffic was not in any way as bad as it is now, especially at night. This is part of that Southern California Car Culture you hear about, ski in the morning, surf in the afternoon (which I suppose somebody did, not that this kind of activity was EVER anything you would call convenient).

Anyway, my point is, some of this lives on. At least in our minds, at least we’d like to think this is our coastal “lifestyle,” though age and especially traffic has made this all but impossible. I do think there is a bona fide Millennial movement to embrace an L.A. car free existence. But here’s the thing: I’m not a Millennial. Not even close. And I guess although it’s great to be a pioneer or a trailblazer in some way, it’s kind of lonely if you’re the only one.

I was the only one (in my age and class cohorts) who habitually rode the bus or the train and it was honestly getting a bit old and lonely.

Another thing is isolation. While my facility navigating L.A. without a car grew tremendously the longer I did it, my desire to be out and about actually diminished. While I could take an Uber to a hotspot at 10 at night from my home location in the Valley, say to somewhere “over the hill” in Silver Lake or West Hollywood, my desire to do that plummeted. My desire to do that on the bus plummeted even further. And this was not just hotspots, but things like events and other gatherings where the distance and inconvenience just made it too difficult. I didn’t want to be a hermit.

There’s something different about having your own transportation that’s about more than getting to point B from point A, and it has to do with comfort and safety and the ability to be totally spontaneous. I realized that I was willing to pay again for this occasional luxury.

So — I’m not abandoning public transport or my bike or my beloved walks, especially those in the quiet of the near dawn. I really liked contributing to a less polluted city in a really small way and will continue. But I will occasionally use the new car, for things like:

  • Socializing at night, i.e., seeing friends, dating and other activities
  • Road trips – Palm Springs and local places like that, especially where trains don’t go.
  • Camping! I still want to find a partner in crime for this.
  • The occasional event or possibly a job opportunity, like an interview, like tutoring, like background acting on a location (think Santa Clarita, where I used to have frequent gigs). Although for commuting to work, I’ll still use public transport.
  • Going to the Gym – sometimes that’s just easier to drive and I would work out more, quite frankly ,if it was easier to get there.
  • Shopping, sometimes. Sometimes you just want to do that Target run and get your own 30 roll packs of TP rather than have Amazon deliver them.

So there you have it. I’m grateful to have the luxury of the occasional car at my disposal again. I realize how lucky I am to have it. And I know, should it turn out that I really don’t use the car for much, I can always turn around and sell it. Again!

Car Free in L.A. for Three Years – and counting


Three years ago on June 7, 2013, I drove into CarMax in Burbank, California, and sold them my car. They gave me a check for $6000.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

I walked back to my apartment via Magnolia Boulevard. It took more than an hour. During the early summer walk, I had numerous moments of “oh my god, what have you done?” but I did not fall into the earth, wailing or otherwise.

I’d planned to go car free, and had been thinking about it, reading about it for years. There were lots of reasons, from wanting to be more environmentally conscious to wanting to save money to frustration with driving and especially with parking.

I made lots of dry runs with LA’s Metro system, did lots of bike riding on streets with bike lanes (and others without them, but rarely) and started figuring out places I could walk to in my neighborhood of Valley Village.

Still, it was very strange to arrive back at my apartment and leave my parking space empty. That voice in my head would say, well, you’re crazy, you’ve finally done it buddy, what are you thinking, Jim? You can’t live in L.A. without a car, everybody says so!

But then I have lived in L.A. without a car, and for three years now.


  • more money for me (I save about $5K a year on car costs)
  • easier for me to keep weight stabilized, as I get so much aerobic exercise
  • stress level is lower, and blood pressure readings are more in the normal range
  • I see the city on a more human, sidewalk level. I notice people and buildings and plants and . . . that I would have missed before, speeding by.
  • I don’t get road rage.
  • I don’t have to deal with road ragers.
  • I don’t fret over the price of gas or car insurance or car repairs or any of that.
  • I can still be spontaneous — hello car sharing services, Uber and Lyft. That’s one of the missing pieces to this puzzle, and it’s been filled in.
  • I love just showing up at a venue and walking through the front door, shaking my head when someone asks if I need to be validated.
The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank. That's my bike, but the guy is someone else.

The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank. That’s my bike, but the guy is someone else.










There are really no cons to being car free, but I have learned some things about myself and the whole idea of “car free” from a white, middle class perspective.

Some of these things are:

  • Public transport is really a class thing in L.A., still. Regardless of the new Expo line, which everyone wants to ride, because it goes to Santa Monica and the beach, most people ride the Metro because they can’t afford cars. A decision like the one I made to be “car free” was born of privilege (similar to Voluntary Simplicity or New Frugality movements) — because I can afford a car if I want one, if I wanted to return myself to that misery. I imagine that most of the people who have no choice but to take the trains or buses would consider me a silly old fool. I hope that perception will change and we’re making headway, but we’re not there yet.
  • Speaking of that Expo line or the Wilshire 720 Rapid or any of the other public transport ways to get to the Pacific Ocean from the San Fernando Valley: There’s no quick way to get to the beach, other than a car, and even that’s relative. At like, 4 am. On a Tuesday. It would probably take about half an hour at that date/time. But at any other time, rail makes the journey a lot more palatable, i.e. there are no potholes on the rails. And you can read, you can access WiFi or a cell tower (Expo is above ground). You shouldn’t read while driving.
  • When you have a car, you go to lots of places just because you have a car to get there, whether it makes any sense to go there or not. It SEEMS purposeful, but I think that might be an illusion. Because I’ve found that with just a little bit of resistance (the resistance being not having an easy transport option at the ready 24/7) you make lots of different choices.
  • Driving also serves to mask boredom and loneliness. You’re part of this stream of humanity, all GOING somewhere, or at least seeming to, if really not. Listening to the radio is part of it, too, feeling connected to the music or the DJ or the newscaster makes it all a little less lonely.

Just as I started this post I saw that yet another bicyclist had been killed in the LA area, this one in Compton, today, June 6, 2016. RIP.

Be careful out there.

How the blogger lights up his ride

How the blogger lights up his ride

Expo Line This Much Closer to an Opening


Really, time for a post on something other than “Kept.”

Here is the latest I’ve seen about the imminent opening of the extension of the Expo Line light rail to Santa Monica. As the tweet says, not today but soon. It’s done. It’s just testing now.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

So this is pretty exciting, right?  We have that Orange Line connection to the Van Nuys Flyaway, we’ve got the Gold Line extension to Azusa opening March 5, and now light rail to the true end of the line (blocks from the beach) in Santa Monica, should be open in time for summer, if not before (come on guys, it’s done, let’s open it up by April).

I realize it’s a transport nerd post and not much more. But the truth is, for a city that has long been defined by the automobile, Los Angeles is continually making great strides toward being transit-friendly.

It makes me happy.

The Number One Factor that Allows for a Car-Free Life*


*in the contemporary United States. I don’t know about other places; I suppose this is a worldwide “law.”

The Blogger at CicLAvia in the valley, outside of OCH's.

The Blogger at CicLAvia in the valley, outside of OCH’s.

I found this post on the Internet. I often look for stories or articles that validate my own car free choice, just so I can feel some camaraderie and not think I’m the only person in the world who has done this and also thinks it’s a doable idea. (I don’t have many friends in L.A. who are car free; some, but usually it’s not been a choice for them and they’re not particularly happy about it and hope to change this circumstance ASAP).

One of the things that Zachary Shahan talks about in his post is the pleasurability of his car free decision. That is key, isn’t it — if it’s not a good and pleasurable way to live, then why do it? I’ve had enough martyrdom in my life already, I don’t really want any more.

I admit that feeling the pleasure is sometimes hard, living in the midst of the most intense car culture on the planet. Also, the writer of this great post is obviously younger than me by decades, and there’s something to be said about youthful optimism in any situation. Isn’t there?

If you haven’t guessed the factor or read the article, I can tell you it’s location. The same old real estate cliche, location location location.

And I think that’s true. The very definition of doable transportation depends on where you are and where you need to go. For myself, I commute to a part time job using a bicycle and public transportation (I take my bike on a subway). For all other daily life activities and shopping, I can walk or ride a bike. For social activities, I usually take public transport or if that’s not really practical, a cab or an Uber or a Lyft, which are always practical in Los Angeles. I happen to live around the corner from a major stop along a major rapid busway. This really does help. It’s a good location.

Life on the Gridline


rail_mapCar Free Update: After two years and three months of living car free in Los Angeles, I’ve noticed a few things about my habits.

One of these is, I tend to live along gridlines. By that, I mean that the places that I frequent in my life — that are not walkable from where I live — are mostly along arterials, either bus or train public transportation routes (see our rapidly expanding metro train diagram to the left) or safe streets with bike lanes.

I guess it’s common sense; why people always say that wherever they put a light rail stop is a huge boon to a neighborhood. It’s convenience, right?

I first really noticed this, because I hadn’t been consciously thinking about it, when I was riding with someone who had a car and we went on streets I used to drive on all the time, and was presented with completed, new buildings that I didn’t even know were under construction. That’s how long it’s been. (This was La Brea Avenue in Hollywood.) I wouldn’t ride my bike on that street; it’s too busy, there’s no bike lane, it’s a recipe for death. Also, there’s no “must” destination there, at least not in my current life. So, in other words, no reason to go.

So life is streamlined. I always go back to one of the first articles I read on Streetsblog which planted the seed that if you go car free in a city the geographic size of Los Angeles, you’re going to basically live in your neighborhood. For me currently this is Valley Village/Studio City/North Hollywood. Going to the far reaches of West Los Angeles or the beach is for special occasions or for that Uber/Lyft ride. I pretty much live a life centered in my neighborhood but bounded by the larger grid of Burbank Boulevard on the north, DTLA on the east, Beverly Boulevard on the south, and Robertson Boulevard on the west.

Funny, these boundaries are mostly where they’ve always been for me, for thirty plus years, I’ve lived a life pretty much bounded by Silver Lake on the east and West Hollywood in the west. I guess public transport has really opened up Downtown LA for me, because previously it was just such a traffic and parking nightmare I’d do anything to avoid it. Those days, quite nicely, are gone.

Changes to Van Nuys Flyaway, including a connection with the Orange Line (Finally!)

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

NOTE 11/12/15: This post was premature. Now this Orange Line/Flyaway connection is supposed to open in December, 2015. Here’s the link. 

Okurrr, I read this nice post about something which should just be a no-brainer — connecting the Orange Line Bus (which traverses the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles) with the Van Nuys Flyaway Station for the express bus option to LAX.

So it says, basically, that Flyaway Buses will begin stopping at the Woodley Station on the Orange Line, which is about a mile south of the main Flyaway terminal at the Van Nuys Airport.

Why this makes sense: If you want people to take public transport to LAX Airport, don’t make them go southeast to downtown Los Angeles when the fracking airport is way over on the other side of town, southwest of them.

Up to now, you had to go miles out of your way because that was the only easy option. Of course, you could take the Orange Line bus west and then wait for an additional local bus to make the one mile trip up to the Van Nuys Airport terminal or just schlep up the street with your bags. Neither of those options being very appetizing, right?

So congrats to Metro. I applaud this move to make our public transportation system just a little bit more friendly. It is little improvements like this which have added up over the years and greatly improved the experience of public transport in L.A.

I hope hope hope they keep to this October 1 timeframe! I have a flight from LAX on October 4, and that’s how I’ll get to the airport if it’s working. I’ll have to update.

Bernie Sanders Rally Los Angeles August 2015


I joined my friend Chris King and 27,000 others at a rally for Bernie Sanders on Monday, August 10 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. I don’t get down to that area too much anymore and it brings back a lot of good memories of my first days in L.A. at USC and at my first job here, which was only blocks away from this location back in 1981.

Anyway, the rally was great and inspiring. For more on Bernie Sanders and his platform, see the campaign website.

Some snaps from the rally:

CicLAvia Culver City to Venice, California


So this happened on Sunday, August 9. The CicLAvia organization had one of its rides, this one on the west side, beginning in Culver City and ending at the Venice boardwalk. And back again! I did it, I have some pictures here:

Cyclists along Washington Boulevard in Culver City.

Cyclists along Washington Boulevard in Culver City.

The Blogger taking a selfie.

The Blogger taking a selfie.



Cyclists at CicLAvia Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cyclists at CicLAvia Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ten Quick Tips for Bicycle Commuting in L.A.

The Blogger at CicLAvia in the valley, outside of OCH's.

The Blogger at CicLAvia in the valley, outside of Oil Can Harry’s, a place to dance.














Noticed that the number of bikes on our local streets has gone through the roof in the past couple of years? Perhaps you’ve joined the cyclists. Perhaps it’s just the weekend jaunt to the Farmers Market; perhaps you’re an everyday cyclist. Or thinking about it. Commuting, to work and all, and what that would entail.

Here’s ten quick things to keep in mind:

  1. First, do follow traffic laws. They are the same as the ones drivers must follow. If your actions are predictable, it’s much safer for you – and cars – out on those mean roads. Don’t run red lights, as much as you want to. Just don’t.
  2. Plot your route on Google Maps. You have the option to click on the bike icon for Google’s best guess for a good bike route (which is often not bad at all).
  3. Think about your return trip — it might be obvious, but maybe not. Will it be dark by then? If so, you need your lights (front and back, minimum) and warmer clothing, preferably something reflective.
  4. Rain. Not likely here, almost ever, but it does happen. Heck, nothing worse than getting soaked on a bike. Shops sell some pretty nice rain gear so it’s worth hauling it out for those special rain days in L.A.
  5. Shortcuts! I’ve always loved this site, where cyclists contribute their own favorite routes. Bookmark it; I have.
  6. Taking it on the train: If you take your bike on Metro, first of all, be smart and take the elevator with your bike, and leave the escalator for pedestrians. I’ve seen enough accidents to know I don’t want to be a Metro Escalator Statistic. Choose the car that has the space at the end for bikes and strollers and other large items (coffins, refrigerators, etc). If you can’t hook your bike to the railing or kickstand it securely so you know it won’t fall, stand there and hold the damn thing so it doesn’t fall on somebody. It’s a delicate dance, especially when those trains are crowded. My method is to be direct but apologetic, so far that’s worked.
  7. When exiting the train: I have a “no rush” attitude, in that I am perfectly happy to be the last person out of the station after the subway gets there. There’s no use in fighting for space on the first elevator, or crowding an up escalator or staircase with both you and your bike. I like to wait until all the people have gone and then I can leisurely make my way out without running into someone with my two wheeler.
  8. Drivers don’t know what Sharrows are. Or, they do know but they don’t care and don’t want to give you the space they’re supposed to. So be wary of streets with sharrows. I’m pretty sure most drivers resent them and won’t be giving you that 3-foot space they’re supposed to, anyway.
  9. Try try try to ride on streets with painted, official, bike lanes. Even better would be to incorporate Bike Trails (like the L.A. River Bike Path, etc.) into your commute. Basically anything that can separate you from motor vehicles is a very good thing.
  10. The most important tip is the last: Riding on bike on Los Angeles streets is dangerous, just because of the sheer volume of traffic in what is still the premier car culture city. That said, you have to ride defensively. Drivers don’t or don’t want to see you, and you can never depend that someone is going to see you unless you make eye contact with that driver. When in doubt, hesitate. I’m lucky that I’m old enough not to take those kinds of risks any more; it’s just not worth it.

ghost bike memorial to a fallen cyclist – you don’t want to end up with one of these


End of the Car Age: We Can Always Hope


“Cities around the world are coming to the same conclusion: they’d be better off with far fewer cars. So what’s behind this seismic shift in our urban lifestyles?” Stephen Moss investigates

Source: End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile | Cities | The Guardian

Why? Because cars hugely degrade the civilized environment. So read this Guardian story.

I’ve thought a lot about this – and the paradox of freedom – which is how cars have always been marketed. Tell me, looking at this photo of L.A. freeways, this is freedom?






Well, if so, save me from that method of being free. Some gems from the story:

“In many cities, the era of the suburban commuter, along with the era of the car, is drawing to a close.” – we can only hope this could become the ideal in places like Los Angeles, as well. (Which in my mind is always perfect for biking.)

On the future of the smart phone vis a vis car ownership: “Consumers will, so the theory goes, use their smartphones to check ultra-detailed travel news, locate car-club cars or bikes, check for parking spaces,call up Uber drivers, and arrange shared rides. Who needs a personally owned car?”  — I’ve found this is true in my now 2 years plus of car-freedom in Los Angeles.

Truth is, I’m not very optimistic that the vision shown in this article will become a reality here in California, at least in Southern California, at any time in the remote future — but I have hope for the Millennial generation, who appear to be much more interested in changing the car culture than the Baby Boomers and older are.

The Guardian story is a long one, but worth it.

Trump and Bernie are resonating for the same reason, IMO