“I can surf but I can barely stand up on this bus.” A washed-up surfer mutters as he struggles to drag his plastic bin of belongings down the center aisle toward the back of the bus.
One of the best ways to learn about a city and its inhabitants is by taking the public transportation system with the locals. Around 10am on Wednesday, Grace and I boarded the Los Angeles Metro bus in Santa Monica with the blue collar workers, a homeless man, a backpacker, and a young businessman. In trying to see the city on a budget, taking Uber everywhere was not our most cost-effective option. We were likely the only people taking a bus to Rodeo Drive, but we were happy to only be spending $1.75 and to be able to observe some of LA’s most interesting people. A man sat next to me wearing jeans that sagged halfway to the ground and revealed an adult diaper. As many wild characters as there were on this ride, our trip into West Hollywood was not nearly as eventful as the ride back.
After a day wandering the City of Angels and poking in cafes and thrift shops, Grace and I collapsed on the polyester seats in our glamourous ride. The bus idled for a few minutes as an older woman on a motorized scooter maneuvered her way up the expandble ramp. We watched the bus driver get out of his seat to help the woman settle into her spot. At the next stop, the driver stood up again—this time, he oversaw the sandy-haired homeless man sliding his plastic bin across the bus floor. The third stop was in front of Fairfax High School, between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. At 3pm, a few kids skated away from the school in their broken-in Vans while the rest filled the Metro. The girls chatted as they squeezed on. Two boys played video games on a Nintendo DS that’s a few years short of vintage. There was not a single white student, and none had the newest iPhone or followed the outfit trends of this season or the past few seasons. These were the children of LA’s working class.
After five days exploring various sections of Los Angeles, I’m left wondering if there’s a middle class in this city. I’ve seen those who cruise around in Teslas and Maseratis, and those who are low on change for the public bus. Grace and I have walked back from dinner to see women wearing Louboutin heels walking past barefoot men settling down to sleep in their trash bag sleeping bags with cardboard box pillows. It was impossible not to pay attention to the economic inequality. Income inequality is greater in New York than any other state, though from what I saw of California, I would’ve guessed the gap was higher there.