Originally published in October 1993 in the Glendale News-Press and Glendale College El Vaquero

Exact change: LA-area to San Diego on public transportation

By John Baker

I do not have a car. I know that it's tough in the Los Angeles area to function without one, yet I make it.

It's not that I'm too cheap or too poor to purchase one or have any serious moral objections to getting one, but my personal economy does stink and I am forced to do what I can to get by -- which includes riding the bus. For only a pittance a month, I can ride public transportation and not have to worry about insurance, gas, parking or car payments.

So when I had to travel down to San Diego earlier this year, I figured that I could pay $31 for a round-trip train ticket like I usually do, or see whether I could eschew rails, runway and Greyhounds -- reaching my destination via the intricacies of public transportation. I opted for the latter.

I started from Glendale College on a Monday morning. It wasn't just the low price and the scenery which would make the trip fun, it was the people I met.


8:44 a.m.: Beginning the journey, I board a northbound Metropolitan Transit Agency (formerly the RTD) bus Line 177 in front of the college. There aren't that many other people on board. After passing through north Glendale, La Crescenta, La Cañada and parts of Pasadena, I disembark at the intersection of Foothill and Rosemead boulevards in east Pasadena at 10:01 a.m.

10:25 a.m.: After having time to read a newspaper, a southbound MTA line 266 comes by on Rosemead Boulevard and I get on. An uneventful trip down the San Gabriel Valley and into the Mid-Cities communities ends at 11:59 a.m. as the bus arrives at Veterans Hospital in Long Beach.

12:12 p.m.: The fun begins (in fact, the fun seemed to increase the further I got from L.A.). I pay $1 for the fare and another five cents for the transfer as I board Orange County Transit Agency Line 1 in front of the hospital. Also among the 12 people boarding is "Steve."

Steve is a 22-year-old native of Brazil on his way to Huntington Beach. What attracts my attention is not Steve's Latin looks or his nifty accent -- it's the nine-foot-long surfboard he embarks with.

"I've taken the bus to San Diego before," he says, then recites the route by heart. "It takes a long time, but it gets you there."

12:25 p.m.: After entering Orange County at 12:20, we finally are able to see the Pacific Ocean. Steve is disappointed by the lack of waves, then exits the bus a few stops later.

1:39 p.m.: I get my first indication of how long this journey actually is: a road sign reads, "San Diego: 70 miles." At least the scenery is nice -- along a stretch of highway in Laguna Beach, there are towering cliffs on one side of the road and a beach on the other.

1:58 p.m.: San Clemente is my next destination. More specifically, the K-Mart in the north end of town where the southern terminal of Line 1 is. Almost immediately, I transfer to OCTA Line 91 and take it to the end of the line -- a Carls Jr. off Interstate 5. It is now 2:31 p.m.

A long, arduous journey has produced a thirst for a strawberry milkshake. The woman at the counter indicates that the recent departure of Carl Karcher as head of the chain was a good thing for the company.

"We needed it," she says.

Just before 4 p.m.: A call to North San Diego County Transit indicates that NCTD Line 305 -- my next bus -- does not depart until this time. While I'm waiting, I meet "Satia."

Satia is a self-proclaimed "30-ish drifter who carries all his belongings in a knapsack." The long-haired Tennessee native says that he has been on the road for 17 years, traveling across the county and learning "every little trick" along the way.

I board the bus, while handing the driver my transfer -- while asking for another -- and pay an extra 25 cents to make up the difference in price between the two bus systems.

Satia tells me that he's visiting friends near San Diego and that he had last taken the bus to the city from L.A. three years ago. He said that it's a more interesting trip than by traveling via a private carrier.

"Greyhound?" he exclaims. "I don't like their attitude."

4:34 p.m.: Following a brief runabout, we enter the gates of Camp Pendleton. A Marine sentry boards the bus and begins checking IDs. He asks each passenger where they are going on the base.

I reply that I am going past the base -- the sentry allows me to stay on the bus. Satia is asked if he's carrying any weapons.

"Just the cannon in my back pocket."

Satia earns a dirty look, but the Marine passes him by and leaves the bus -- which is allowed to continue.

The bus through Pendleton is always an interesting one, the driver - Bob - says as we pass by some rather large howitzers and the assorted tank or two. By now we have Marines embarking and disembarking at every stop.

"Walking distance to the mess hall!" shouts Bob as he pulls up to a stop. Surprisingly, a trio of Marines actually exit the bus.

The "S.O.S." must have been especially good that day.

4:44 p.m.: A man wearing a Rutgers University sweatshirt gets on the bus. Bob asks him where Rutgers is - just to see if the man knows.

"Back east, I guess," replies the man.

This launches Bob into a story of how one night he was driving the bus and a woman wearing a "Yale" shirt got on board. He asked her where Yale was, and she answered:

"What are you talking about? 'Yale' is a padlock you find on garages."

5:20 p.m.: I get off the bus at the end of the line (the Oceanside Transit Center) and head directly for the bathroom - at just the right time.

5:35 p.m.: I board NCTD Line 301 with Satia. By now, my transfer has expired. I pay the $1.25 fare and am handed a new transfer for free. A trip along the beach with a low sun brings a pleasant view.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" asks Satia. He exits the bus in Solana Beach at 6:23.

"It was nice to meet you," he says. "Maybe I'll see you on the way back."

7 p.m.: I arrive at the end of the line, the University Towne Centre. Much to my dismay, it's a large mall.

7:30 p.m.: I board San Diego Transit Line 34, again trading in my transfer for a new one. Next to me sits 16-year-old Oscar, who is dumfounded when he finds out from where I started.

"That's todays?" he asks incredulously as he points to my copy of the L.A. Times. Then he asks for the sports page.

8:15 p.m.: I find out that San Diego buses are not that much different from the ones in Los Angeles when one man sitting behind me (and obviously drunk) begins singing a song. Interestingly enough, the lyrics begin, "He's got hickeys... "

Another man tries wiping away some graffiti etched into a window. Needless to say, he is unsuccessful.

By 8:30 p.m., I am passing Sea World. At 8:34, I pass "John Baker Picture Frames" on Midway Drive. I love the irony. At 8:37, I get my first view of the skyscrapers of downtown San Diego.

8:44 p.m.: As soon as I pass the train station I normally arrive at when I visit the city, it sinks in that I have made it to downtown San Diego. While my arrival time is about eight hours more than it would have been had I taken the train, I made it for less than 10 percent of what I would pay to travel the rails.

I exit at that point and almost immediately board the San Diego Trolley. At 9:08 I get off at my stop in Chula Vista. Another 10 minutes and I would have been at the Mexican Border.

9:20 p.m.: I collapse in my hotel bed and try to rest. After all, I have to do the same thing -- in reverse -- tomorrow.


I essentially took the same way (in reverse order) back. By knowing the route well and making better connections, I was able to shave an hour off my time.

I spent an entire $2.60 to get to San Diego. Though my figures are a little low because I have an MTA pass for my travels in Los Angeles County, it would have only cost a pass-less individual $3.95. It is recommended that one bring some spare change, though - just in case.

As for me, I found the trip informative and exciting, but next time . . .

I'll take that train.

(Note: price figures are for 1993)


This paper has been accessed (!) times since Feb. 18, 2002 (and who knows how many before then?).

E-mail John Baker at: jcb10@axe.humboldt.edu, or visit his website at www.humboldt.edu/~jcb10