Taking public transportation in Los Angeles can be scary. Here are some things I saw


Hello and welcome to Essential California newsletter. Today is Wednesday, May 18. I am Justin Ray.

I have a secret.

There’s something I try not to talk about in casual conversation with other residents of Los Angeles, a city known for its long commute times and roadside chats so infamous as “Saturday Night Live” (among others) parodied them.

The truth is, I don’t own a car. Why? Because I don’t want it. I lived in New York for seven years and before that in Chicago for four years. During this time, I traveled by public transport, like many other residents of these cities.

Of course, people who take the bus or the train cause fewer emissions. But that’s not why I don’t have a car. My main reason is that I don’t want to deal with fines, parking, fender snags, and other nonsense that makes owning a car a chore. Paying astronomical rent, publishing a daily newsletter and dating men is hard enough as it is.

When I arrived in California, I discovered that public transit was not one of its strengths. Many of the state’s largest cities have failed to connect their train systems to the local airport. There’s also the ongoing drama around California’s high-speed rail, which – despite all its hype and cost – has not yet been completed.

But I want to talk about another transit problem: bad behavior on trains.

I’ve been in the city for 3 and a half years and I’ve seen it all: people getting blown up; arguments between passengers; a guy whose phone was stolen; people who smoke cigarettes and methamphetamine; a couple on a bus in Hollywood rolling up a dollar bill and doing cocaine on a book.

You name it, I’ve seen it.

I lived through wild circumstances. I remember riding a bus in Los Feliz and looking at an object on the seat next to me. It turned out to be quite a heavy blunt. Although I had a good laugh, not all of my experiences have been funny.

I was called the F-slur while waiting for a train in East Hollywood. As I was driving a bus in Pasadena, a man stood over me, staring at me while crumpling a plastic bottle and sweating profusely. The passengers looked at me, not knowing how to help me. I ended up running out of the bus when it stopped. Shortly after, a woman approached me to ask if I was okay.

I have sympathy for the person who did not intervene at the time, because I am still traumatized by a situation where I also did not act. I saw a transgender woman minding her own business being verbally harassed by a man. I sat for three seconds after the incident, wondering what to do. Before I came up with a plan, a young Latinx who had more guts than me confronted the guy who had caused the ruckus.

When gasoline prices started to rise earlier this year, the Times explained how safety concerns make public transit a tough sell. I don’t blame anyone who avoids public transit. The truth is, I don’t feel safe. I paid for a ticket and left a station to take an Uber because I saw the crowd I would be riding with and decided to eat the fare.

Just last week, The Times reported that violent crime jumped 81% in the first two months of this year on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bus and train system. This information was provided in a story about a 70-year-old subway passenger who was set on fire.

Los Angeles is not alone. The New York Times reported that Americans are “facing transit crime rates that have exceeded pre-pandemic levels in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.” Just last month, a gunman triggered a smoke grenade and fired a barrage of bullets on a rush hour subway train in Brooklyn, injuring 10 passengers.

The NYT article evokes a paradox about traffic and safety; one of the best ways for people to feel safe on public transit is for more people to ride it and thus increase accountability. But people don’t ride bikes because they don’t feel safe.

Most of my rides have been uneventful, but my advice is this: if you’re taking public transport, you need to be vigilant. You never know if you will encounter a bully or a blunt one.

And now, Here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


A brush fire burned near the Griffith Observatory in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles on Tuesday. Smoke and flames were visible from surrounding neighborhoods. The fire started near the Boy Scout Trail in Griffith Park, just south of the observatory. Los Angeles Times

Finding a place to rent in Los Angeles has become a competitive sport. “Everyone is fighting for the same places,” said Anna Maciaszek, who moved to Los Angeles in January and was living in short-term rentals as she looked for a permanent apartment. The Times has identified a few reasons why it’s harder to find accommodation in the city right now. Los Angeles Times

Nick Garcia recently moved to Los Angeles from Arizona.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The suspect’s life was falling apart before the Laguna Woods church shooting. Months before police said he opened fire inside Geneva’s Presbyterian Church, killing a parishioner and wounding five others in what authorities said was a politically motivated attack, the David Wenwei Chou’s life in Las Vegas was unfolding. Los Angeles Times

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A California law that required companies primarily based in the state to have women on their boards has been ruled unconstitutional by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. In a 23-page decision, Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis found that the state could not prove that “use of a sex-based classification was necessary to stimulate the California economy, improve opportunities for women in the workplace and protect California taxpayers, public employees, pensioners and retirees. Los Angeles Times

ICE rushed to release a sick woman, avoiding responsibility for her death. She is not alone. The circumstances surrounding Medina Leon’s release and death were discovered among more than 16,000 pages of leaked documents in an ongoing lawsuit filed by The Times against the US Department of Homeland Security, seeking recordings of abuse in immigration detention centers. Los Angeles Times


A Northern California man is the killer in a Kansas City cold case, police say. Timothy Stephenson was arrested earlier this year in California and extradited to Benton County, Missouri, where nearly a quarter century ago the decomposing body of 26-year-old Randy Oliphant was discovered. Stephenson, 48, has been charged with second degree murder. According to the probable cause statement filed by the Missouri Highway Patrol, in 2014 Stephenson told her ex-husband that he killed Oliphant. Sacramento bee


A team of environmental health scientists have identified more than 40 DDT-related compounds circulating in the marine ecosystem and accumulating in California condors. The team found that DDT-related chemicals were seven times more abundant in coastal condors than in condors that foraged further inland. Los Angeles Times

A California condor flies over the coast

With a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet, the California condor is the nation’s largest scavenger bird and a majestic icon of the California coast.

(San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance)

Actors, bandits, priests and an English bulldog: the names behind the beaches of Los Angeles. Will Rogers, Leo Carrillo and Dan Blocker were actors. Nicholas Beach is named after a thief. Point Dume’s namesake is a priest. Hear all the other stories behind LA beach names. Los Angeles Times


“He was my high school journalism teacher. Then I investigated his relationships with teenage girls. A beloved teacher at Rosemead High for over two decades, was nicknamed the “Golden Boy”. A journalist, who is a former student of the teacher, discovered during an investigation that he repeatedly groomed female students for sex. “Why didn’t I ask more questions when I was a student? And even if I had, would the teenage version of me have known what to do with the answers? Matt Drange writes. Initiated

Dos Rios Ranch, California’s first new state park in 13 years, is just outside the Bay Area. “Nestled between the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers, Dos Rios Ranch in Modesto will be California’s first state park in 13 years – the longest the state has gone without introducing a new park since the department was established in 1927,” writes Amanda Bartlett. SF door

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Los Angeles: Covered 76 San Diego: Covered 67 San Francisco: Covered 70 San Jose: Covered 84 Fresno: Covered 95 Sacrament: Sunny 96


Today california memory is of Marge Holly:

In the 1960s, my brother and sister often sent tickets for shows. Then they would hop on his Volkswagen bus, hit the freeway, and go to Hollywood. Once we all went to “Let’s Make a Deal”. I was wearing a wedding dress and granny boots. My sister carried a colander decorated with cooking utensils on her head. My brother wore a mumu, a wig and flip flops. We had to sit on the floor, but we were not chosen to negotiate. Still, it was quite an exciting day.

If you have a memory or a story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please limit your story to 100 words.)

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