I have an impending crisis on my hands. My hour-long (but only 12 mile) commute to work is going to change with my office’s January move from the Sunset Strip to Santa Monica. It’s five extra miles, but potentially another half hour or, I’ve heard, thanks to needing to cross the 405 corridor, another hour. I won’t know until I actually do the drive at rush hour.
Two to three or even four hours a day spent driving is not the writer’s life.
As a writer, in PEN Center USA’s the Mark Program, with Alan Watt giving me rewriting assignments, and asking, always, what each thing, each circumstance and decision means for each character, I’m pretty convinced that the one thing I need is time. Not just time to write. I generally get that taken care of first thing in the morning. But I need time to think, to reflect, to imagine and daydream.
Wednesday morning, I read a brief article in the New Yorker by Roger Angell about the end of letter writing and the delivery of those letters by the Post Office. In it, he mentioned that Anthony Trollope traveled all over Ireland as a postal inspector and as he rode the trains he wrote his novels.
This made me look forward to my excursion later that day into my office to get a jump on packing. As my wife had an appointment near there in the late afternoon, I’d already decided I would take public transport as I do sometimes when we’ll both be heading home from the same area (I hate the idea of two cars going from the same place, to the same place, a la the movie "Swingers").
Now everyone knows Los Angeles has a horrible public transportation system, but hardly anyone knows it also has one of the best. (U.S. News ranks it #3 after Denver and New York). It’s very extensive and in one form or another covers the whole vast city. Many Angelenos are unaware of how useful the system is. One guy, interviewed on our local TV news said he’d love to take public transportation from his loft at Wilshire and Figueroa Downtown to his work in Santa Monica, but that it doesn’t exist. And the reporter failed to point out that that both the MTA and Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus both have Express busses that go straight to Santa Monica, the Wilshire Rapid line leaving practically from the door of his building. Such is the system’s status among anyone with a car.
The one true disadvantage to much of L.A.’s public transport, is that it can take a long time to get where you’re going, as long or even longer than driving. But whenever I’ve taken it, I’ve always arrived much more at ease and ready to work than when driving. (Driving one must be active, alert, defensive and not writing on paper or in their head).
So on Wednesday I walked down my hill to a Gold Line stop. I admired the San Gabriel Mountains and the green Northeast L.A. hills as we crossed the L.A. River (yes, there’s a river here) and wound our way downtown. I stopped in Little Tokyo and had lunch. Then I took the Red Line to Hollywood, and walked to Sunset Blvd. where I caught the #2 bus. Mostly, I thought. I thought about the chapter I’m rewriting. I went over it all in my mind, and made a few more plans for other chapters. I made notes.
And that did feel like the writer’s life.
The Expo line extension to Santa Monica is expected to open in 2015. That will mean just two trains and a commute potentially quicker than driving. Until then I’m going to search out my routes, see if I can ditch the car at least some of the time and trade in my frustrations for writing, thinking, reading, and daydreaming time.
We’ll see how it goes, but even if I took it two days a week, that would be four to six or even eight extra hours I could gain. A writer, if nothing else, is someone who finds time.