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A Los Angeles Art Day by Public Transport

Having been in LA just 3 weeks ago, I have seen most of what is up.  Two shows I really wanted to see did not open until after my last pass-through.   Not wanting to drive for just two shows and yet not willing to miss them either – I came up with a choice with built in adventure.  I took the train to Union Station and then public bus to Bergamot and mid-Wilshire.  I had an easy afternoon of seeing art in LA by municipal bus.  Here’s the plan… 

Amtrak leaves from Solana Beach at 8:44 am.  For $23 each way ($46 roundtrip ticket purchased from the self serve kiosk) they deposit the traveler at 10:50 at Union Station.

Walk out the front door of the station toward the west.  The big boulevard fronting the station is Alameda.  Bear to the right side of the stop-lighted intersection of Alameda and Los Angeles Street (Los Angeles Street is the entrance street for Union Station) and cross Alameda.  The bus benches on the other side (NW corner) are the stop for lots of buses.  To get to Bergamot you need to ride a Santa Monica Bus – The Big Blue Bus (and they are blue).  Look for the telltale triangular blue sign that denotes a bus stop for this line.

Take the Santa Monica 10 (Santa Monica) bus.  It departs twice per hour, on the half hour (sort-of).  The fare is $1.75 cash and no transfer is needed.  Since you will be catching the bus at one of its termini – there will be your pick of seats.  Get a good window seat on the lower level, right side out of the sun.  This bus winds through the downtown picking up passengers who also want to go to Santa Monica.  It gets on the 10 freeway west just south of downtown.  The bus is on the freeway until it exits on the other side of the 5 freeway (on Bundy).  The bus I was on drove in the next to the high speed lane and she-driver gave it the peddle.  I had naught to do but watch the undulating line of the Hollywood hills and the columns of palm trees lining the major north-south boulevards.

In about 40 minutes from pick up I signaled my desire to exit at Santa Monica and 26th street in Santa Monica.  That was a fast, no hassle transit from downtown to Santa Monica.  The sign board at the head of the bus announces the next stop.  And you can ask the driver to stop for you – they are good and know what is going on in their bus.

Walk three (albeit long) blocks down 26th street toward the south (across the street from the bus stop is south).  Bingo.  There is the northern entrance to Bergamot Station.

My purpose in going to Bergamot was to see Masami Teraoka’s show at Samuel Freeman Gallery.  It is a wonderful show.  Masami is a virtuoso painter and has a deep and questioning conscience.  To see his work juxtaposed with the glass of Kazuo Kadonaga – took me way back.  Those two artists showed at Space Gallery in the 80’s.  Ed Lau, the dealer called Space, has always been my defining type for how a good dealer operates.

Leaving through the same Bergamot entrance I entered, the bus stop for the Santa Monica 5 (direction Pico-Rimpau) bus is just around the corner to the right on Olympic Boulevard.  That bus leaves about every 20 minutes.  Get a transfer.  The fare is $0.75 plus $0.50 for the transfer (so $1.50 total).

This bus ride winds through Century City and then down Olympic and Pico.  Get off at Pico and Fairfax.  It takes about 45 minutes to make this transit.  You will get off at the southeast corner.  Cross the street to the northwest corner and take the frequently running Metro Bus 217 (direction Vermont).  Use your transfer – the driver will take it as it will now be exhausted.

Get off the bus at Fairfax and Wilshire (NE corner).  The art world is now your oyster.  To the east is LACMA, Carl Berg, ACE Wilshire.  To the immediate west is ACME et al, Steve Turner and Marc Selwyn. 

I came to this place to see the most recent works by John Sonsini at ACME.  This show is one of the best painting shows I have seen.  These are the best Sonsini paintings ever.  I am so happy to see them selling well.  Either money knows what is good or sometimes fashion picks a winner.  The few minutes seeing John’s show made the whole-adventure-transport thing worthwhile.  I am very glad not to have missed the chance to personally see these paintings.

I had by mid afternoon completed my goal – to see Teraoka and Sonsini.  I elected to head back downtown to catch the 5:10 train home.

But there is an 8:20 train back to San Diego.  So a traveler who wanted a full art day can fill the time in the late afternoon quite nicely.

From the southwest corner of Fairfax and Wilshire I caught the Metro Bus 20 (Downtown LA – 7th and Main).  For the person who is going to expand their trip, this would be the time to buy an MTA Day-pass ($5) from the bus driver.  The day pass allows for unlimited rides on Metro Bus and the Subway.  That is a great deal if there are still at least four connections left in the transit day.

I paid $1.25 for my one way fare – getting off the bus at the southeast corner of Wilshire and Western.  You will know Western as the stop is in front of the green Wiltern Theater.

Across the street is the underground Red Line Subway station.  I bought a final $1.25 one way ticket from the self –serve kiosk to get me to Union Station.  If instead I had a day pass – well I could ride at will without having to think about buying another ticket. 

Let’s assume that you, reader, want a bigger day of it.  Go to LACMA.  Go to ACE and Carl Berg.  If it was the second Thursday of the month, you could stay on the # 20 bus and head all the way downtown.  Getting off at 7th and Main would put you at a corner of the downtown art scene (the center being 5th and Main). 

From Union Station take the Gold Line Subway to the next stop – Chinatown.  Walk northwest to get to Chung King Road.  There is plenty to see art wise in Chinatown and most galleries are open until 6 pm.  That leaves just enough time for dinner before catching the 8:20 train back to San Diego.

I am a highly practiced urban arts tourist.  I am a highly practiced urban transit user.  I have never thought of LA as a public transport city.  As in any city with even the best transit system – commute times are double those by car.  But with the price of gas, the hassles of parking, and the grind of driving traffic, the relaxed voyage aboard a big bus has its attractions.  The LA busses I have been on are clean, well appointed, and populated by the usual forms of human entertainment.

Try it.  It is an adventure and pretty easy on the nervous system.

Doug Simay
5/15/08

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