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Wheels of Fortune : A worried bus trip to the Hollywood Bowl ends happily-- and without hassles of parking.

August 26, 1994|KATHRYN BAKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Kathryn Baker is a regular contributor to The Times

My summer ritual of attending one Hollywood Bowl concert is looming and already I'm thinking about the traffic. You know, traffic that's so bad that on concert nights the neighborhood takes on the aspect of a small Latin American country during a coup: uniformed guards standing grim-faced watch over blocked-off street entrances with the terse warning--"No Theatre Parking." So this year, I'm considering the alternative. I'm considering taking the--choke, gasp--Bus.

The Hollywood Bowl offers two kinds of buses, a Bowlbus Shuttle (which sounds like a medical condition or a line dance, I'm not sure which) and Bowlbus Park & Ride. The shuttles run from parking lots relatively near the Bowl every 10 minutes and cost $2 round-trip. The Park & Ride is available in various farther-flung neighborhoods, has fewer departure times and costs $4. I opt for the 6:30 p.m. Park & Ride bus that leaves from the Sunkist Building at Hazeltine Avenue and Riverside Drive in Sherman Oaks.

I arrive at 6:15 p.m. and bring a book, expecting to wait. But no. Two buses are parked along the curb and one of them is already filling up, so I quickly get in line. I realize with alarm that many of those waiting to board are clutching tickets. I don't have a ticket. Turns out you can order tickets in advance, which will give you preference over non-ticket holders if the bus is full, but you can also pay when you arrive at the Bowl.

Many of these riders are obvious veterans, so this must be a good deal. We'll see. Anyway, what with all the picnic baskets and beverage coolers, the trip has something of a summer-camp feel. The bus pulls out at 6:25 p.m. "Now I know why it leaves so early," observes my seatmate, indicating the turn we're making up the entrance ramp. "He's takin' the freeway."

However, the god of the Ventura Freeway smiles upon us, and we are soon smugly passing lines of cars waiting to enter the various parking lots around the Bowl. These insistent drivers are about to experience stacked parking. "Stacked parking" means that after the show you can't leave until some sort of mathematical Rubik's cube equation of unparking liberates your vehicle, which might occur sometime about dawn.

We pull up in front of the Bowl at 6:40 p.m. So far, things have gone smoothly. Now they grind to a halt. We receive a lecture from a Bowl staffer regarding payment for the trip and directions on how to locate the bus for the ride home: Enter the tunnel behind the marquee, take the second exit, turn right, find the bus parking lot, go to the second row and look for 651 Sherman Oaks. At least I think that's what he said.

I would have been perfectly happy to get off the bus now and walk up the hill to the Bowl, but our bus begins to grind its way up the driveway--and immediately becomes stuck in a line of cars waiting for more stacked parking. After about a five-minute ride that covers maybe 200 yards, we are finally released in front of the box office. Worried that this might be the last I will see of 651 Sherman Oaks, I consider myself lucky to be meeting a friend who--shuddering at the loss of control over his own destiny that public transportation symbolized--brought his car. So I could at least ride home with him.

We tiptoe through the picnickers squatting on the concrete beside the ticket booths, and have plenty of time to purchase our own picnic dinners before taking our seats.

As "Brazil Night" music pulses through the Bowl under the now-pleasant summer evening sky, my thoughts keep drifting toward the bus, the tunnel, the parking lot, the crowds. Will I ever find the bus? What if I can't find the bus? I picture pictures of the bus on milk cartons. I picture my picture on milk cartons. I imagine wandering, lost in the middle of the night in an eerily vacant Hollywood Bowl parking lot, the only sound coming from the leaves skittering across the asphalt in the darkness. I think I might become the premise of a film noir.

After the concert, we join the river of flesh flowing toward Highland Avenue. My friend takes my hint--a well-placed comment or two with just a touch of whining--and offers to make sure I find my bus before he leaves me.

At 11:15 p.m., I locate 651 Sherman Oaks exactly where the Bowl staffer said it would be and get on board. Our bus begins filling up, but we are stack parked behind an empty bus. At 11:25 p.m., our driver gets on, though the bus in front of us is still empty. By 11:30 p.m., our bus is full and the driver shuts the door. A bus to our right moves out. We watch it longingly. "We should've missed the last three 'ya-hing-gays,' " says one rueful passenger, in an apparent reference to Sergio Mendes' final number. At 11:42 p.m., we pull out and a cheer goes up from the passengers.

A painless 10 minutes later, at precisely 11:50 p.m., we are back at the Sunkist lot. You know, this isn't so bad. I would do it again. Next year.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Bowlbus Park & Ride or Bowlbus Shuttle.

When: Hollywood Bowl events continue through Oct. 2

Price: $4 Park & Ride, $2 shuttle.

Call: (213) 850-2000.

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