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First Stop, Rudeville

Fortune Cookies All 'Round Might've Helped

June 05, 1997|MICHELLE WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What was it about Monday night?

Bad customer service was all the rage in two places--at a bar / restaurant in Santa Monica and miles away on a bus that happened to be making its way to Santa Monica.

Was it the moon?

Was it bad Santa Monica karma?

None of the above.

But it could have been the food. . . .

*

Just another Monday night in Los Angeles.

Only this time I had decided to work late and had missed the last express bus home. So at 7:30 p.m., my weary bones and I boarded a local bus bound for Santa Monica.

As bus trips go, this ride started out uneventfully.

I was captivated by my book, a murder mystery about Los Angeles, of all places.

Images of floating corpses, garroted drug addicts and high school students leaping from tall buildings were occasionally interrupted by the bing of the bus signal to disembark, the wailing of tired infants and the voice of the bus driver announcing bus stops.

Around the time the police detective asked the floating corpse's friend for information that might help identify the killer, I happened to overhear the bus driver announce into the microphone that she was hungry.

Me too, I thought.

As the killer gave serious thought to his next victim, the driver announced that there was a Chinese restaurant at Motor Avenue with good food.

I thought: That's an idea. Call for takeout when I get home.

As we passed Fairfax Avenue, the driver announced to her packed bus that we would indeed be pulling over at Motor. I thought she was joking.

Sure enough, when we got to Motor, she put the bus in park, left the motor running, grabbed her purse and was off to the land of moo goo gai pan.

I suspect we, the passengers, experienced the kind of numbness that comes with denial. Had she really left a bus full of people to fend for themselves? Nah. Surely she was hiding behind the bus and would eventually call out, "Peekaboo."

She didn't and we sat there.

What were we going to do? Another bus wouldn't be along for 20 minutes at least.

The first five minutes passed rather quietly. Some people exited the rear of the bus, perhaps figuring they could walk to where they were going just as fast. A few minutes later, more passengers left. I was a good six miles from home, so I stayed put.

Fourteen minutes later, the driver returned with a white plastic bag filled with food. She said "sorry," got in her seat and we took off.

"Where's our food?" a passenger in the rear yelled.

No answer.

We sat there, perhaps too exhausted from our own long day to argue. The driver was quite fortunate in that she had us as passengers. I've been on buses with a less understanding clientele.

Had this night of horrors been confined to just the dinner break, I probably would have explained it away as an aberration: This poor driver obviously had worked a 48-hour shift, obviously hadn't eaten in 49 hours and, well, a girl's gotta eat.

Yeah.

An aberration.

After all, with more than six years of riding buses under my belt, I had never witnessed anything like this. Drivers typically range from really good to really fabulous. But then we got to the bus stop at Wade Street and Venice Boulevard and in her haste (and she was hasting), the driver let several people get off, but no one got on. She had closed the door and was off. In her wake were several irate would-be passengers, including an elderly man. The last time I saw him, he was banging on the side of the moving bus with his cane yelling, "Hey, wait!"

We yelled too, but the dinner bell was louder.

The final chapter of the ride from hell came when we got to Venice and Lincoln boulevards and six passengers helplessly watched as their connecting LAX-bound bus pulled off without them.

Fourteen minutes and 20 seconds too late.

*

Rick Hittinger, a regional general manager for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, apologized Wednesday and said that the events Monday "are certainly against our operating procedures."

Drivers, he said, "have breaks at the end of a run, but never, never, never in the middle of a run." And never, he said, is the bus to be left running.

The matter is being looked into.

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