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Commuters Scramble on Strike's 1st Weekday

Transit: A meeting today may set a time for resuming talks. Many MTA customers walk to work or school. Others rely on friends or unauthorized taxis.

September 19, 2000|MITCHELL LANDSBERG and MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Not all of them realized at first that there was a strike. For three hours, starting at 5 a.m., Marianna Molina and her uncle Uriel Barrieto, both immigrants from Honduras, sat at an MTA bus stop on the corner of Atlantic and Washington boulevards in Commerce waiting for their regular bus to take them to Bell, where they work at a warehouse packing novelty items.

"A lady told me the strike is over," Molina told a reporter. "So where are the buses?"

Informed that the strike was still on, Molina looked up Atlantic Boulevard in desperate hope that a bus--any bus--would nonetheless arrive. They were already two hours late for work. Molina hoped her boss would understand.

Finally, offered a ride by a motorist, she smiled. "We pray to God that this strike will end soon," she said.

There were similar scenes of early morning confusion at the San Fernando Valley's two subway stops.

Patricia Abila, a 22-year-old fashion designer, got out of a car in front of the North Hollywood Red Line station, started walking toward the plaza, took in the deserted parking lot and then whipped around and tried to chase down the car that dropped her off. The car left before she could stop it.

"At first I didn't realize why so many cars were missing," she said as she leaned against a pay phone, out of breath, calling home for a ride to work. "I heard about the strike last week. I just didn't think they'd go through with it."

Most People Do Make It to Work

Employers of transit-riding workers had braced for the worst, but found that most of their staff made it to work one way or another.

"We have 100% attendance today," crowed downtown knitting contractor Jackie Bender. "A lot of white-collar workers might not have made it."

It was the same across a variety of industries that employ low-wage workers, most of whom don't get paid if they miss a day. In fact, it was a lack of customers, not employees, that bedeviled some Southland companies.

Foot traffic on Huntington Park's normally bustling main drag dwindled to a trickle with the double whammy of high temperatures and idled buses. That translated into sluggish sales for retailers such as Dearden's furniture store, which targets working-class immigrants with $700 living room sets.

"It's empty out there . . . and slow in here," said store manager Frank MacLean. "Pacific Boulevard is normally busy any time of day with people walking or waiting at the bus stop."

The strike disrupted life for more than 16,000 students in Los Angeles and thousands of others across the region who rely on MTA buses to get to school.

Many hitched rides with aunts, uncles, friends, strangers--anyone they could tap. Some paid a few dollars to hop in "gypsy cabs" operated by motorists who were ferrying passengers around Los Angeles for the right price.

Some parents rearranged work schedules to shuttle their children to school and pick them up afterward. But students whose families don't own cars bore the brunt of the problem. Many rose before dawn, removed the heaviest books from backpacks and set out by foot or bike.

"My shoulders hurt," said Cody Bailey, a seventh-grader at Virgil Middle School in the Pico-Union district as he approached his campus. He had just walked a mile and a half and was sweating profusely. Cody was late, and he feared the repercussions.

"I think they are going to give me detention," he said. "They'll probably say I should have walked faster."

The strike also was felt at community colleges, where many classes were one-third to one-half empty. Administrators at some colleges estimated that at least half of their students depend on public buses.

The strike had a modest ripple effect on counties surrounding Los Angeles, as L.A.-bound commuters lost their ability to transfer into the MTA system.

For instance, Metrolink trains, operated by a regional consortium called the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, serve the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura.

While Metrolink was not affected by the MTA strike, many of its passengers are used to transferring onto MTA buses or subways at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. They had to find other means of transportation Monday.

There was, for instance, super-commuter Andy Gonzales, who demonstrated the resilience of the mass transit rider. The Moreno Valley resident usually takes Metrolink to Union Station and then takes the Red Line to the Blue Line to the Green Line to get to his job in Torrance. Since his car broke down two months ago, Gonzales has mastered public transportation.

He said he knew he might have to take a Torrance city bus from downtown Los Angeles if there was an MTA strike.

"I thought I'd take that bus if all else failed," he said. "Well, all else failed today."

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