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L.A.'s train of thought

Hop aboard Metro Rail for a tour of the unexplored city. And yes -- getting there really is half the fun.

January 16, 2003|James Verini | Special to The Times

Los ANGELES is a car city, the car city, so let's begin with the honest truth, shall we? The honest truth: For many of us, the idea of riding the Metro Rail subway in Los Angeles ranks up there with an afternoon at the Natural History Museum or a night of Kabuki theater. An experience we know would be conscientiously edifying -- enjoyable, even -- if we could only overcome that innate reluctance. It just seems so puny and doesn't seem to go anywhere. But that's because we're looking at it all wrong.

Look at the Metro instead as a winter boardwalk, your new recreational vehicle, as a whiz-bang trolley to those parts of the city you've always wanted to investigate but where you were afraid you wouldn't find adequate parking.

For once, cherish real public-ness, so rare in this city. (Aside from the variety of odd costumes on Hollywood's Red Line, the Metro doesn't call to mind "Blade Runner" at all. Nor is it cramped and humid like New York's subways. It's clean and fast and airy and punctual, like San Francisco's BART or Boston's T -- but unlike those systems, you can always, but always, find a seat along with the other roughly 230,000 weekday riders.)

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday January 24, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 483 words Type of Material: Correction
Subway story -- An article in the Jan. 16 Calendar Weekend on riding the subway incorrectly identified Grand Central Market in downtown L.A. as Central Square Market. It also incorrectly stated that the Church of Scientology is two blocks east of the Vermont/Sunset metro stop. The building is actually two blocks west of the station.

First, check out the accompanying map or pick one up at a station. Study it. Look at all those neighborhoods you've only heard of. Huge, no?

The place to begin is on the Red Line, which makes a turned-over-chair shape across North Hollywood, Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles. Buy a round-trip ticket for $2.75 at any of the stations -- Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue is most convenient for West Hollywood and Hollywood residents, Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue for Wilshire Corridor types -- and head north. (No signs in the stations say that one must buy a new ticket when transferring between lines. However, the tickets are marked R, G or B and, in the interests of civic responsibility, we recommend the purchase of multiple tickets at either of the two hubs -- the 7th Street and the Imperial-Wilmington-Rosa Parks Metro stations.)

Don't be concerned about where you're going just yet. First, get a feel for the conveyance. Feel that cool rush of air as the train approaches. The carpeted seats, the trapezoidal cars, the smooth hum of the rails. Say good day to your seatmate, should you have one. Look out and watch the dark tunnel stream by. Splendid, eh? There's no way you'd be moving like this on Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

North Hollywood

We arrive at the North Hollywood station (see map, No. 1). Ride up through the cavernous escalator passageway -- L.A.'s Metro Rail has numerous awe-inspiring escalator passageways like this; New York has maybe one or two, and they're usually mobbed with stockbrokers -- and onto street level.

Turn around. Good lord, look at the San Gabriel Mountains. Look at how the band shell entranceway is set against those peaks. Feel the thrill of raw California. When was the last time you saw the earth this looming and clear?

For an excursion, walk down Lankershim Boulevard into the mini arts district of NoHo to the Lankershim Art Gallery (5108 Lankershim Blvd., off Magnolia Boulevard), where we recommend you pay special attention to the very trippy Chagall-like paintings on the back wall by artist Lana Lisitsa. On your way back to the station, grab an iced gingerbread latte at Starbucks -- your day has just begun.

Hollywood and Vine

Heading back south on the Red Line, lean out the doors -- or exit the train (there will be another real soon) -- at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street (No. 2 on map) and look up at the ceiling. Are those

Also, take a peek at the groin-vaulted plate-metal palm trees on the first level. Very machine aesthetic. Get back on the train, go past Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue (but keep it in mind; you'll end up here tonight), and get out at Vermont Avenue and Sunset Boulevard (No. 3).

Vermont and Sunset

If you've been thinking about John Travolta's career arc, walk east on Sunset Boulevard to the faux-cobblestone L. Ron Hubbard Way and contemplate the mysteries within that baby-blue factory-like pile that is the Church of Scientology's main outpost.

If not, turn north and take Vermont Avenue into Los Feliz village, L.A.'s very own Left Bank. Go buy the new French Kicks record at Vinyl Fetish, sit outside at Palermo and have a cappuccino, look across the street and relish the fact that someone had the temerity to name a restaurant "House of Pies." Don't eat any pie -- just enjoy the name.

Vermont and Beverly

Heading south again, quickly hop out at Vermont Avenue and Beverly Boulevard (No. 4) to take a gander at the odd desert tableau the MTA has made of this station's exterior: boulders jutting from the stairwell, a "Westworld" cactus arrangement. Then transfer at the next station to the westbound Red Line extension and get out at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue (No. 5).

Wilshire and Western

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