RIDING A BUS, especially in an auto-centric city such as Los Angeles, can be a grind, replete with 45-minute waits, urine-soaked street theater, surly drivers and constant reminders that if you were one of the city's winners, you'd already be wherever you're going. But the bus has always offered one compensation: the chance to zone out in a state of placid unhappiness.
No more. Say hello to the Transit Television Network, a collection of 4,782 screens installed over the last couple of years on more than 2,200 Los Angeles buses. Throughout the transit day, TTN keeps riders entertained with an hourlong loop of short programs and advertisements.
With two screens and six speakers on an average-sized bus, Transit TV is an impressive technical achievement. Twice a day, city buses download fresh programming from wireless hotspots across town, so there's a timely program of text news, La Opinion reports, X-treme sports shows, cooking tips from the Clever Cleaver Brothers and a GPS map that tracks your snail-like progress.
TTN is easy to watch. It's also impossible to ignore, with a sound volume that seems to have no settings between one and 10. Transit TV's sonic stream drops out whenever the bus' robot voice announces upcoming stops, and the audio can go mute for blocks at a time. The result is somewhat like the old Kurt Vonnegut story in which people deemed too clever are wired with a shrill beeper that sounds every minute or so to break their concentration.