Guest Column


Getting Out From Behind the Wheel

By Andy Hedden


Hail some of the current Main Line drivers, Rick Roby and Sharon Uanno.

A funny thing happened last summer on my way back from the market. My Honda of 19 years finally gave up the ghost. Passed on.  Kicked the hubcap.  Right in the middle of the street. Right in front of my driveway. My immediate thought was to run into the house, grab my grandfather’s shotgun and put the old girl out of her misery.


I got her backed into my driveway with the assistance of a skilled tow truck driver.  She owed me nothing. She had been rode hard and hung out wet more times than I can remember, including when I took her through a mountain pass with hail so big it dented her hood and roof.  But this was the last nail in the coffin and beyond my financial capabilities to repair or replace.  So there she lay in repose and me without wheels.


Which brings us to the Laguna Beach Municipal Transit System.  I wasn’t sure what to expect communally commuting every day, but things were off to a good start. I picked up a schedule and the bus stop where I would board was a five-minute walk from home.  Equally user friendly, I would depart at the depot downtown, a five-minute walk from my so-called day job. At only six bits a trip and with gas prices in the stratosphere, what a deal. But wait, there’s more…if you work in town, you can get a free pass. Sweet!


And so I started riding the bus. It’s a great experience. You get to see things you’d normally miss if you were behind the wheel. I’ve lived in Laguna over 50 years and have discovered, and rediscovered, the many wonderful things that make our community magic.  Plus, you never have to worry about finding a parking place.  As an added bonus, if the bus gets in an accident, there’s no way you can be blamed, unless you attack the driver.


Which brings us to the bus drivers. I can’t begin to tell you what admiration I have for these intrepid navigators of our compact hamlet. Maneuvering around town in a car is hard enough, but in a bus? And they aren’t just skilled at what they do, but engaging and ever helpful. This has allowed me to get to know, on a first name basis, some truly unique and wonderful human beings who do a difficult job with poise and confidence. 


The city’s ‘60s era theme park style tolleys.

Which bring us to the passengers. And I’ve gotten to know many of them as well.  It’s like a little social club on wheels. What a soufflé of humanity: polite and respectful, always saying thank you to the drivers, conversing with other passengers and the drivers.  And you get to meet visitors as well. I love talking about our town and recommending things to do. And I’m not alone. The majority of the passengers are eager to put out the welcome mat to newcomers.


There are the occasional breaches in passenger etiquette.


One day the bus had to make an abrupt stop for a woman I will simply describe as a “local character.”  She was reclining on the sidewalk behind the bus bench and popped up at the last second, waving fiercely. The driver had to wrangle the bus to get it stopped safely. She boarded, without paying her fare. The driver said nothing. She sat down and rode two short blocks when she yanked the cord to request a stop – 20 feet after the bus had passed it. Again, the driver had to quickly react, but he pulled off the maneuver like a stunt driver. 


She started cursing him out for missing the stop, invading my personal space while she was doing it.  I knew I should have kept my mouth shut, but nobody picks on my bus drivers. While she was ranting, I calmly commented, “Hey, lighten up, you didn’t even pay your fare.” She turned on me, stuck her face less than a foot from mine, and called me more foul names than a drunken sailor in Singapore. Then she pulled out her bus pass, punched beyond usable recognition, shaking it at me, and departed in a fury.  I apologized to the driver for making the situation worse.  He shook it off. “Forget it man. She’s crazy.”  That has been my only negative experience. 


Which brings us to summer, when the city takes on a whole new level of gridlock.  Of course there’s a solution – the free trolleys! They are marvelous.  Zipping around town pretty much anywhere you need to go. I have very fond childhood memories of the theme park style trolleys that operated in the ‘60s. Totally open air with tiny wheels, no railings, and benches that I could barely keep my little fanny glued to. Unsafe and insane, they were a blast to ride.


The expertly run Municipal Transit System is reliable and fun. Did I mention they’re powered by eco-friendly propane?  So climb on board, and hail to the bus driver!


Andy Hedden is a life-long Laguna Beach resident.

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