On October 22nd, I saw the Poets in Autumn at their LA tour stop. Unfortunately for you, this post isn’t about the show; it’s about my travel adventures, which I suppose are less interesting, but it’s my blog and I can do what I want.
For months, I’d been searching for someone to go to the spoken word concert with. The problem is either that I don’t have friends, or people just aren’t cool. I pick the latter reason. Long story short, I had to go alone. Bear in mind, now, making one’s way from Claremont to San Pedro could be easily done in about an hour if one is in a nice car with a good driver and gas money. However, when you’re a broke babe with zero geographical knowledge of America, much less California, and public transportation (which takes thrice as long) is your only option, with your most important asset being Google Maps which tells you where to go and which cars to take, life becomes just a tad bit more complicated.
Here’s something crucial I learnt about American trains real fast: they wait for no one. They will show up 30 seconds before they are scheduled to, if not earlier. Then their doors will open for another 30 seconds. Then boom, they’re gone.
Now when people say culture shock, they expect us foreigners to start talking about slang, food and liberal culture, but these things are too basic to be bothered by; we were prepared for these when we decided to temporarily move to a different country. But you know what we Africans are never prepared for? Punctuality. That’s the realest culture shock you’re ever going to experience. Things are bloody on time. As a Ghanaian raised on GMT (Ghana-Man time), where 12:00pm is code for 14:00, where troskis have only vague schedules and won’t move until they’re full, I simply wasn’t ready for that train to pass by my eyes at 1:43 so that when I tried to catch that 1:44 train at 1:45, I was only met with a whiz of disturbed air that the train had left in its wake.
I hadn’t even bought a ticket yet.
The funny thing is that because it happened so fast and it was the last thing I expected, it didn’t register that the train had just left me. With my heart still brimming with frantic hope, I made my way to the ticket machine, growing increasingly anxious when I couldn’t buy a ticket in under a minute because the machine wouldn’t bloody read my debit card. Come on, I thought. The train will be here any minute! (What an idiot you are, Akotowaa, now that I think about it.) I tried the card this way, then that way. Nothing and nothing. I tried the card front up and upside-down. Nothing and nothing again. Losing hope. I asked the old woman passing by for assistance. She made me do everything I’d already tried again. Nothing, nothing and nothing.
“Do you have any cash on you?”
I did. Finally, success. Now, I could breathe. 1:48. I still had time, right? I was prepared for the train’s arrival now. I waited.
I waited some more.
There’s nothing like the humiliation caused by your brain finally working after your senses return from their French Leave. It almost compares to the humiliation of returning to your room 15 minutes after you said goodbye to your roommate and that you’d see her late in the night, and having to explain yourself. That, in turn, almost compares to the humiliation of hearing yourself vocalize your own stupidity.
But e chill. There’s another train in an hour. Swear down you’ll catch this one.
I caught that one.
Here is the beautiful thing about a Saturday Metrolink Day Pass: with one $10 ticket, you can ride any Metrolink vehicles, the whole day until 11:59pm, be it train, shuttle, bus, whatever. It’s too lit. So the plan was to take the train to a different train station, walk to the nearest bus station, take a bus to another bus station, then take a final bus that would get me to within 4 mins’ walking distance of my destination. E chill kraa. But all these directions were given to me by Google Maps, which I was checking obsessively, and thusly draining my battery unnecessarily. Fun fact: though I had my charger with me, I do not own a power bank. (In light of this information, if, out of sympathy for my plight, you would like to purchase one for me, hit me up and I’ll send you my mailing address. Kidding-not-kidding.) If my phone died while I was stranded anywhere without a charging port, I was doomed.
The train ride was uneventful. Getting from the train station to the bus station with the overpass was made easier with Google Maps giving me delicate details like which steps to climb and which way to turn once I reached the top. I landed safely at the bus station. But guess what. The bus no dey.
But e chill. I was unexpectedly early. The bus was due to come soon. But the “soon” as indicated by the Google Maps app came and went. Still aa, bus no dey. I checked the sign above me multiple times to make sure I was on the right platform. I was. I checked the bus schedule on the wall; in accordance with dear Google. But what is this confusing mess, America? Just as I’m preparing myself for punctuality I’m unused to, you decide to compensate with bringing GMT back up to me. Wow. I would have freaked out more if the strangers waiting with me weren’t fidgeting uncomfortably with their watches too. Ah, the glories of collective agitation!
The bus showed up! (At least 10 minutes late.) I boarded. Each person who boarded before me tapped their tickets on the fancy system without incident. I tapped mine. Error message. “TICKET EXPIRED” or something strange like that. I felt the onset of panic. I knew for sure that ticket said on its print that I was good for the whole day. The bus driver told me to tap again. “TICKET EXPIRED”. She motioned me towards a second fancy machine, closer to her. “TICKET EXPIRED”. Confused, grabbed my ticket and looked at it. Understanding dawned upon her face.
“Oh, that’s why,” she said. (I am not sure what “why” was, and I may never find out.) But then she spoke the words that snapped the strings beginning to constrict my heart: “But never mind, you’re good” – accompanied by a nonchalant flick of the wrist, motioning me to go in towards the back of the bus.
I sat down in the only free seat that I could see, at the very back, between a sleeping, drooling man, and another with a colorful shirt. The sleeping man stank a little bit. Luckily, many people got off at the next stop, and I gladly switched seats.
The next problem: I knew where I was supposed to get off, but where was the bus going? Some of the first stops sounded familiar. Too familiar. I was afraid I was going backwards because I heard names of places the train had already taken me and then I heard the name of the station I had just picked the bus from. It turns out that the bus was doing a loop. I didn’t know buses did that. I was terrified out of my mind, Googling things frantically until I understood what the heck was happening. My battery continued to drain for no reason. But I got safely to my stop.
The trouble was where to go next. My best friend Google was no longer giving directions as detailed as which steps to climb. So I began to wing it. I knew I was supposed to take a bus numbered 45. I decided to wait for it at this random place I saw a few people standing at. I made the mistake of looking to my right. Oh my word! There was a bus numbered 45 and it was about to leave! I ran to it and hopped on. (My ticket tap worked this time.)
Imagine the relief I felt. I’d almost missed yet another one. Ugh. I relaxed against my seat and listened attentively to the bus stops being called out. I knew the street numbers were supposed to be increasing, thanks to Google Maps. I was definitely on a number 45 bus. BUT THEN… why where the street numbers decreasing?
Oh…crap. I was on the wrong bus. Yeah, the bus number was right, but there were two buses with the same number; one heading north and the other heading south. I was on the wrong number 45. I jumped out at the next bus stop, feeling my life force drain away with every second my phone GPS showed me moving further away from my target on the map.
I was in the middle of Broadway-nowhere. No buses forthcoming, and no socket in sight. Even the cars on the road were sparse. My mobile data suddenly stopped working. I was like, “Oh, no you don’t.” These things aren’t supposed to happen in America! I walked a few steps until the signal improved and restarted my phone. Boom – success. I felt proud enough to be a computer science major. Who fit restart Android like meh? (Thankfully, that moment of folly passed quickly. ComSci major? No thanks.)
Okay, I was kind of close to my destination. Enough for an Uber not to be wildly expensive. I Ubered to the venue and landed safely there. About 30 minutes early.
The minute I located the entrance, the first thing I asked the security guards was if there was a place I could charge my phone. They laughed at me, a classic millennial with classic millennial problems. They did not understand it was a matter of life and death. But the Lord touched their hearts, and they pointed me towards an obscure flap in the wall, beneath which were hidden two wonderful, electricity-supplying sockets. Praise the Lord? Hallelujah.
My phone had never charged more slowly.
Location, mobile data, wi-fi, sound, screen rotation and automatic brightness off, but that percentage indicator was taking longer to change than a snail crossing my verandah. For its sake, I let the VIP line grow long before I joined in, so that I would not have my phone out of my sight. When I unplugged it and joined the line, I turned it off – but my digital ticket was on there, and oh, how it pained me to get that QR code scanned. My spirit was lamenting what that 5-second action was doing to my phone’s battery life.
I had my phone off nearly the whole show. Somehow, the battery still continued to drain.
Quality of fantastic performers: they can hold the attention of a mind as hyperactive as mine and bind it to the present, when it is otherwise prone to worry about the future or ruminate on the past. I wasn’t thinking too much about my phone while watching those madly gifted poets perform.
I knew the last train from Union Station would leave at 11:30pm. In my mind, sitting there at 8pm, I knew I would make it.
Oh, but I didn’t take into account what happens when the Spirit takes more control than the timetable and you gotta share your message with the crowd before you actually perform your poems. I get it. And I was blessed by it. So blessed by it, I couldn’t bear to leave until the end of the show itself. I mean, I was skipping the personal conversation with my favorite poets in the world (which would come after the show) because I was a responsible student who gotta catch the train.
Holy smoke, it was already 11pm! I requested an Uber to Union Station. Shoot. 6 mins away. It would take at least 24 minutes to get to LA Union. Shoot, shoot, shoot.
When that Uber arrived, there was literally no time to spare. I frantically described my tight situation to that driver, and he was like, “Oh boy.”
I just want to thank the Lord for this sweet Black man with a heart of gold. That man switched routes on his GPS and I saw that ETA change from 11:34 to 11:30. What a driver! As he sped along, describing Los Angeles traffic patterns to me, I saw that ETA drop to 11:28. Oh man, as we closed in, he said to me, “Now if I were you, Id’ run in there as fast as I can, ask directions, still while running, and get on that train.” I thanked him PROFUSELY, this blessing in my life on this sad night, with my heart pumping loud enough for me to hear. I ran out the car and did exactly as he suggested.
I ran like a madwoman. Then I saw it. That single train’s schedule, flashing above me like a warning sign. I was supposed to go right. It was 11:29. Right straight on, or right upwards – up the stairs? I tried straight on, but saw no end in sight. I changed my mind instinctively. Ran back. Bolted up the stairs 2 at a time. Lo and behold – there was the train. The last train. My last chance. I got to it. The doors had closed.
I banged on them, half-mad, like my spaghetti arm muscles could open them. No chance. It began to move away. As carriage after carriage passed me by, I tried to appeal to the passengers, as though someone would run to the driver and yell at him to rescue my poor soul. They looked back at me with no pity. The last carriage passed me by and the train lights threatened to blind me. It left.
Tears would have been too mild a reaction for the turbulence within my spirit. I fully stood there for 2 minutes, processing what had just happened to me. Being “this close” is, I think, more painful than having been impossibly far.
Friends and family, this is the possible alternate ending to rom-coms like The Proposal. This is the possible ending to your life if you die on the verge of repentance. Turn to Jesus now. Don’t miss the train.
I walked back downstairs and straight outside. The security guard from whom I’d asked directions before was not surprised in the least to see me back there. “Didn’t make it, huh?” Working in LA Union Station? I can’t imagine how many times he’s seen it happen before already.
My battery was giving up on me, the disloyal fiend. I had to get an Uber before it gave out, or else, I was really screwed. I requested one, but my mind shattered at the cost. 4 minutes away. My only option now.
As I waited, I was approached by a lovely Black son of a kindly old woman. They couldn’t figure out how to use the Uber app. Turns out, the woman’s credit card was no longer in use, and the “free ride” she had on her account was non-functional at the moment, for reasons unknown. (Maybe it was because the payment method was invalid. But it is at that kind of crucial moment that a “free ride” needs to be functional.) Fix it, Uber. My own driver arrived and waited for me as I tried unsuccessfully to get the woman’s free ride to work. It didn’t. She had to change her payment method to her new card. I wasn’t there to see her finish it, but I hope she and her son got home okay.
And so did I. With a splitting headache, a phone on 1%, and a flipping $64 Uber bill, when I could have ridden the train for ZERO DOLLARS MORE THAN I’D ALREADY PAID THAT DAY.
I’m broke and I don’t have a job. Send help pls. The end.