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My dream car is a train

The Red Cars of early Southern California would still be rolling today if more people felt like I do about driving — and yet the easiest way to find me is to check my front seat.

Occasionally, I even long for the New York City subway. I didn’t relish too many other things about my two years in Queens, but I never missed having a car. Yeah, I know. That’s nigh on to heresy in these parts, but there you are.

This basic distaste for being behind the wheel was exacerbated by my children hitting the age where they required endless chauffeuring. Not just one or two environmentally sound trips a day.

Oh no. Now we needed to go cross-town to new friends’ houses and back again, to the basketball courts, the gym, the movies and then the pizza place, and then the video store and then the mall and then, and then.

To and from, back and forth, times two children. I felt like I needed a pit crew waiting in my driveway as I raced home just long enough to unload one group of kids and load up another.

It is clearly nature’s way of getting parents ready to actually let their teenagers take the wheel.

Meanwhile, my aversion to the California state hobby led me to reconsider the local train system. I have had pretty good luck with my train travel, but I have recently heard troubling tales of trains arriving and leaving half an hour earlier than scheduled.

I began taking trains first when I was forced to live in the wilds of Los Angeles and later when pressed to return there to visit friends.

The difference between taking the train and driving myself was that when I drove, I arrived at my destination with teeth clenched, hands clammy and every map I own spread out in the front seat. The friend I was visiting greeted me, relaxed and gracious.

When I took the train, my friend arrived to pick me up with teeth clenched and hands clammy and I greeted her, relaxed and gracious.

Still, the quintessential difference between a land where rapid transit is king and one where it is an afterthought can be seen in the comparison of  New York’s Grand Central and Los Angeles’ main terminal.

The latter is lovely with its long, marble-floored hallways, immense ceilings and carved moldings.

But unlike the constant bustle of Grand Central — a main artery of transportation for the East Coast — L.A. always has an emptiness with echoes of L.A.’s bygone pre-auto heyday.

We do have some terrifically convenient stations now from Solana Beach to Oceanside, but I can’t quite let go of my original vision that my trip should be something like the Orient Express.

Instead, my last trip included a dozen teenagers who never sat down or spoke below a shout from Fullerton to L.A. Coming home it was a troop of Brownies. I kept wishing the pilot would tell them to fasten their seat belts.

Meanwhile, because the train does not stop outside my house, I remained chauffeur extraordinaire, standing ready to leave every 15 minutes to everywhere. I was glad they sold food at the gas stations.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer working on a “Driving Miss Daisy” future.

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