8/18/05

THE GHETTO BLUE

THE GHETTO BLUE

It’s rush hour at the Seventh Street/Metro Center station, and passengers scurry through a maze of stairs, escalators and elevators like worker ants in an ant farm; commuters waiting for the train bound for Long Beach spill over the platform and onto the white textured warning strip.

This is the “Ghetto Blue” — the busiest light-rail line in the nation, and also the deadliest.

The 22-mile Metro Blue Line starts underground but journeys above to the street-level as it journeys though South Los Angeles en-route to the Transit Mall Station in Downtown Long Beach.

Thirty-five thousand people board its trains going both directions each day; most of them are poor Brown, Black, Filipinos, Chinese, Guatemalan Mayas, and Salvatruchas. The MTA’s demographic profiling shows that the median household income for passengers using the Blue Line is $17,000. The train is their primary means of transportation, carrying seamstresses, janitors and restaurant workers to their various places of business scattered along the rail line’s route.

As a 19th-century technology, rail enabled Great Britain to colonize Africa, India and China. Abraham Lincoln continued that tradition in the United States when he hooked up with the railroad lobby and used Chinese and Irish labor to create the transcontinental railway, and here locally, Henry “Huntington’s” Pacific Electric, built the Big Red Cars trolley line (part of which ran down the same corridor as the Blue Line), was built by Mexican immigrants.

Twenty-first-century rail continues in that tradition, only in reverse: Instead of exploiting the working-class-immigrant communities for their cheap labor, it conquers and imposes on them by reducing their mobility. Many of these transit-dependent riders were forced onto the Blue Line after their usual express bus service from downtown L.A. to the South Bay and to Long Beach, were canceled, leaving them with no mobility option for transportation to their jobs.

The Ghetto Blue is now more than just a train. It has become a culture, a near-sovereign civilization-within-the-city that is ruled by its own customs and, in some cases, even its own laws. The Ghetto Blue is also a moving swap meet, where passengers hustle to sell watches, perfumes, socks, incense, Kools, lotions, batteries, tapes, CDs and candy. Bus tokens become a form of currency here, people peddling for a small cash profit. The transactions go down like a drug deal, with both participants looking over their shoulders for authorities as they quickly exchange the goods. It’s a scene reminiscent of MacArthur Park.

At the Washington stop, the Ghetto Blue veers south, rumbling down like a roller coaster through the heavy industrial and residential water-tower towns of Vernon, Huntington Park, South Gate, Lynwood and Watts. Rusted old barbed-wired warehouses and factory lots filled with pallets, alternate with the residential neighborhoods along this route.
Rising on elevated concrete platforms to the treetops, passengers can look down onto the roofs and get a glimpse of the local life: carne asada, clothes hanging out to dry, shoes dangling from power lines; men working on cars, playing basketball, fighting their dogs, flying their pigeons, slapping bones and watering their lawns.

One of the most familiar institutions along this post-industrial heartland stretch is the church. Along this route, churches are second in number only to liquor stores adorned with murals depicting the Virgén de Guadalupe. And the most commonly read book on the Ghetto Blue is the Bible: If you do have hope for a future, but if you have no hope for your future, you can opt for the street life.

The gangs in the area are said to have a respect for the Ghetto Blue, and recognize that the trains are not part of anyone’s individual turf, reads the MTA’s official literature. Still, along the corridor, spray-painted bombs and tags (placas) adorn the walls, serving notice that you have now entered “tatted tribe territory.”

Thirty Eighth Street and rival Florencia 13, dominate part of this area, along with the Family Swan Bloods near the Firestone Station and the Grape Street Crips at the Watts Towers on 103rd, laying claim to sections of this territory as well.

In February 2003, the Pueblo Bloods from El Pueblo Del Rio Housing Projects barricaded the Ghetto Blue and shut down the whole system for a few hours. They placed large roll-type garbage bins on the tracks and stood upright a large 15’ x 15’ wrought-iron gate; they did so in protest against the LAPD for murdering one of their Homeboy’s.

At its midpoint, the Ghetto Blue comes to the Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks Station in Willowbrook, the transfer point to the Green Line that leads to LAX. Here, cessna’s and 747s blast over the loud and windy platform; ghetto birds hover as if in a war zone.
The Sheriff’s substation is located here, and authorities routinely check passengers for their monthly passes and tickets. There are no barriers to entry onto the train system, and no turnstiles to enter the stations. Passengers ride on an honor system, and failure to produce fare on demand carries a heavy fine. The Imperial Station ranks second in the system for overall citations. Get caught here, and you’ll end up in the Compton Courthouse, where every day you’ll find a room full of Mexicans and Blacks before the judge, trying to straighten out their fare-evasion citations. And don’t even think of expectorating, that’s right; yes, you can get a ticket for spitting, even if you aim for the distant tracks, lol.

As you ride through, you’ll see Mexican flags waving from homes and nopales (cactus) along walls tagged up with “Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats.” Compton, known as the “Hub City,” has been going through a demographic change; with Mexicans now accounting for half of Compton’s residents. But as the Mexicans threaten to displace the old and long established Black community, Compton remains one of the poorest suburbs in the United States. The rundown, boarded-up houses and empty lots are said to resemble South African shantytowns, and the stray dogs and Homies feeding their huge iguanas “hippie lettuce” become the wildlife. Here, tribal warfare comes not from Zulus with machetes, but from Pirus with MAC-10s.

And just like South Africa, The Hub is a city trying to recover from economic apartheid, from manufacturing jobs lost with white flight, and competition between Blacks and other ethnic minorities for a few poorly paid jobs. As the Ghetto Blue rumbles through Compton; A Black Homeboy breaks it down -

“see, they want us to compete for the crumbs,” he shouts, “but Blacks and Mexicans need to hook up and collaborate! Fuck the bullets and bullet trains!”

The train journeys on through the industrial areas of Rancho Dominguez and Carson, between L.A. and L.B., passing by the main cargo route - the 710 Long Beach Freeway. On the east bank of the L.A. River, the river runs strong, and this little patch of green nature is like an island — “a Pacific island.” From Artesia and the Willow Station, the scenery begins to change with the population, which now includes Filipinos and Samoans. The train fills with sounds of the lovely Tagalog tongue, spoken into cell phones and between men and women, and Samoan aigas, mothers and their children in strollers. In the children playing in the parks and the open spaces along the way, you get a rare flash of natural beauty along this route of the Ghetto Blue.

Most of the time, though, the Blue Line’s human cargo is like a herd of guinea pigs enlisted in a mass-transit experiment gone bad. With its electric wires crisscrossing the horizon looking like stitches across a deep cut, the Ghetto Blue is a microcosm of the city — a huge scar running through L.A. that needs to be healed.

“This will be the end of the line,” the train operator says over the intercom after the 59-minute ride, and “thank you for riding the Metro Blue Line.”

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

MY RESPETOS TO THE BLUE LINE THAT THING HAS BEEN MY RIDE FOR 10 YEARS

Anonymous said...

Have you actually ridden on the Blue Line? Your description is so highly exaggerated/fabricated I somewhat doubt you have. (Or is it just poetic licence?) The Blue Line is just another urban light rail system that happens to go through some poorer areas. I use the Blue Line all the time and have never observed special rules and customs unique to the Blue Line. You fail to mention that stations and trains are patrolled by the LA County Sheriff. The trains are clean, and free of major graffiti, and nowhere near the way you describe it.

Anonymous said...

LET IT B KNOWN..THE PREVIOUS PERSON PUT SOME INFO REGARDING THE BLUE LINE..THIS PERSON SAID IS EXAGGERATED..I USE TO WORK FOR METRO..AND ITS NO JOKE..AS A OPERATOR I WITNESS MANY THINGS AND MET MANY PEOPLE FROM DIFFRENT WALKS OF LIFE..LONE WOLF, IN MY OPINION SEES HOW THE BLUE LINE IS A VITAL PIECE OF THE CITY OF LOST ANGELS..AND PLEASE BELIEVE THAT THERE IS RULES TO THE TRANSIST GAME..NOW THE RAILS THAT RUN IN LA..MTA EMPLOYEES SEE IT AS A VACATION COMPARED TO THE CITY BUSSES..BUT THE PEOPLE WHO USE THE RAILS R BY THEMSELVES AS FAR AS SECURITY..THIS IS FROM A FORMER MTA EMPLOYEE..THE SHERRIFS U SPEAK OF..ARE NOT RELIABLE..AND AS SOON AS THE DOORS OPEN..AND U ARE IN THE ROSA PARKS STATION..WATCH YOUR BACK..I LIKED WHAT U PUT LONE WOLF..AS A OPERATOR I SAW POVERTY,RAZA PROVING THAT WE R HARD WORKERS,IGNORANCE,BLACK PEOPLE STUCK IN DOPE,FINE ASS FEMALES,AND RACIST POLICE..THE CITY OF ANGELS>>MR LEFTY CON RESPECTO CARNAL!