THROUGH THE FIRE: Bus Stops and Revelations

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bill watanabeBy BILL WATANABE

I recently retired from my longtime position as the executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC). Since I don’t have to commute daily for work, my wife and I decided to become a one-car family.

As an alternate means of travel, I have become a Metro bus rider, taking advantage of having more time to wait for the bus and enjoying the amazing 25-cent fare for seniors during the off-peak hours. I go to Little Tokyo for meetings a couple of times a week.

Even though I have lived in my home in Silver Lake for nearly 22 years, I never knew there was a bus stop almost directly in front of my home! The bus goes into downtown in about 20 minutes and drops me off only two blocks from Little Tokyo and presto, I am there and I don’t even have to find a parking space!

I get off the bus on Spring Street and I walk east on First Street and when I get to Los Angeles Street, it is my habit to look north and take in the beautiful purple San Gabriel Mountains. I use the tall TV antennas on top of Mt. Wilson as my visibility gauge — if I can see the TV towers then I know it is a clear day.

But that is neither here nor there — what I wanted to share was a revelation that came to me while waiting for the bus. Day after day, during the ten minutes or so before the bus comes, I have noticed how clear and blue the sky has been recently.

I think Angelenos from my generation (I’m a Manzanar/Tule Lake-baby but that’s another story) tend to appreciate clean air more than others because we grew up during a time when people talked about smog alerts, lung congestion, inversion layer, etc. Quick — tell me, when was the last time we had a smog alert in L.A.? I’ll bet most of you can’t answer — and neither can I, but I know it has been a while since it happened last.

There was a time, back in the ’50s and ’60s, when people still burned trash in backyard incinerators, and cars did not have exhaust emission control devices, and industrial smokestacks spewed all kinds of stuff into our air. I can remember as a kid in the San Fernando Valley, playing football on the school field, and after an hour or so, not being able to breathe and having coughing spells due to the smog. In those days, one could look towards the mountains and not know there were mountains there, and the sky always looked gray or perhaps even brown.

But now, many years later, we have day after day of clear, beautiful weather without a hint of smog (well, maybe a hint but not much except for forest fires). Once, when a friend back east emailed me about a terrible blizzard with snow and cold temperatures, I couldn’t help telling them, “Our days are clear but it is getting really cold in L.A. too — I actually had to put on a jacket!” (During the Polar Vortex that hit the East Coast earlier this month, it would have been borderline cruelty to rub it in.)

The other day, as I waited for the bus, I took in the great weather and clear blue skies and fully enjoyed the moment. But then I got a gnawing counter-revelation — we desperately need rain! Our governor has declared a drought — and I realized we are caught in a dilemma whereby each beautiful winter day that passes brings us another day closer to drought calamity.

So now, when I take the bus to Little Tokyo, I will stop at First and Los Angeles streets, and look north to the mountains. I will hope to see Mt. Wilson and enjoy the clear day, but I know now that elation will be brief because it will be followed by a sense of gloom and doom. Even so, I guess that is still better than having both a drought and smog-filled lungs.

Bill Watanabe is former executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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