Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dirty Chips and Plastic Bananas.

Metro Rapid Bus 754 - Vermont/Melrose

If you have a pitcher of sangria, a view of Elvis and the Virgin Mary, and healthy helping of black beans, you might just be inside the Original Cha Cha Cha.

Inside the pink exterior are two dining rooms where the Chiquita Banana would feel right at home. It is one of those rare wonderful places that thrive in Silverlake or Venice beach, where good food and a friendly atmosphere blend perfectly with the eclectic decor.

Every time I go, the Dirty Chips with Guacamole are the first things ordered. Before 2pm you can enjoy breakfast dishes with sides of plantains (which are my personal favorite here). After 2 pm, make sure you make it to happy hour: 4-7pm Monday - Thursday for $10 Sangria pitchers.

The side dishes are always a hit, and I hear the Jamacian Jerk Chicken is amazing, although I can't say I've tried it myself. Best of all, everything comes with fresh, warm bread, perfect for dipping in black beans.

You'll leave a little happier, a little warmer, and feeling a little bit more like a part of the family that has kept Cha Cha Cha standing (out) on the corner for the last 22 years.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tap That Pass

Only slightly thicker than a credit card, the TAP is the daily, monthly and weekly pass - Los Angeles' RFID answer to NYC's Metro Card.

What they do:
  • Give you a satisfying beep every time you board a bus or train (note: it makes the same noise in the train station, but not on the busses, whether or not you have a balance on your card)

  • Pay your fare without taking your card out. Just wave your wallet or purse over the TAP station - like magic!

  • Stand up to the wear and tear of daily (ab)use, month after month (mine is over a year old)

  • Save you from paying for transfers within MTA (because, well, you have to buy an unlimited pass)

  • Let you reload your pass online

What they don't do:

  • Give you the chance to buy or reload a pass from your bus driver -- train stations are the easiest place to buy passes

  • Let you load up the cards with a set amount; you get unlimited passes only good for the day/week/month

  • Make life easier for Grammar Girl (people have a tendency to say "TAP Pass" just like "ATM Machine")

  • Give you your TAP card for free ($2 please)

  • Convince people to pay their subway fare

  • Keep monthly riders from getting citations

It is better than the paper passes in many ways. It makes more sense, and is easier to access. But it is unnerving that MTA requires tapping the card, even for in-station train transfers, and threatens citations if you do not. It is faster than swiping a card the way they do in New York City, but slower than flashing a paper pass.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Depot Revival

Metrolink – San Bernardino station

The birthplace of McDonald’s and one of the oldest Southern California communities (the “gateway to Southern California”), San Bernardino is now better known for its sprawl, fires, and placement on oft-debated lists of most dangerous cities.

San Bernardino as it stands now, is a prime example of (sub)urban planning gone a bit awry. Housing prices in San Bernardino are (and were) so low compared to the continuing high cost of homes in the Los Angeles market that many workers grit their teeth for four hour (or longer) commutes because they cannot afford to live closer.

With a large portion of the population gone for ten to twelve hours a day, San Bernardino has suffered. However, the rising cost and length of this commute has left some hope for the future of this community, which was originally based on rail travel. The necessity of commuter trains is slowly translating into improvements to the old Santa Fe station, which was once the heart of San Bernardino.

The Santa Fe Depot opened on July 15, 1918. It marked the beginning of a new era, as the largest station west of the Mississippi. During the height of passenger train travel (from 1920 - 1950), sixty to eight-five percent of people living in San Bernardino were employed at the station.

With the rise of the automobile and the decline of rail travel, the station slowly decayed. What started as a city hub in the 1900s almost became a great loss to the city in 2008. Without organizations such as the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society and San Bernardino Historical Society helping to re-open the depot, Amtrak and Metrolink service to the San Bernardino area would have disappeared in June 2008. Although it is now open, the beautifully restored depot has restricted hours, and depends on limited funding and volunteers to keep the doors open and welcoming riders.

The future of the station is looking brighter, as SANBAG and other San Bernardino area organizations see it as a hub for transportation and, subsequently, commerce. Improvements to the area include plans for shops, restaurants, and other commuter conveniences in the "Mercado Santa Fe Depot District". By June 2009 a new parking structure for San Bernardino Metrolink riders is expected to increase ridership and launch the restoration of the area surrounding the Metrolink station.

With all of these changes, there is a great opportunity for San Bernardino residents. While Metrolink is both less expensive and faster to ride for a daily commute, many residents are afraid to leave the convenience of their car. A new commerce center will not only allow for that convenience, but it will also restore money to the community which would otherwise be spent along the road to or from downtown Los Angeles. The new parking structure will make it more convenient for riders who live too far to walk to the station, and offer greater security for cars that are left in the city.

Right now the train stations in the Los Angeles area suffer from the same plague: too many cars and too few amenities. Hopefully this will prove to be the first of many mixed-use stations along the Metrolink lines.