A vanished city lives again...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My first (and last) ride on the Red Car

Back in 1961, my mom took me on one of the last Pacific Electric trolley runs down to Long Beach – a train ride exactly like the one depicted in this film. Although I was only 6 at the time, I still have some very clear memories of that day-trip, half-a-century ago. Looking back now, I realize that this was my first-ever excursion into Los Angeles past.

One morning at breakfast (I think it was actually a school day), Mom just told me out-of-the-blue that we were going Downtown to ride the last of the street cars. She wanted me to experience something that was an important part of her daily life when she was young; something that was now about to vanish into history.

Before we rode the Red Car, though, we went to Angels Flight. That was the first of the two times I got to ride it, and it was a big thrill. Afterward, we stood at a busy street corner for awhile – it was probably Third and Hill – waiting for a bus to take us to the PE station. I'll never forget the NOISE of that intersection; how LOUD the general hustle-and-bustle of the city was. It was nothing like out in the suburbs. I was especially impressed by the electric arcs and sparks that shot out from the trolleys' contact with the overhead wires. Snap! Crackle! Pop!

The Red Car ride to Long Beach was actually pretty boring for a fidgety 6-year-old, despite it being my first time ever on an inter-urban train. I do remember the car was filled to capacity. I guess nostalgia was thick among the passengers, as there was little talking. Mostly just the sound of the train wheels going clickity-clack, clickity-clack, all along the rail road track.

When we got to Long Beach, Mom took me to an immense old cafeteria downtown. The ceiling seemed like it was two stories high. It was crowded and noisy, and kind of dark inside, even though it was mid-day. I can't recall the name of the big cafeteria, but I think my mom probably went there a lot when she had relatives living in Long Beach in the '40s.

I don't remember the ride back at all. Likely I slept all the way. But overall, it was a very memorable day! I think Mom would be surprised how much I remember. At the time, she probably concluded that the experience was wasted on a little child like me, but it turned out it wasn't at all. I really wish I could tell her now how much it meant to me, and thank her accordingly.

I'm really struck by how ancient and worn this film looks. Knowing I was on one of those trains, well, it makes ME feel old, too. I have to say, though, that I am in much better shape after 50 years than this footage is! That's at least some consolation for a man my age. :-)



Chris D. said...

It's always been mind boggling to me how Los Angeles could completely tear up the red car system making the city completely dependent on automobiles. Thankfully we're seeing somewhat of a resurgence in rail transit in the area, but it's nowhere near where it needs to be a viable option for much of the population.

They should have kept the old system and made the necessary upgrades/changes over the years, instead of completely starting over. Maybe Los Angeles wouldn't be known as the traffic capital of the country had the red car system been maintained. Or maybe I'm just being optimistic.

Anonymous said...

I loved your story!! Thanks for sharing, and I'm sure your mom knew one day you would apreciate it. Thanks again for this post!!

Unknown said...

Greg Fry

@Chris D Actually there was a ballot measure in the late 1960s that sought to restore the system. Most of the right-of-way was still intact then. It was voted down. :(

Benovite said...

Supposedly the big oil and tire companies conspired to rid L.A. of its heralded public transit. You can guess why, if the story's even true.

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