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Creative Writing | ‘Metro commuter shorts': 'Welcome to the Red Line’ by Harout Dedeyan

June 03, 2020

Creative writing

By Harout Dedeyan

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New Creative Writing | ‘Metro commuter shorts': 'Welcome to the Red Line’ by Harout Dedeyan

Architectural designer, photographer, and now writer Harout Dedeyan’s daily commute once involved a stroll on the Los Angeles metro, where he would often jot down notes and snap photos of the happenings along his journey. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, commutes have been put on hold, but his project has shifted into gear. In this h-pem exclusive series, titled “Metro commuter shorts,” Harout shares some of the wild stories overheard during these rides. Check out the first installment, “Welcome to the Red Line,” below!
 

Writer's name Harout Dedeyan
Occupation

Photographer; Architectural designer

City/Country Northridge, Los Angeles, Calif.
About the writer
  • Associate Principal of Rottet Studio, an international architecture and design firm
  • Holds a M.Arch. (Master of Architecture) degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • Has lived in four different countries across three different continents: the United States, France, Armenia, and Lebanon
     

Welcome to the Red Line

Caught in an endless roll, alternating flashes of blue sky and black asphalt spin past my eyes as I hit the center divider, and finally come to a stop.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you, so sorry…  Are you OK?”

The apology barely registers, then quickly tumbles down the hierarchy of thoughts racing in my head, as the fastest sprinter: “how am I going to explain this to my wife?” relays the baton to “on our son’s graduation day…”

I end up trading two wheels for two crutches, followed by a monthly pass a few months later. And just like that, my motorcycle commuting days come to a close and Metro takes over.

“Think of all the money you’ll save!”  jokes my wife, trying to soften the blow.

The consolation merely adds insult to injury.

***

It feels like experimental theater, where house and stage are one and the same, actors and audience indistinguishable. New to the show, I evidently fall in the latter group and watch with interest as actors come onto or leave the moving stage when the doors open at successive stations.

“Places… Places everyone!”

David Chow, a clean-cut young student from Los Angeles City College, as states the ID badge hanging from his neck, sits to my left, opens his notebook, and starts reviewing his math homework while a large, long black haired lady in her thirties wearing a shiny workout suit plops down in the seat reserved for handicapped passengers, sideways from us. 

“Incense… Incense… Two dollars for five…”

A thin man with long straight hair curled into a ball on top of his head, carrying acetate bags full of incense sticks, slowly floats by leaving a trail of pungent smell in his wake, his toothpick legs connecting his body to giant blue sandals of much bigger size than his feet.

Up ahead, a little girl chases her brother in a cat and mouse game, going in circles around a grab pole, holding it with one hand while their dad yells at them to stop.

Immediately to their right, a man too large for the seat he’s on is sound asleep. His oversized camouflage parka jacket hides all but his rhythmically flapping lips. His snoring is so loud, even rail squeals can’t drown it.

An equation in David’s notebook catches my eye. I challenge myself to solve it in my head but find it difficult to concentrate. I can’t help wondering how this kid can focus with all the racket around us as sweatpants lady pulls out a phone from the duffle bag resting on her lap, turns it on, and like a mad one-handed pianist, starts frantically pounding her fingertips on the screen. Loud jingles and ringtones fill the air, adding a circus-like atmosphere to the scene. David, to my left, clearly annoyed, raises his head, looks at her, looks down again, uncomfortably forcing himself to tune out this new noise. After almost 10 minutes of futile self restraint, he addresses her in a surprisingly calm voice, totally at odds with his pursed lips and blood pressure that seems to replicate the crescendo of the loud jingles.

“Excuse me. Would you please turn it down or maybe use ear buds?”

She freezes, then turns her head abruptly to the left as her long hair gets tossed sideways and disappears behind her back like a terrified cat. She looks at him, her left eyebrow visibly twitching.

“Fuck youuu!” comes the response.

This triggers a surprise reaction. Taken aback by the unexpected response, the polite kid instinctively drops his pen and back slaps the phone in one fell swoop.

Time suddenly slows down. Silence reigns. Cue the bone-to-spaceship cut from “2001: A Space Odyssey” as the bone, or in this case, the phone, starts spinning in slow motion on its upwards trajectory towards space. Breath bated, I wait for “The Blue Danube” to start playing. Instead, “Next station, Hollywood-Highland” blares out from the speakers as the phone hits the ceiling. Its protective case explodes open and the whole thing comes crashing down to earth in three pieces.

Insults and accusations fly back and forth like balls caught between pinball bumpers. At this point, nearby actors jump in and two clear viewpoints emerge: one justifying David’s response, the other calling for his head. 

“He asked politely! She was rude!”

“Hit the emergency button, call security!”

“This is public transportation; she has no common sense…”

“Call the cops! Have him arrested!”

***

The scene takes me back to a firm in downtown LA where I used to work as a junior designer more than 30 years ago. Benny drops some change in the beverage vending machine. To his surprise, two cans fall into the delivery bin instead of one. He turns back and offers one to me.

“WIN” reads the title on the back of the can, in big, blue letters, promising a new Pontiac Grand Prix should the code word “Prix” reveal itself inside, at the bottom of the can.  Creativity and mischievousness join hands in my head and guide my steps to the print room. I quickly gulp down the drink, throw a Helvetica wheel on the Kroy machine, and go to work as it spits out a ribbon with ‘Prix’ printed on it. I remove the white backing and with the printed tape stuck to the tip of my X-Acto blade, I carefully insert and place it centered at the bottom of the can, where I imagine the winning code might be placed. 

“Benny, look!”

“What?” He examines the can, surprised.

“The can you gave me!”

“I know, so?” he asks.

“Read the back, look inside.”

Benny’s face first turns white, then red, as he angrily tosses the can to the floor, turns around, and storms out. Curious heads bob up from behind nearby cubicle partitions.  The news spreads within the studio like wildfire, as two opposing opinions emerge.

“The car is Benny’s! He paid for the drink.”

“Yes, but he forfeited his right when he gave it away!”

For a moment, the thought of experimenting to see how far this will go crosses my mind, but then reason prevails in my 20-something head. I go find Benny and fess up. The whole studio shares a good laugh and we all return to our workstations.

***

It’s too far gone with the phone incident for common sense to prevail. The battle rages on, tensions flare, officers enter the scene, at which point, I get up and leave.

Experimental theater is so overrated.
 

“'WIN' reads the title on the back of the can, in big, blue letters...“'WIN' reads the title on the back of the can, in big, blue letters...

 

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