Monday, August 15, 2011

Unlocked the Urban Adventure Badge

I was recently driving through downtown Los Angeles pointing out the skyscrapers and realized the kids have never really experienced the city. So I set about planning another adventure, this time a local one. We decided to board the metro at the Del Mar Station ($5/day pass, 2 children under 5 may ride for free with an adult) and take the Gold line into Union Station. At Union Station we transfered to the Purple Line and took that to Pershing Square. Once there we walked a few blocks to the Historic Angel's Flight and rode the tiny little tram to the top of the hill. We went with a group of friends and decided to grab lunch downtown as well.

I was nervous about this trip. I am a pretty adventurous gal, provided I have my car and plenty of contigency plans in place. If things go south with tantrums or other unexpected joy of childhood I like having my car and plenty of supplies available to me. That way I can just pack everyone up and throw in the towel. This was not going to be one of those trips. I was taking my 5 kids and only one stroller on a trip where there were many variables. 1. I didn't pre-purchase tickets and couldn't find information on children's tickets online. 2. Angel's Flight has been spotty with their operation. Its possible the tram would be closed for repairs. 3. We were having lunch at an undecided location. 4. Bathrooms - where are they? 5. Trains - they go fast and its too easy for kids to fall off a platform.

But we set off on the adventure anyway. It had been a few years since our last train adventure, so it was time. We invited along some friends because when you are going on an adventure with variables adding more to the mix makes sense, right? In all there were 13 children (8 years and under) and 4 moms. Fortunately, we had a seasoned New Yorker with us (and non-stroller mom), so she led the way and helped the big kids up and down escalators/stairs.

The Del Mar station was very nice. I loved all the transportation themed architecture and the little courtyard with a fountain. I'm sure all the passerby's enjoyed my shouts of "don't get wet. I don't have extra clothes" when the boys thought it was a good idea to lean into the fountain. We decided to snap one 'before' group picture and squeezed all the strollers in as the train came to a screeching halt. We ran and hurried over to the our first train of the day. Three strollers got crammed into the entryway of the train and there was no where to go. Fortunately, everyone was happy to step around our strollers and squeeze through as the boarded the train. The engineer even gave us a warning that he would need to be getting out soon so we could maneuver all of the munchkins out of the way. It was a special treat for me to see the engineer leave the train and be replaced by a new one at their very own train stop. The boys could look out the window and see about 5 other driver's waiting for their train to come by to start their shift.

Union Station . . . . the signage, well, there just isn't any. There were lots of signs pointing to the red line - but they pointed both directions. It was only by the grace of other passengers that we figured out that the red line and the purple line were the same. Then it was just a matter of a few elevators and keeping the kids from playing on the platform. There was very little waiting for the next train and the travel time was nominal. It was probably faster than driving would have been, but about the same cost-wise (if you include parking and gas if you drive into downtown).

The trains used on the purple (red) line were more stroller accessible. There was a large open area that was probably for wheelchairs, bicycles or riding scooters, but it worked great for our 3 strollers. A few quick stops and we were at Pershing Square. We took a few more elevators and wound through tunnels, this time, they weren't as fresh smelling as the ones in Pasadena and Union Square. We emerged in Pershing Square and all I could think is "this doesn't look like the google maps street view". We were immersed in the city with graffiti and pay-toilets. One of the lunch options was a subway sandwich to-go and a picnic near Angel's Flight. But we decided sitting for a bit, a waitress, and clean toilets would be better so we headed off to CPK.

It was a short walk, just a block and a half. The kids paired up and those not listening had the option of putting hands on strollers. We were very excited to get to Angel's Flight and see that it was running but we were thrown for a loop when we found out it wasn't stroller accessible. Now I have been to many non-stroller accessible places, but I can usually make do. In fact, every time we go to Disneyland we fold up the stroller to ride the tram from the parking lot to the front gate. But I don't know how Angel's Flight passed the ADA ordinances. Its a funny little car - the entire interior is steps with benches on either side a few poles in case you are standing. But each flat spot is only 12" deep, then another step. Not much room at all. We stood in front of the tram and watched it come and go 3 times before we had a plan of action. There was unpacking of strollers, asking big kids to carry bags, and for me strapping Eleanor into the Ergo. Once I had a plan I realized the turnstile to get into the car was even more limiting. So I had to actually lift my stroller (while carrying Eleanor) up and over the turnstile. We had planned on just shoving Cristina's stroller onto the car, but the turn style got in the way. It was a little chaotic as we ended up leaving her behind with Eva and figuring out the stroller situation. I was yelling, "We have the boys. Text if you need help." as the car clunked up the hill.

The ride up the hills was short, but very eventful. For a car full of children who are used to Disneyland there were a few shrieks and screams. Angel's Flight rides like Big Thunder Mountain, except clunkier. There was quite a bit of noise and ka-chunks and jolts. And I was balancing on a step with Eleanor strapped to my chest and my folded stroller in my hands. There wasn't any room to move forward to make sure everyone was behaving themselves. Or to remind them not to stick their fingers out the screen as the 2nd car came rushing down the hill a little too close for my liking. We made it to the top and hurried all the kids off and out of the way, since we were now down one mom. In the hubbub some of us forgot to pay our quarters. The operator was nice about it though and simply reminded us to make sure we paid. The ride to the top cost a quarter or 5 rides for a dollar. I just gave him a dollar for me and my brood and hoped it was enough. I figure Eleanor should be free, but there wasn't any information on pricing for children.

One of the moms decided to head down the hill to help Cristina make it up the hill. But then we realized with 2 cars going they would actually pass each other on the tracks - that wouldn't be very helpful. So we busied the kids in the shade at the Water Court at Cal Plaza and let them run around a bit in the shade. There was a large fountain in the courtyard that periodically shot water in the air. It seems there were restaurants nearby and there is some sort of light/water show in the evening. I would like to investigate that some more. That may be a fun date night in the future. Cristina made it up Angel's Flight while wrangling Eva. I'm not sure how she made it except that she is awesome.

Fortunately CPK was just across the courtyard and across the street. We arrived way before the lunchtime rush and got 2 tables by ourselves for all 17 of us. The kids were very well behaved considering lunch took nearly 90 minutes. They were all filled up on lemonade and pizza and we took advantage of the clean restrooms. I made all my children go twice. After lunch we went back to the Water Court to let the kids run around for a bit. They had fun until a security guard came and asked them to stop running in case they hurt themselves.

The return trip went much more smoothly. We knew how to tackle the Angel's Flight with the turn style and folded up strollers. We just reversed our route and elevators and tunnels. And for the gold line trains we looked for the section of train that was more accommodating to strollers so we weren't blocking the doors. Five of the boys found a group of chairs that looked out the window. They thought it was great fun to kneel on the seat and look out at the scenery whipping by. The thought it was even more fun that they would fall over when the train would start and stop.

The whole trip was a success. It was a lot of fun and I am thinking of exploring more public transit options. Maybe a trip to Santa Monica or Olvera Street. Who knows? But we have 2 more weeks of summer to figure it out.

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