As I was watching this scene at the bus stop, I happened to be reading the following passage from an excellent essay entitled "Filthy Lucre: Victorian Ideas of Money", by Christopher Herbert:
To be wealthy, in a society ruled by [a taboo on contemplation of poverty], seems only to cause one to be preyed on by an intensified morbid fear of being tainted, or thought tainted, by the unmentionable unrefinement of poverty; any contact with it, even by hearing it mentioned in one's presence, carries danger, as though it were an acutely contagious disease.Herbert's observations seem eminently applicable to life in Los Angeles, where the bankers and lawyers on Bunker Hill are kept hermetically sealed from the contagion of poverty as they step out of pristine elevators and into their waxed Jaguars to whisk themselves back to the Pacific Palisades and South Pasadena. Even though rich and poor live cheek to jowl here, we hardly ever run into situations where the classes are forced (or allowed) to mix. Pershing Square is no Central Park.
Herbert's essay also reminded me of the comments of a friend at work who also rides the bus: she said she sometimes fears that "the bus" will follow her to work, or that "the bus" will somehow rub off on her. She said she sometimes worried that she smelled like "the bus", especially after a ride sitting next to a particularly smelly fellow bus rider.
Now that I, too, sometimes ride the bus, I totally get this. As everyone knows, the classes do not mix on L.A.'s public transportation. The ridership appears to be overwhelmingly working class, poor, and occasionally homeless. Sometimes, some fellow passengers are not Pine Fresh. Sometimes, someone's meal spills a little bit onto you. But part of the reason L.A. is sick is because the bus and the metro are treated with something akin to taboo - the rich and those who ape them shudder at the thought of contamination, and the city suffers for it. I don't think this is a call to gentrify L.A.'s public transport, although, all things considered, would that be a bad thing? Maybe not, so long as the "rent" didn't go up.
In any event, for what it's worth, I always find myself washing my hands thoroughly after riding the bus. Read that as you will.