The characters you meet riding the bus in La Jolla and San Diego


Editor’s Note: In this age of traffic snarls, restrictive parking, Uber drivers and share-the-road cyclists, who rides The 30 these days? La Jolla Light decided to see. For those not in-the-loop, The 30 (aka 30 Old Town — UTC/VA Med Center) is the infamous MTS bus that makes the rounds in La Jolla. On a random Thursday, we sent reporter Corey Levitan out in search of stories and, boy howdy, did he come back with them!

From aspiring nuclear physicists to trangender activists to road-raging life-insurance salesmen, the bus traversing La Jolla is the place to expand your horizons, grab some fully fleshed-out characters for your first novel and save on gas and parking.

10:49 a.m.

A southbound 30 arrives in front of the Light offices on Pearl Street at Cuvier, but how long does it take between buses? Following directions on the bus stop sign, this reporter texts the number assigned to the route, 11106, to the number 466-87 and receives a message placing the next bus 12 minutes away.

11:04 a.m.

The next bus arrives, only three minutes late. Eight people are on board. (Throughout today’s ride, the number will vary from 0-17. But eight is about how many there are most of the time.) The driver says his name is Chris, but he won’t provide his last name or answer questions for an article he wasn’t forewarned about. He’s a sweet guy and a hard worker, though. You can just tell.

If you haven’t ridden the bus for a while, there are some technological improvements. A male computer voice announces every upcoming stop, in plenty of time since GPS informs the program where it is. When the pull-cord is tugged, this same voice also announces, with almost unnecessary sternness and clarity: “Stop requested!”

11:07 a.m.

A woman sitting in the front sideways seats identifies herself as Dr. Crystal Adams, La Jolla resident, Ph.D. in international relations and founder of both a Catholic library and a political party. “It’s called Infinite God’s Love,” she explains. Adams says she’s off to Clarks at Westfield Horton Plaza for a sale on shoes. “It’s 75-percent off today,” she says.

A native of New York City, Adams says she rides the bus every day — to her church, shopping and to see friends — because she can’t drive and doesn’t have a chauffeur. “I would like a chauffeur,” she adds. Adams says The 30 usually runs on time but that it should run 24/7, like in Manhattan. “Suppose I have to go to the hospital, and they see me late, and then there’s no bus?” she asks. “Then I have to pay all that money for a cab.”

11:31 a.m.

Rick Roberts boards at Mission Boulevard and Feldspar Street. He is a 65-year-old retired contractor, born in South Carolina, who has lived in San Diego since 1960. He says he regularly rides the bus downtown to lunch at a senior center — but not with anybody in particular.

“I don’t know anybody,” he says, smacking a piece of Dentyne, “I don’t want to know anybody.” Roberts says he owns a car, a 2002 Toyota Corolla, but that he bought an $18/month senior bus pass because he says, due to gas and parking, “it’s a whole lot cheaper to take the bus than to drive.”

Roberts is in his favorite seat today — the corner above the rear left tire. “That way, there’s no one behind me or next to me,” he explains. “Some of the people who get on will start yelling all kinds of crazy stuff.”

Roberts says he recently saw a fight break out between two women. “One came from the back of the bus and jumped on the other,” he says. “So everyone got off the bus and they’re rolling around on the floor.” The police were called, Roberts says, but the women were gone before they got there. “It was very disturbing,” he adds.

Even though it’s his favorite, Roberts says his seat could use some improving. “They have a couple of (buses) up there at UCSD that have these real nice, comfortable seats. They ought to do that with all these buses. I have a bad back and these seats were not made for comfort,” he points out.

11:53 a.m.

Six more passengers board at Old Town Transit Center, where the stop is four minutes long. All refuse to be interviewed. Only about a third of the riders approached today want to talk. The majority seem to have issues — either with language, with being busy on their phones, or with privacy. (One woman who boards in Pacific Beach says only that she and her three tykes are on their way to the courthouse downtown to “file some papers” related to their immediate relocation to Denver, so “you understand.”)

Adams has been observing and walks to the back of the bus with a bottle of water. “You are working hard,” she tells this reporter. “You should be drinking water. God bless.”

12:08 p.m.

Adams, Roberts and three others, including this reporter, must exit the bus at its final southbound stop, Broadway and 9th Avenue. Chris locks the bus and walks across the street. There are open restaurants around, but Chris chooses a Porta-Potty. He explains that he doesn’t like to bother businesses. He also explains that the importance of good bladder management is one of those things drivers tend to think about more than non-drivers. “You have to know when to drink and when not to,” he says. “This is an hour-and-a-half round-trip.”

Chris still won’t give his last name, but is suddenly answering questions. He’s been overhearing the interviews throughout the trip so far and smiling intermittently. A former cabinetmaker who grew up in San Diego, Chris says he likes this job better because “all I do is show up on time and they provide everything for me.”

He only drives The 30 on Thursdays and Fridays, and says it’s his favorite route because it’s “very scenic.” (Indeed, winding atop Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the seascapr to the west looks like a painting.) At 12:19, Chris returns, reopening the doors and changing the sign facing the street to northbound.

12:24 p.m.

Sarah Del Rosario is the first to board northbound, at Broadway and 8th Avenue. She’s off to Kaiser Permanente’s Point Loma Medical Offices for antibiotics to treat a sinus infection. Del Rosario — a medical assistant who relocated from Honolulu last year — identifies herself as both a transgender and a trangender activist. “The only way that we can make things better and more open is by educating those who have negative stereotypes,” she says. “If somebody says, ‘Hey, are you a man?’ then I answer, ‘No, I’m a trangender, but yes, I used to be a man.’ I’m very open about who I am.”

Del Rosario says she rides the bus almost every day and has never experienced anything remotely resembling discrimination. “People are generally very accepting in San Diego,” she says. However, Del Rosario says she once saw something outside the bus that fell squarely under the harassment umbrella.

She was riding The 215 down El Cajon Boulevard, she says, and the perpetrator was driving a silver Ford F350 pickup directly alongside and below her window. “You don’t forget the details when you saw what I saw,” Del Rosario says, adding that he was “doing it for the shock factor” and that he “lifted it up his shirt, just so I could see, so yeah.”

12: 35 p.m.

Shortly after a handful of passengers board at 1st Avenue and West Ash Street, a loud conversation begs investigating at the front of the bus. Most of it emanates from one Thomas O’Reilly, whose speech sounds like Jack Kerouac’s prose. “I’m a salesman,” O’Reilly says. “I sell life insurance to the military, I give a half-hour presentation five days a week, I just took a speech class, it doesn’t matter, what do you want to talk about?” (That was all one sentence, no fooling.)

O’Reilly — who says he prefers to be called “Tommy O” and gives his age as “older than the hills and twice as dusty” — says he’s riding The 30 to Old Town, to meet a friend presenting him with a ticket to tonight’s Holiday Bowl.

“I’m going to the game,” he says. “OK, here’s my story, I’m going to tell you real quick, I’ve been in San Diego 42 years, and my team, Washington State, is playing today. I’ve wanted to play for Washington State since I was a little boy, since I was six years old, and now this team, that used to lose every year, is finally winning every year.”

O’Reilly, who lives in Little Italy, says he takes the bus all the time, even though he owns a car, because “it’s quicker, it’s safer and I don’t get road rage.” He turns to the woman seated next to him, who has been listening. “Road rage, right?” he asks. “You don’t get road rage.”

“Hey,” O’Reilly says, “put her in your article, too.” (The woman silently shakes her head no.)

12:42 p.m.

After pulling back into Old Town, Chris exits — along with Tommy O and five other passengers — to go off duty. He says he’s been working since 4:30 a.m. His replacement won’t provide his first name or answer any questions. Mystery Bus Driver puts The 30 into gear five minutes later.

1:04 p.m.

A woman who identifies herself as Tianna Meyers, 23, boards at Mission Boulevard and Diamond Street. When asked where she’s going, she replies “Old Town.” Mystery Bus Driver is listening. “Old Town? Young lady, you’re going the wrong direction!”

“Oh great!” Meyers answers, rolling her eyes. “I’m from Colorado,” she explains. “I don’t really know my way around.” She then thanks this reporter for approaching her before hopping off at Beryl Street.

1:24 p.m.

A woman in her 60s boards at Silverado Street and Herschel Avenue who insists that she can’t be interviewed or photographed. “Because I work for the devil’s sister, that’s why,” she explains. Ten minutes later, she yells at Mystery Bus Driver: “We didn’t pass Gravilla, did we? Sir, I asked you to tell me when we got to the Holiday Inn by Gravilla!” He stops the bus. The Devil’s sister will not be pleased.

1:32 p.m.

At North Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Shores Drive, two passengers board with pretty much the opposite problem as the woman in her 60s. They want to grant an interview but barely can. Airi Yoshida is a 16-year-old student at Teikyo Nagaoka, a private high school in Japan. Next to her sits her school nurse, 27-year-old Manami Kuwabar. They are staying at a California Suites at Clairemont Mesa and studying English for two weeks at La Jolla’s EC San Diego during their winter break. They’re taking the bus to UC San Diego for a tour.

Virtually none of this information is disclosed on the bus, but in an e-mail several days later from the chaperone of their group, to whom the couple passed this reporter’s business card. “I was also in the same bus,” writes Masato Miyazawa. “I saw you. However, I didn’t help Airi Yoshida, because if I help student, it is not good for their practicing English.”

2:02 p.m.

The 30 arrives at UTC Transit Center, its northbound final stop, empty and six minutes late. Mystery Bus Driver clears the bus, cuts the engine and collects garbage from the seats before entering an unmarked tan door on the side of the building. Three minutes later, he re-emerges, starts the bus and charges this reporter another $2.25 to re-board. (This is why passengers can’t just ride the bus in circles all day to catch up on sleep.)

Raul Herrera also boards. He’s a graduate student at UC San Diego taking the bus back to his La Jolla Shores apartment after a lunch at Westfield UTC. All UCSD students receive a pass for free bus and trolley fare. So, Herrera says, he rides the bus “whenever possible, to save money and because I don’t want to pollute the environment if I don’t have to.”

Herrera — originally from Stockton, California — studies physics and intends to become either a nuclear physicist or physics professor. He says he loves everything about what he does except for a problem it occasionally creates at parties. “People will come up and tell me they have a theory about a fundamental question, such as why gravity doesn’t mix with quantum mechanics,” Herrera says. “First of all, I don’t even know the answer, and I’ve been studying it for years. So I don’t want to put you down, but …”

2:22 p.m.

The 30 hits its first nasty traffic snarl after turning right onto Torrey Pines headed back into The Village. It is stuck behind a grey Nissan Sentra. Wait, no, it’s a black BMW. No, a red Buick. The thing about buses is that many motorists judge them slow enough to be cut off in plenty of time. So they are — at nearly every intersection. Earlier, Chris said this was the main reason the bus usually takes “three times longer” to get to its destination than a car.

2:39 p.m.

The 30 returns to the La Jolla Light offices. It is 11 minutes late and ready for its next cast of characters.