Dear Dirty America


Former Mayor Villaraigosa Immortalized In Smooth L.A. Metro Sound Bite

May 27
19:08 2013

Los Angeles

In an attempt to pay homage to former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his eight years of service to the city, the LA Metro clan has outfitted every bus in the city with a short, but charming audio clip of the mayor saying, in his hoarse, but silky mafioso’s voice, “For your safety, please watch your step when exiting the bus.”

The audio clip is played before every single stop. It’s a fitting tribute to a legendary mayor, and it should have him blushing. While he continues to get free VIP tickets to the nation’s favorite TV shows, like Dancing with the Stars and American Idol, he can be assured by the thought of a few thousand people throughout the city hearing his voice, and word of caution, again and again, before every screeching stop of the bus.

This information is not public. City Hall would not confirm it. It’s only a rumor, but a very convincing one. I heard it on the bus the other day, from a man who looked as professional as people who ride the bus can. We’re a ragged lot, those of us crammed into that clunky orange or red can. Some of us smell bad. Some of us smell too fresh. Some of us are crazy, and others of us are unnervingly sane.

My informant that day was an Hispanic man with a bowed jawline. He was wearing a button-up blue shirt. The hair on the top of his head was spiked and shiny from the gel he must have rubbed through it that morning. The fog of cheap cologne, heavily applied, clung around him.

“That’s the mayor talking,” he said to me, pointing up.

We sat in the back of the bus. The mayor? I asked. I’d suddenly become paranoid. Where’s that quirky little guy? I imagined him ping-ponging through the bus, bouncing on the shoulders of those standing in the aisle and holding tight to the bars overhead. Nice to meet you, the mayor said into everybody’s ears. He ruffled an old man’s hair and elbowed a woman in the ribs. Nice to meet ya, nice to meet ya, nice to meet ya.

Never lacking energy, that guy.

“He’s on the sound system,” my fellow bus rider said, “it’s over now, but before the next stop, you’ll hear it again.” He explained that the city of Los Angeles wanted to memorialize Villaraigosa, who’d just finished out his full two terms and was replaced by the newly elected Eric Garcetti (who is already being labeled in some coffee shop conversations as “a prick”).

I pulled out my smartphone and set to record the mayor’s voice, and also determine if this man was telling me the truth. L.A.’s public transport system is filled with bullshitters, including the bus drivers.

But sure enough, before the next stop, that old gangster’s voice piped through the bus with that signature, buoyant charm that the former mayor embodies. The voice that makes, at any given time, a dozen or more pairs of panties drop (as the kids say).

“For your safety,” the mayor’s voice said, and then, after a collected pause, continued, “please watch your step when exiting the bus.”

“I know that voice anywhere,” the Hispanic man said. “I love how the mayor says the word ‘bus’.” He tried to mimic the word four times, but he couldn’t quite hit the pitch.

It’s smooth, and surely a nice tribute to the former mayor, I said. It’s like he’s riding along with us on the public transport system. Riding along in our hearts and minds, and if you forget about him, his voice will remind you of his presence every minute or so. It’s a brilliant idea by Metro, or the mayor’s former administration. Whoever concocted the plan certainly knew how to plant the seeds to sprout a long term, unforgettable legacy.

The Hispanic man agreed. He checked his watch. He was off to the courthouse, he said, to stand in line for an hour and try to hammer out a lawsuit he was waging against a construction company that had failed to compensate him after he’d had an extended heat stroke as a high-rise welder. He’d nearly died, and had suffered minor brain damage, he revealed.

“But,” he said, getting back to the topic at hand, “I’m glad the city dedicates a special space like the bus to Villaraigosa. Where else would so many people hear his voice day in and day out?”

I agreed. It’s like being included in a city-wide toast, I said, with cheap champagne poured from a bottle that had been opened long ago and forgotten in the back of some bureaucrat’s break room refrigerator. And all you’d asked for was a glass of water.

The man, I never did catch his name, just looked at me for a moment. Soon, we were both staring out the windows, watching dilapidated business fronts blow by, homeless people pushing carts filled with cans, blankets, and indistinguishable items, and then on to grander, cleaner streets and restaurants, where people roamed around wearing over-sized Kings jerseys over jeans or professional business trousers.

Ah, big beautiful city! Bursting with… but words can’t finish that thought. Bursting with what? It’s too dynamic and complicated for blog posts. You’ve got to feel thoughts like that. They need to wrench your gut. I won’t even attempt to describe it. What words would I use, anyway? Just the same mediocre crap. Tired, worn sentiments.

But I did lean over and tell the Hispanic man, Riding the bus is like a small tour of Los Angeles, from Culver City to downtown, clanging along this troubled Olympic Boulevard.

But my friend didn’t say anything. He was lost in his own mind.


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