The First Couple of Public Transportation

CR Stecyk an Susanne Melanie Berry

Artists CR Stecyk II and Susanne Melanie Berry riding the Big Blue Bus #10.

(Originally published by the L.A. Weekly January 7, 2010)

Somewhere in Los Angeles, CR Stecyk III’s cherry 1980s-era El Camino is sitting idle in a driveway.

Never mind, its impeccably hip, much-sought-after vehicle-nature, this morning, at 10:58 a.m. Stecyk, the artist and cultural-influencer who grew up amongst custom car building impresarios, will be taking the bus.

Forget what you know about the man who bequeathed the name “Dogtown” to a mythic locale-turned-skateboard movement, originated its graffiti-inspired cross-and-scull logo appropriated a thousand times since and then went on working with street culture as identity and fine art.

To be specific, it’s a ride downtown on the Big Blue Bus no. 10 at the behest of his longtime love Susanne Melanie Berry.

“Good morning,” Berry greets the bus driver, Berry has a thing for bus etiquette.

“Always offer a salutation: ‘Good morning.’ ‘Good afternoon.’ ‘Good evening,’” she says, making Stecyk moan under his baseball hat “Amy Vanderbuilt on wheels” as dryly as Vermouth breathing on gin.

Berry is not intimidated.

She is tall, surfer strong and a second-generation bus rider. She takes the same route to UCLA—number 8—where she obtained a scholarship to attend art school at age 44, as her mom once did. “That’s cool, don’t you think?” she asks.

There’s a flash of a UCLA ID (Berry), dropped coinage (Stecyk), and the two are moving quickly, easily down the aisle, sliding into the back seat together, as the bus glides down a block, makes a left, and eases its way onto a holiday-season freeway as fast-flowing and wide-open as in the late 1950s—the days of Stecyk’s first forays in public transpo. The times he rode the Red Car—him and his mom on their way to meet his dad, at the end of the work day, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, to watch the Dodgers, fresh from Brooklyn, play.

The coliseum, Stecyk imparts, was designed by John Parkinson, paternal grandfather to none other than the great big wave surfer Buzzy Trent. Parkinson was also the architect of the big daddy of LA’s public transportation centers—Union Station—Stecyk lets fly, his grasp of history runs deep into micro territory. What’s it like to debate him?

“C.R. has a photographic memory, but when we’re in an argument—he makes shit up,” divulges Berry.

“If you want to say that I’m impossible to get along with, I’m fine with that,” responds Stecyk.

“How did two you meet?” interjects the Weekly.

“On the bus, actually,” jumps in Stecyk.

“See what I mean?” retorts Berry.

It was at a surfboard shop.

Berry was on the premises to have some dings in her board repaired; Stecyk had history with the owner.

“C.R. was talking about where he was going to go to dinner—a barbeque place,” recalls Berry pointedly. “And he didn’t ask me out for a date.”

That was rectified sometime after Berry began her emersion into the car-less realm. A process initiated when she served on the executive committee of a non-profit group and that of the environmental organization’s ten board members, seven owned SUV’s. None would ride share.

“Not only were they doing the wrong thing—they weren’t doing what Melanie wanted them to do,” observes her man sanguinely.

“Some people talk about sustainability but they don’t back it up with action,” asserts Berry.

In the years since, Berry has transitioned to a life of bus etiquette.

For her other half–transportation is an evolving medium.

Well the digital and VHS eras, Stecyk rigged cameras to a car, connected them to a bulky reel-to-reel deck, drove cross country, talked his way into editing subversive, anti-consumption video art pieces in an oil company’s edit suite, showed them in an Atlantic Richfield gallery, and took a bus to meet with collector and former oil company CEO Robert O. Anderson—who helicoptered in for the tete-a-tete.

Today, he considers the bus a “viable tool” for his work.

“If you’re trying to see what the city feels like, it’s a great way to experience the city,” Stecyk says, also noting it’s meditative aspect.

“Walking, you’re on point,” he observers, “On bike, you navigate. But on the bus, you can zone in and out. People tend to leave you alone.”

That is not to say that the vehicular selection is not without occasional glitches. Once, on the way to a meeting in Malibu, the engine of the bus Stecyk was riding caught fire.

“The driver did an outstanding job of getting everyone off the bus,” Stecyk imparts.

Today, however—no drama. The freeway is empty, Grand Avenue the same, the bus speeds along, and presently the couple is downtown.

Their plan is to hit MOCA then walk to downtown’s historic core. Berry’s working on a piece that involves photographing structures where suicides occurred.

“I’m acknowledging the people who did them,” she asserts.

“After looking at the great art of humanity, she feels compelled to find buildings people jumped off of,” Stecyk extols.

And, so it is, at the Grand Avenue and Second Street stop, the first couple of public transportation slip off the bus.

“I’m hungry,” announces Berry.

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