Devon Graye has had a long run getting to where he is in Los Angeles. "It feels like it's been several different cities because it's so spread out. Every neighborhood has its own flavor," Devon says as he puts together the timeline of his thirteen years in Los Angeles. Before arriving in DTLA two years ago, Devon had experienced almost every type of L.A. there is from the far flung suburbs of Thousand Oaks and Van Nuys to the city center (but still car-centric) neighborhoods of Miracle Mile and the city of West Hollywood. When Devon came to L.A., he moved from neighborhood to neighborhood trying to find a place that reflected his lifestyle while also allowing him to see friends that were stretched out all over the county. "There is such a strategy in finding a place to live in L.A...if I decide to move to Venice I can say goodbye to all my West Hollywood friends...but that's why I love downtown because the transit down here can take me into every different neighborhood or at least somewhat near it. That's the ideal way to keep my life going," he says as we walk to 7th & Metro, a nearby walk from Devon's apartment.
Devon started his career in L.A. the way most actors do. He found an apartment, an acting class, and his Toyota Corolla. As an actor, many will say having a car is obligatory. Beside the obvious need to race from Burbank to Santa Monica on any given day for an audition, Devon, like many actors, used his car as personal office and changing room darting between auditions and side jobs. Eventually, Devon recognized he had a problem, "I realized, maybe three and a half years ago, that I hated the car and was developing a severe anxiety of driving. Every time I got behind the wheel of my car, especially on freeways, it was getting progressively worse. I don't why or what it came from."
While there isn't a single moment Devon can point to for his anxiety behind the wheel, it started when he moved here and slowly crept its way up to becoming a larger issue. "I got to the point where I couldn't do freeways at night, then it turned into not doing freeways at all, then I couldn't do side streets at night, and I can still do side streets during the day but I really hate it. I went to therapy for it but it didn't really work. So I would still drive and reluctantly get in the car if I had to go to the valley and I'd find side streets to get there so I wouldn't have to take the freeway. I'd panic if I saw a freeway onramp in front of me and there was no way to get anywhere else...it was stressful." Like many, Devon thought it was unrealistic to be an actor in L.A. without a car. It wasn't until Devon left town for a month and arrived back to a note on his car from a cement truck driver who regretfully informed him that he smashed the back end of his car. "With the car totaled...I took it as a sign from the universe I was never to drive again, " he laughs, though I could tell it wasn't a joke.
Until recently - especially with the expansion of Metro and the added reliability of ride-share with Uber and Lyft - this was the kind of thing that would send an actor running to New York. Devon, despite the odds, has made it work, and as we walk on to the Expo Line to get to Santa Monica for a voice over recording I realize Devon isn't regretting a single thing about going car-free. "It's limited me in that I need to plan a little bit more in advance; I have to get creative with what I can fit in a backpack, and I find I get a ton of time to work on my writing, my lines for auditions, I just find that my days are nicer." Prior to moving downtown, Devon used Lyft exclusively to get around the city when he lived in West Hollywood. He used Lyft Line to save money but would often find it hard when you would get ninety percent of the way there and then side tracked by a last minute pick up. Moving downtown was a game-changer. Suddenly, at a fraction of the cost, Devon was connected to North Hollywood in twenty-five minutes, Santa Monica in an hour, and Hollywood in twenty minutes without the fear a suprise detour.
As we pass USC and start heading west Devon says, "I have this theory that people move to L.A. a lot of the time because they were told in their towns that they were the most special and most talented...and you see that when people get behind the wheel of their car...everyone feels like they are the most important people getting the most important thing and that causes accidents...after all the cities I've gone to and driven in, by far L.A. has the most inconsiderate drivers." Using Metro, Devon has been able to get out of his own bubble. People sometimes tell him that needs to "fix" his feelings around driving to survive as an actor in L.A. but Devon doesn't accept that. Devon is a person living in a city of four million, and with a valid reason or not, it is irresponsible for a city not to provide options for transportation.
"I feel like we are all sort of trained as soon as we get here to live in an insular bubble and not really connect with people, and many already feel that in an entertainment industry that is rampant in a feeling of exclusivity," Devon says and adds how that is the opposite of what a community of artists should be striving for, some actors that might work, but my philosophy is that you should be as open as possible...if I spend my time on a train with people from all walks of life I'm going to be way more open when I walk into that room and share myself so much more freely rather than living in a cocoon."
This made me curious as to Devon's experience of arriving on foot at one of the many studios spread throughout the county. "Universal is easy because the Red Line goes right up to it even though you walk in through the driving entrance. Sony is great...it's a twenty-minute walk from Expo...but it's in a cute part of the city. 20th Century Fox has a big metal fence and you feel like they are going to pat you down; it's harder, I feel like I can't get there on transit." I let him know about the 728 Rapid that goes from DTLA through Century City, he said he wants to try it but has never heard of it. It highlighted to me how beyond the allure of rail versus buses, bus routes are hard to understand for many. The iconography of the Metro map is what most people are used to, and they don't feature bus routes. For a system that relies so heavily on buses, Los Angeles could do a far better job of advertising where their buses actually go.
As for the Expo Line, it does not need any explanation. After opening in 2016, it has already reached its ridership projections for 2030 at 64,000 riders a day. We step off at 17th St/SMC Station and walk the three blocks to the small studio where Devon will record, of all things, voice over for a car commercial. Go figure. Unlike Metro, car companies have mastered the art of selling the experience of getting there even when it isn't entirely accurate. Both residents downtown, we joke about how often we see commercials of cars racing through an abandoned DTLA care free. The lens is a powerful thing: it slyly eludes the numerous cop cars and fellow drivers that have blocked the street to make that dream a reality.