Like a lot of people, I haven’t gotten on an L.A. bus in the last two decades. But I couldn’t pass up the free ride Sunday on the opening weekend of the Orange Line busway, which runs from Warner Center, where I work, past my house near Winnetka Avenue and Victory Boulevard, through Sepulveda Basin and on to the North Hollywood subway station. It was the basin connection that mattered on Sunday. That’s where I play golf every weekend, and this Sunday was no exception. So there I was at 5:20 a.m., schlepping my golf clubs to the Winnetka Station, where the electronic sign proclaimed the next eastbound bus was coming at 5:23. Right on time, driver Andy Beckerman arrived with bus 007, which made me wonder if my adventure in public transit would turn into some kind of spy story. Andy, the bus driver, was happy to have found a spot on the Orange Line. The double-length bus takes some getting used to, he said, “but you don’t have to worry about traffic and the passengers with their passes and all.” We chatted as we raced through the darkness along Oxnard, past Tampa and Reseda and White Oak before jogging north to Balboa and Victory, where I got off. It took 12 minutes. My golfing partner, who is so hung up on nostalgia for the long-lost Red Cars that he won’t even try the busway, wasn’t there yet to take me the rest of the way to the Encino Golf Course on Burbank so I crossed the street to Stop In Donuts, where I ordered my usual: coffee, croissant and a banana. “Mr. Lucky,” the Cambodian immigrant who runs the place in the morning, was even cheerier than usual. Business, he said, had been terrific Saturday because of all the people jamming on the buses and coming over for a snack. That shouldn’t be too surprising since there aren’t many other places to get something to eat or drink anywhere along the busway route. America is a great place, he declared. “Over there (in Cambodia), they treat you like an animal and they kill you like an animal.” Then he laughed as he added: “Here, you’re free to work like a dog and they leave you alone.” I knew what he meant, about America at least. My ride arrived and we headed off to the golf course. Four hours later, I was back at Balboa and Victory, waiting at the station with about 20 other passengers, mostly families with kids. The parking lot was nearly full. A dozen or so orange-jerseyed transit workers were passing out maps and schedules and free passes and showing people how to buy tickets from the ATM-like machines and explaining the origins and operations of the busway. Four minutes later, the westbound bus arrived. People streamed off, including a father and son going fishing at Lake Balboa. It was standing-room only so I had to squeeze in with my golf clubs, but no one stared at me like I was crazy. They were all chatting animatedly, craning their necks as we zipped past the sod farm, the cornfield and the Little League field. There was a festive feeling to the ride. It reminded me of when I was in Fairbanks, Alaska, 40 years ago and J.C. Penney opened a two-story store with an escalator, the first ever that close to the Arctic Circle. People rode up and down in wonderment. It was that way on the Orange Line. There was the same sense of wonder: Something good had happened in the Valley and people wanted to know what it was like, whether it was good for them. Personally, I was wondering if I’d ever ride it again – probably not to golf. That was a stunt. But the two miles to the office? To the NoHo entertainment district? To the subway and Hollywood or downtown? I’m not sure if I’ll ever be even an infrequent rider. But I do know for sure I’ll give it one more try. They gave me a free pass, and I can’t pass up a free ride. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Michael, one of the two other passengers on 007, added to my sense of intrigue when he declared he couldn’t give me his last name because it might compromise his position as a security guard. I nodded knowingly and asked what he thought of the Orange Line. Michael was ecstatic. He was used to taking Route 158 to the 163 to the 150, if I heard him right, and the busway collapsed that into a simpler trip that shaved a half-hour or more from his commuting time. He was worried about others, though, concerned that too many routes were cut because of the busway and there aren’t enough Metro Rapid buses and other good connections to make it as useful to others as it is to him. I asked Tony, the other passenger, what his mission was this morning. Like me, he couldn’t pass up a free ride and wanted “to see what the big deal was” about the Orange Line. So he was taking the opportunity to go to Sitton’s in North Hollywood for breakfast even though it was a bit of a hike from the busway stop to the restaurant on Magnolia.