23 – I think that was better than the alternative

Waiting for the 23 on a beautiful evening

Waiting for the 23 on a beautiful evening

Well, hello there, dear readers. It’s been a long time. Like a really long time. Long enough to go through a gut-wrenching heartbreak with boyfriend #1, recover, date, meet boyfriend #2, date for 10 months, and go through another gut-wrenching heartbreak. Which brings me back to my bus blog. A constructive use of my time, a useful distraction, and a way to channel my energy back into the world in a positive manner. So, welcome back, readers, and I hope you enjoy the ride.

I began this blog doing lines randomly, then switched to doing them in order, starting with 1 and 2, of course. Line 3 runs directly in front of ex-boyfriend #2’s house, so that method has been suspended, and I decided to jump down to line 23! Now, line 23 does go directly into the heart of Bayview, one of San Francisco’s most dangerous neighborhoods, but looking at a map and deciding between the two, Bayview seemed like a much better choice than driving by ex #2’s house.

So I drove to the zoo at 47th and Sloat to start my journey after I got off of work. I thought commute hours might give a better gauge of what riding a line is really like. As indicated on the schedule, I got on at what was supposed to be the first stop, but there were already two people on the bus. Really? Where did they come from?

I quickly snagged a coveted center single seat. I sat, almost gloating, as the bus filled up, before realizing there were a lot of open windows on the bus, and it was a cold, cold, San Francisco evening. I wanted to get up and close a few of them, but the draw of the seat kept me in my place. If I was going to be on this bus for an entire route I wanted a prime seat. I pulled my coat tighter and resigned myself to being cold.

We traveled East on Sloat, past an abundance of police cars that have been patrolling the street in force since a 17-year-old high school student was struck and killed by a probably drunk driver a couple of weeks ago. It’s a wide street with few stoplights or stopsigns, and people speed far above the 35 mile per hour speed limit all the time. Since the student’s death I’ve seen at least two cars pulled over at any given time on Sloat Blvd. and they try to slow down the traffic on that street.

Ten people remained on the bus as we passed through Parkside and drove up the hill to St. Francis Circle, a pompus little neighborhood if I do say so myself. I noticed columns erected at an intersection that said simply “The Circle,” because it’s so special they don’t even have to refer to it by name. Barf.

The bus beeped and beeped every time we stopped, turned, opened, closed. I wondered how well the houses in this neighborhood, large houses that must cost a fortune to rent or buy, were insulated. Could they hear the buses go by all day and night? I live off of a very busy street myself and can hear noise all hours of the day, but I don’t live in a mansion and I don’t expect the quiet that I presume people who live in “The Circle” might expect.

We turned onto Santa Clara, which turns into Monterey and crosses into the sunny side of the city (and the Sunnyside neighborhood – imagine that!).

A man boarded the bus wearing camo pants, a brown leather jacket, very large aviator glasses, and, best of all, with a large husky, not marked as a service animal. He paid his fare and told the dog to move to the back of the bus. He engaged in what must have been a fascinating (or horrifying, you really never know) conversation with a man my age who was also sitting in back. I strained my ears trying to eavesdrop. I knew I would love to hear what was going on back there, but, alas, I couldn’t make out even the topic of conversation.

We reached the Glen Park BART station and a woman got on with her sleeping child in a stroller. It’s been so long since my last blog the policies about children on buses have changed. It used to be that strollers had to be folded up in order to be allowed on a bus, and a bus driver could reject any passenger with a stroller if they so chose. For some reason San Francisco has this reputation for not being child friendly…

I know that there are a lot of people in San Francisco who are intolerant of children felt that the folded-up stroller policy would make children less obtrusive in their lives. I can tell you, however, that I am very happy this young child got to stay asleep for the whole ride, silent, rather than being awoken and carried by a mother dealing with a stroller and a four-year-old sibling. I was very pleased to see the change in place and I think even the most ardent children-haters would agree this is the least offensive way to have children travel. Asleep. Strapped in.

We left the BART station and traveled up a hill. A very familiar hill. A hill I quickly realized was taking me right past ex #1’s house. Oh, the irony. Some plan this was. Thankfully we are friends at this point and the pain is no longer fresh. I could handle a ride past his house.

We skirted the edge of Bernal Heights and traveled downhill to Bayshore Blvd. I knew once we passed under the mess of a freeway interchange I saw ahead the landscape would be different. It was – industrial buildings and no pedestrians on the street. In the middle of this district a man in his late teens or early twenties got off the bus. I wondered what on earth he could be doing there. I saw an energy drink in the side of his backpack and can only presume he works the nightshift at an industrial shop in the neighborhood. There is nothing else there.

We moved into Bayview, a poor residential neighborhood. At this point there were still about eight people on the bus and I felt fine. There was still daylight, people were out, everything was a-ok. Then everyone got off the bus and two peculiar individuals boarded, although I avoided looking at anyone directly so I can’t give you much of a description. My heart sank a little but I kept telling myself everything was a-ok. Totally fine. We kept driving and my heart sank. We were entering the Hunter’s Point housing projects. Bayview is dangerous. Hunter’s Point is a stupid place to be. Especially for me.

I realized that I didn’t know where the bus line ended. I couldn’t take out my phone and look because I didn’t want it to get jacked, which happens all the time. There were a couple of terrible possibilities. The bus line could end in the projects and I could wait in the massive crowd that was loitering outside for the next bus to take me back. Or I could walk through the projects into Bayview to catch a bus. It suddenly dawned on me.


I had made a huge mistake. Here I was with my big Steve Madden purse begging to get stolen, and my bright red jacket screaming out, and my clearly Jewish self in the wrong neighborhood. I stayed on the bus as the couple departed and hoped and prayed the bus would continue. A man got on with a shopping bag and I took this as a sign that we were headed to a street with a store. I breathed a sigh of relief… until he got off a few blocks later in the middle of residential Bayview. But the worst was over and I was out of Hunter’s Point.

I was now alone on the bus. I took out my phone, looked up the intersection of the final stop, and almost as soon as I read the words “3rd St. and Palou” I heard them being announced. I stood up, confidently, and disembarked, like I totally knew where I was going. That’s the best bet to not getting robbed. Always know where you are going, even if you don’t.

I stepped off the bus and immediately knew I was in the wrong place. So did everyone else, who stared at me. 50 people crowded the intersection, up and down the block. A man called out to me. “Ain’t you beautiful? What you doin’ here? Honey, you don’t belong in this neighborhood.” I smiled and kept walking. I did, after all, need to get to my destination, and far away from him. “Baby, I don’t bite,” he called after me.

“I know,” I said, trying to be friendly enough to prevent provoking him, but distant enough to prevent engaging him. I kept walking. I kept walking away from the bus stop that would take me back. I couldn’t stay there with the man that wouldn’t bite. I really didn’t need to test him on that. But that meant I was walking away from my ride home. I had to think quickly. I saw a light rail line in the middle of 3rd St., and made a beeline for the stop. I knew I could take the T to Embarcadero Station and take the L back to the zoo. It ended up taking me two hours, but I’m here to write about it, with my purse, wallet, phone, and, I’m happy to report, without any bites. Totally worth it.

Footnote: Later I felt kind of racist for feeling that neighborhood was dangerous. Was a just psyching myself out? Was I stereotyping based on what people looked like? Because of their economic status, a status I once bore? Then I read that someone was shot in broad daylight three blocks from where I was two hours before I was there. Yeah, it’s more dangerous there, statistically speaking.


2 – Clement: A tour through my dream life

On my newly-renewed quest to ride every bus line in the city, I continued with bus line #2.

Since I’ve begun this blog MUNI has introduced the Clipper card, an all-area transit payment system that makes it very easy to keep one card in your wallet with which you can pay for all your public transit rides. All you have to do is keep it loaded with a monthly pass or cash balance and hold it up to a reader when you board the bus and, voila! no cash is needed. The problem, I discovered, is that you actually have to keep a cash balance on it if you would like to ride the bus. I left 25 cents on it a month ago and never reloaded it. Oops. Reloading online takes three days to process, so I couldn’t add value at my office then head out for a ride.

I needed $2 and only had a $20. In Israel, bus drivers give you change, but there is no way that is going to happen in San Francisco. I know that Israelis have a reputation for being pushy and impatient, but their bus-riding etiquette is far superior than that of the residents of this fair city. I am sure that the bus drivers there don’t worry about being robbed for their change, and I’ve never seen anyone clip their nails on an Israeli bus (a particular pet peeve of mine).

Cafe Mereb

They serve Eritrean food on the weekends. Clement @17th

To resolve this lack of change situation I stopped at Cafe Mereb, which, at 17th Ave. and Clement, happened to be the closest business to the beginning of the line. I bought a bag of cheetos for $1 and got the change I needed to ride the bus. I guess I need to think of it as a tax on not planning ahead.

I walked to the beginning of the line on Clement @14th Ave. to have the bus driver pull up as I arrived. He was ending his last run but told me I could board while he stepped off to have a smoke.

As there was only one other person waiting at the stop I was able to get my first choice of seats. This bus was equipped with my very favorite: the solitary side  seat.

This seat is not reserved for seniors or disabled, so it’s fair game until someone who needs a seat more than me arrives. I am not the jackass who lets a pregnant woman stand. It is front-facing, so I don’t get motion sickness and I can see the street signs to watch for my stop. And most importantly, it’s by itself. I never have to sit next to some sick person coughing all over me or clipping his nails. Lucky for me, I took the middle seat and got to have that person coughing on the back of my neck instead.


Best seat on the bus


But seriously, this is the best seat on the bus and I was thankful to have it. The other man at the stop chose what is in actuality the worst seat on the bus. I didn’t want to creep him out, so there’s no photo, but it is the end seat on a set of five seats across, with seats in front of that row. That means that once the bus is full he will have to climb over two people instead of just one to get out. That might not sound like a big deal, but if it doesn’t I know that you haven’t ridden a bus in San Francisco.

We were off, making our way downtown via Clement Street. Clement is a charming corridor full of boutique shops and affordable, delicious restaurants. It is also one lane in either direction, which means double parkers are a major headache. The driver skillfully maneuvered around them and made his way to California, a much wider street, via Arguello.

I learned much of the geography of San Francisco during my time as an employee of Irving’s Premium Foods, a challah company. This route was a weird parallel to my delivery route for this company.  It went past virtually every stop I made, from Toy Boat Dessert Cafe to Temple Emanuel to the Jewish Community Center. Most of my bus routes give me time to explore streets I’ve never been down, but these were ones I had driven countless times.

I knew them well as streets that I dreamed of living on. These neighborhoods hold beautiful Victorian and Craftsman gems as well as more contemporary homes I would just as well like to reside in. As we drove past I imagined myself walking to this produce market or that bakery to do my shopping. Almost the entire route was covered in amazing apartments with for rent signs that I have come to realize I shouldn’t even call about. I’m not paying $2,200 for a one bedroom, which is what they want.

The bus was quiet with a few people getting on at each stop, the bus very slowly filling as those who had previously boarded exited through the back. A woman boarded with a Clipper Card that reacted to her scan with a nasty double beep I could tell meant something was wrong. She scanned it three times then shrugged and walked to the back. The bus driver called her back to the front and told her that she needed to pay with cash, which made her very angry. She disembarked and walked down California on the bus route. I thought the machine might be broken, but no one else had an issue the entire ride.

We continued through Japantown, which is only two or three blocks long, but which has street signs in Japanese so I could tell we were in the right place. It was there and gone as soon as I realized what was happening.

We then drove past a cheerful three-legged dog going for a stroll into the fringes of the Tenderloin, which, despite it’s appealing name, (tender. that’s a nice word. loin. that also sounds warm and inviting.) is not a tender place to live. We drove past a line of very distraught-looking homeless people towards Union Square. San Francisco is a city full of very wealthy people and very poor people, and neighborhoods generally do not include both kinds of residents. But it can be utterly shocking to see how close the very richest and the very poorest people live in relation to each other. From the down-and-out homeless to the Cartier diamond store it was about five minutes on the bus, including all the stops. It is possible to walk past a drug deal taking place on the street into a store where a knit hat costs $500 in less than ten minutes. It is a wonderful city, but it has some some deep-seated issues with homelessness and drug abuse.

We finally arrived at the Ferry building and the Embarcadero at the end of the line where I hopped off and went across the street to a waiting #2. Someone was giving out free samples of an Illy Cappuccino drink, which I can’t even drink, but I got so excited because I had good fortune with another sample in the same spot on my first bus ride. I wasn’t paying attention and the 2 back left without me.

I thought I would take some time to go the the Ferry building and explore for a few minutes. I was there earlier in the week and felt like a tourist on vacation because I go down there so rarely and it’s so beautiful. I was pretty sure I had timed my visit perfectly, until I got back to the bus leaving about 5 seconds before I could get on it. I know I’ve written about this before, but missing a bus, especially when it is SO close, is one of the worst feelings.

At that point I decided that fate had me staying downtown, instead of getting back home right away, so that I could meet my friend after he was done with work and ride back together. Missing that bus by 20 seconds didn’t feel so terrible – at least I had a companion with whom to wait.

In the beginning – the 1 California

I’ve decided to start riding buses in numerical order. Amazingly enough, the 1 was first on my new list.

It’s called the 1 California, although that name is slightly misleading as it begins on Geary for about a block. Admittedly, I began four stops in where free parking is plentiful at 30th and California.

I always thought that the outer Richmond would be a boring neighborhood to live in and automatically passed the apartment listings in this area. It turns out that there are a lot of restaurants and other business mingled with the adorable houses in the area. I will definitely consider this neighborhood during my next move.

One of my pet peeves riding the bus are inaccurate nextmuni signs. The most frustrating ones are those that count down, five minutes, 3 minutes, 1 minute, arriving, and end with no bus in sight, only to repeat the cycle. On Halloween last year the sign was doing that for the M line (a light rail located in the median on a busy street), and we only figured out after about half an hour that they were running buses in its place, which picked up from another location. This time the sign was just malfunctioning.

Eventually the bus did come, and four stops in there were already ten people, two of whom managed to find time to lay out their whole Chinese food spread and start chowing down. On one hand, it smelled delicious. On the other hand, were those tentacles? I was happy to find that my transfer was good for more than three hours so that I wouldn’t have to buy another ticket back.

We zoomed down California, disregarding traffic laws like pedestrian right-of-way, literally blowing through crosswalks with pedestrians in them and WAY too close to the bus. But we were making good time!

The bus got more and more crowded as we got closer to Chinatown. One brilliant rider had the right idea:

use a napkin

How many times have I wished that I didn’t have to hold the nasty pole on the bus but not been able to avoid it. Duh? What an obvious solution to a common problem!

As we made our way down California through Laurel Heights the houses started turning spectacular. There were Victorian and Edwardian masterpieces that made me drool. We zig-zagged northeast until we ended up on Clay, traveling downhill. I slid forward on my seat as we traveled further down. A rider got on and stumbled to the back of the bus; the hill was so steep she had trouble climbing up the aisle.

The neighborhood changed from Pacific Heights to Nob Hill to Chinatown. One of my favorite things about San Francisco is that there are so many unique neighborhoods tucked so closely together. The character changes in an instant. On one block the spas and boutiques dominate. Three blocks later the signs are in a totally different language.

A side story:

A year or two ago I was with friends at Fisherman’s Wharf to see a photo gallery. We drove to near the Embarcadero station to pick up a fourth person we were meeting for dinner. As we arrived she told us that we had to park because there were wild parrots all over the place. They were the famed wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. We pulled over and parked and walked across the street to a small park. It was dusk and there were parrots everywhere. Hundreds of them, it seemed, hanging from tree branches, rolling around on the ground playing with each other, squawking like crazy. I held out my arms and, in the single best moment I have experienced in San Francisco, a parrot landed on my shoulder. It was a magical day and I could never located exactly where that park was again.

Now, back to the bus ride (I hope you can see what’s coming):

From a block away I could hear a sound so magnificent I didn’t allow myself to believe it. There was a squawking so loud it filled the entire bus and my entire brain. I wondered, with disbelief, if this bus route I didn’t research very well but picked because it was #1 was going to take me to what I’ve thought about so many times. I got off the bus at the end of the line with half a dozen other people and followed my ears.

I saw pigeons flying around and another small bird. I didn’t see any parrots. Disappointed, I still approached to see what kind of bird could be SO loud. Just then a pair of bright green parrots swooped down in front of my eyes as people around me pointed. There were parrots. There were dozens and dozens of wild parrots. It was a dream come true.

Unfortunately, all I had was my iphone without a zoom and some very tall trees filled with parrots. I tried to get a shot, but it didn’t quite work. This tree is full of black dots. In reality those dots are bright green birds with crimson heads, most more talkative than I am (and that’s saying something).

A tree is dotted with parrotts

If you want to catch the magic, I recommend going to the corner of Clay and Drumm at dusk.

I sat under a purple tree trying to get a better shot of the green in contrast. I tried very hard to ignore the homeless couple arguing nearby, praying they would ignore the lone woman with her iphone out at dusk in a park. I pushed my luck too long and the woman started to approach me. “Martha! Martha! Martha! Martha!” the man yelled after her, and she ignored him, walking straight towards me. I walked away calmly, realizing at that moment that I left my pepper spray in my other purse. She gave up pursuing me after 500 feet, walking back to her partner. Thank God.

I walked around the corner to the beginning of the route and boarded along with 50 other people. I got the second to last seat on the bus, next to a fellow carrying a duffel bag and a backpack full of sharp, hard edges. I discovered that because, contrary to standard practice, he put his backpack on the back of my seat (on second thought, I guess that is standard practice on Muni). I leaned forward, which worked for about four blocks, before we started an ascent up one of the steepest streets in San Francisco. I pulled myself forward, struggling to keep the  stabbing pain out of my back. My butt slid back and I hunched forward, breathing down the necks of the people in front of me. Sorry about that, random strangers!

He got off none too soon. And before I knew it, so did I.

The 28 (or, today is not a good day for a bus ride).

I made the mistake of riding the 28 on a day the Bay Bridge was closed.

The 28 runs from Daly City BART to the Golden Gate Bridge along 19th Ave. and the Park Presidio, then heads east, ending at Fort Mason. With the Bay Bridge to the East Bay closed for repairs and new construction during the holiday weekend, the Golden Gate Bridge, along with The San Mateo bridge, became an alternate to get to the East Bay.

I avoided taking the 28 on a weekday. I used to take it daily for about two years as a commuter, and if I left at the wrong time I could find myself being passed up by packed buses until one stopped and I managed to find a space smooshed between someone with too many bags and someone who does not bathe frequently (of course these are not mutually exclusive). For some reason this route was never given the larger buses with two compartments connected by a device that looks much like an accordion that neighborhoods like the Richmond and Mission District have at their disposal. So, instead, the 39 seats on the bus get filled and another 100 people try to cram in on their way home from work.

I thought I was being clever by taking it on a Sunday. I got on at Daly City BART, along with what appeared to be 20 students. Because this bus also stops at San Francisco State University it gets very crowded on school days because the shuttles offered by the school can be few and far between and because those getting off at this BART station get a free transfer onto this line. I was a little surprised to see so many people heading to SF State on a Sunday, but I guess people are headed all over the city all the time.

We quickly progressed to the university and almost everyone got off. A large crowd got on, filling the seats once more. Luckily for me, my brother, sister-in-law, and darling 3-year-old niece joined me here, and my ride did not seem as awful as it could have.

By the time we reached Sloat, which is only a couple of miles away from the beginning of the line, things were looking pretty bad, traffic-wise. It’s not uncommon for this stretch of the road to get a bit congested, as my brother reminded me, and I was still optimistic.

By the time we reached Taraval, about another mile up, if that, people on the bus started grumbling and making phone calls to people with whom they were meeting to explain that they were going to be late.

By the time we reached Lincoln, which has the entrance to Golden Gate Park, we had been on the bus for 47 minutes. This is a distance of just over 4 miles, meaning we were crawling along at an average of about 5.5 miles per hour. For some perspective, this is 3.5 mph slower than a chicken runs.

It was getting warm and my nerves were getting raw, especially with the jackass sitting next to me blaring terrible music from his tinny cell phone speakers. I have lived here for years and driven during huge events like Power to the Peaceful, Fleet Week, and holidays. I have never seen traffic as bad as it was this day.

More and more people began calling people they were meeting, explaining that they were hopelessly late. The conversations among people on the bus were dominated by the speed at which we were traveling.

While the traffic was already grating on my nerves I was getting more and more angry at the young man sitting near me gracing us with entertainment for the ride in the form of terrible hard rock blaring from his tinny cell phone speaker. I thought I knew who it was, but as I worked up the nerve to ask him to turn it down I began to doubt that I knew who was holding the cell phone in question. The sounds were bouncing around the bus and plenty of people had cell phones on them. By the time I figured out exactly who it was I could no longer bring myself to ask him to turn it off.

Luckily, my brother was also getting tired of hearing the terrible music (as was everyone else, judging by the raised eyebrows and angry stares all around), and with a simple “hey bro, you mind turning that down,” he brought peace to us all.

The riders on the bus were almost all switched out at Park Presidio and Geary. A large crowd left the bus to catch lines that would take them downtown and to the Richmond District. There was no shortage of riders as an equal number of tourists, many European, got on for the ride to the Golden Gate Bridge. The chatter turned to German and I was no longer able to eavesdrop on stranger’s conversations.

While I was thankful to have my cutie-pie niece sitting next to me, she was losing patience on the ride. It turned out that she was actually just tired, and she was soon asleep, as was my sister-in-law holding her. I had lost my last source of entertainment while crawling north through the city.

About an hour and a half after leaving BART, we finally arrived at the Golden Gate, to everyone’s delight. I have seen this bridge literally hundreds of times, but every time I lay eyes on this beauty it takes a little bit of my breath away. Today was no exception.

golden gate bridge

The bus stop at the bridge is the same for inbound and outbound buses. It’s important that riders take note of which bus is pulling up before they board. If you aren’t sure which way a bus is headed or have a question, always ask your driver. They may snarl a little, but they are always knowledgeable.

There were so many people who boarded with so little of the route left that I was concerned that some of the people were headed the wrong way. No one seemed to be distressed as we continued on, so I guess that my concerns were misplaced.

The traffic was finally clear as we were heading away from the bridge, and we finished at a quick pace. A few blocks before the end of the route every tourist got off for the transfer with the 30, which takes them to Fisherman’s Wharf. There were two locals at the front of the bus, and the four of us in the back.

What the tourists didn’t know, but someone should have told them, is that at the end of the route at Fort Mason there is a beautiful path that runs along the Bay’s shore and ends at Fisherman’s Wharf via Aquatic Park, a strange, tiny bit of beach on the Bay.

I made it to this beautiful end of town where sailboats dot the shore and dogs and kids run around, playing. I was so glad to stretch my legs, and I vowed not to take the same bus back, breaking my round-trip when available rule. Please don’t blame me – after all, consider this: scheduled time to destination: 39 minutes. Real time to destination: 1 hour, 34 minutes. We traveled at a rate of 6.75 miles per hour, not quite the speed of a chicken, but we were getting there.

28-19th Avenue route map

The historic F line through classic San Francisco

When I was 16 years old I came to San Francisco with a friend to stay with my brother and tour the city. We took the F line from downtown to the Castro. We were so enamored by the line – the interesting sights on Market Street, the mystery of where our car would be from, the charming neighborhood at the end of the line – that we rode it again the next day.

The F line runs from Fisherman’s Wharf along the Embarcadero to Market Street, and ends in the Castro. The cars are all retired street cars from around the country and the world, and you can end up on a retired car from just about anywhere. For the most part, the older, cooler cars just run along the Embarcadero and never make it up Market.

For the first time I had someone join me on the ride. My boyfriend Aaron decided the the F line was interesting enough that he would ride with me. We took the Metro to Castro station and waited for the street car to arrive. There were plenty of people waiting at the beginning of the line, and from the number of 1-day and 1-week passports being used, my guess is that most of the people were from out of town.

We got a retired car from Milan, Italy, complete with Italian signs (Vietato Fumare – no smoking) and interesting light fixtures. It was also complete with some of the most uncomfortable seats I had ever sat in.

Milan Streetcar F Line

I could spot one tourist right away (don’t get me wrong – I LOVE tourists. This city depends on them for our economy and I am thrilled that people want to see San Francisco. Please come visit us, tourists!). It was obvious when he walked up to a man standing in the back of the car and said “hey, how’s it going?”.

The man, obviously not used to strangers approaching and asking after his well-being, stared at him blankly.

“Hey,” the visitor said, “I’m just being friendly.”

“It scares me. No one talks to me. You are the first one to talk to me today.”

Aaron nudged me and whispered “are you getting all this?”  I nodded.

The out-of-towner was shocked. He said that he was visiting from Colorado, which explained the whole being-friendly-to-people-on-the-bus thing. They enjoyed good conversation from thereon out.

It turned out that the San Franciscan was on his way to 5th and Market to play Chess. I’ve seen people out there, but I never realized that it was actually a gambling haven. He was low on money and was hoping to make a few bucks playing chess. He said that summer is the best time because people come from all over the place – from Pittsburgh to Florida – and want to bet on games with him. Apparently they’re never any good, but are there for the novelty. He can always count on them for some money. He also gives chess lessons to them in exchange for a cup of coffee and a donut. The man from Colorado declined a lesson, and our chess-playing friend got off to play.

Chess on Market

As we advanced down Market Street a noise, which sounded much like a heartbeat during a sonogram or what an alien spaceship would sound like as it was abducting you, grew louder. The young French woman sitting across from me started dancing to the beat. When it stopped, at the end of Market as we turned on to the Embarcadero, people actually started to freak out a little bit. “Why is it so quiet? Is it broken? Should we get off?” The power was shut off while we were waiting at a light. It’s actually pretty standard but it put people on edge. When the light turned green and we started to advance the noise came back and people settled down.

The car got more and more crowded as we got closer to Pier 39. This meant that there were a lot of people standing, and therefore a lot of people falling because no one could understand what the driver was saying when he said “hold on” every time we were about to leave from a stop. He meant it, and as people turned to those standing next to them to ask “what did he say?” they were interrupted by a jolt as the car moved from underneath them and they were knocked back, nearly falling on those sitting around them. It is generally a good idea to hold on, no matter what kind of bus or streetcar you’re riding, no matter where in the ride you are. Buses are unpredictable and you never know when you’ll be the person who’s landed on the lap of a stranger.

We reached Pier 39 and were forced to disembark with the rest of the passengers to change cars to the one ahead of us. It didn’t have a visible sign, so I have no idea where it was from, other than comforttown.  The seats were delightful, and I sat back and enjoyed the ride for the few blocks to Fisherman’s Wharf. There I had to disembark and walk 50 feet to the stop where passengers board.

Behind the streetcar we had just offboarded was a regular bus with a sign that said “F” on the front. We got worried that we’d have to board this boring, conventional bus instead of a streetcar. The appeal is not just the route – after all most of the Metro lines (lettered routes) travel between Embarcadero Station and Castro, doing it even faster. Riding the F is about the experience of riding a street car that had a previous life in another interesting city.

We were relieved when the driver of the streetcar we had just been in got back in and pulled up to let us on. Before he boarded he warned people to have their money ready, $2, before they boarded (that’s #5 on my list of public transit etiquette). There’s a reason he asked, but no reason for people not to listen. It took over five minutes for the bus to leave because people were having such a hard time preparing their two bucks in advance. The time you reach the change box is not the time to start to sift through your purse looking for your wallet.

And speaking of public transit etiquette, here are a couple more rules:

6. Move to the back. Even on the most crowded buses, there is often room in the back. Please don’t stop walking in the middle of the bus. There are people who are going to board after you, and no one wants to have to squeeze past someone standing in the middle of the isle. It causes a traffic jam and congestion all the way up to the front door. I’ve actually been on buses where the driver has had to stop at every block and not move the bus until people proceeded to the back of the bus.

7. Keep your purse out of my face. This is really directed at the girl with the leopard print backpack standing beside me on the ride back to the Castro. I was beginning to get a rash on my shoulder from the material rubbing it so hard. I pushed it away, but she just pushed back. My entire view, until she got off, was of this:


The car was full, so full that by the time we reached Pier 39 we had to skip the stop and not let anyone on.

For those of you visiting from out of town going to the pier and wanting to experience this neat line to get downtown or to the Castro, I recommend you walk West a few blocks towards Fisherman’s Wharf and catch it before it reaches the more congested stops.

As most of the tourists got off by the time we reached Union Square, some odd, more local-looking characters got on. One guy was wearing a pair of 3D glasses over his real glasses. There was a group of unsavory looking youths. I think youths have every right to look unsavory, but they played the part well. A man with a suitcase was sitting in front of them and one of them took the address slip out of the suitcase (which wasn’t filled out yet, so who knows if he will ever even notice), wrote on it, and put it back in the suitcase. I am not sure if the man with the suitcase realized what was happening, but as he got off the bus he started barking. Was he barking at them? At life? At a nearby cat? Who’s to know…
F map

Awesome video of San Francisco in 1906

This video was shot one or two days before the devestating 1906 earthquake. You can see the streetcars and trolleys, as well as horse-and-buggies, cars, and people walking around wearing what people wore in 1906. It’s very cool.

My favorite part is how many people are running in front of the vehicle the person filming this was in, narrowly avoiding being hit. Some things never change.

The 35 – Eureka Valley to a delicious sandwich

Ok, ok, I’m back for real. For real.

I wanted to ease myself back into my routine with a nice, short route. I picked the 35, which travels from the residential areas of Glen Park past a park named Billy Goat Hill Park (not a major sight, but I like the name) through Noe Valley and what is sometimes referred to as Eureka Valley and other times the Castro, ending at the corner of Castro and Market Streets.

I drove to the bus stop at the beginning of the line, which is pretty inaccessible from any bus line other than the 35. I used to drive deliveries in San Francisco and have managed to see most of the neighborhoods in this city over the past 4 years living in the area. The winding streets that took me to this neighborhood on a hill were unlike anything I had seen in San Francisco. They were much more reminiscent of the Berkeley Hills than the houses typically found in the City.

There were no cars, no people, no businesses. The street on which I parked was quiet and tree-lined. Except for the lack of bus lines in the neighborhood it looked like a pretty ideal place to live. Well, that and the million dollar price tag on the homes.

The bus schedule directed me to an address of 164 Addison, which seems to just be the address of some poor soul who owns a home in an unfortunate location. At most Muni stops there’s a sign on a pole marking the stop and listing the lines. This stop didn’t and we looked around for a few minutes before spotting the paint on the street marking the stop.

Ah ha! That's where we wait!

Ah ha! That's where we wait!

The bus came on schedule (gasp!) and we boarded for our short journey. We climbed steep, windy roads that I am nervous driving on with my minivan; I can’t imagine it’s easy to drive a massive bus up the streets either. About ten people were on board mid-route, and I’m sure most of them thought I was a bit crazy when I spotted two men riding segways on a steep residential street and got way too excited about it.

I didn’t have my camera (ie phone) ready, and they were on the other side of the bus. I knew it was going to be the most exciting spotting on my journey (and I was right). I whipped out my phone,  tried to get the camera started, and fumbled my way over to the other side of the bus, quite excited. How often do you see non-tourists or actors riding a segway? Try as I might, I missed my photo opportunity, so you’ll all have to imagine two middle-aged men wearing helmets trying to have their chosen mode of transportation taken seriously.

By the way, I looked up the cost of a segway. Did you know that they set you back around six grand? That’s sixty times what I paid for my car, and I don’t have to have people pointing and whispering when I’m driving. Of course, it’s 3,000 times the cost of my bus ride, so that’s really the way to go.

As we traveled through Noe Valley the system that assists vision-impaired riders with getting off at the right stop malfunctioned. It went something like this:

28th and Duncan,  28th and Duncan, 28th and Duncan, 27th and Cesar Chavez, 27th and Cesar Chavez, 26th and Cesar Chavez, 26th and Cesar Chavez, 26th and Cesar Chavez, 26th and Cesar Chavez, 26th and Cesar Chavez, 26th and Clipper, 26th and Clipper, 26th and Clipper, 26th and Clipper, 26th and Clipper, 26th and Clipper, 26th and Clipper, 26th and Clipper.

If you found that annoying, try being trapped on that bus. Finally by 25th street it sounded like it had righted itself, and was only two blocks off by the time we hit 22nd.

And then, when I thought it was over, it started again, but this time with Spanish announcements about moving to the back of the bus and watching your belongings. Again, and again, and again. Then in Chinese. Although my sister-in-law is from China and my niece spoke Mandarin way before she learned English, my Chinese vocabulary is limited to familial relationships, thank you, and important words like doggy, so I can’t verify the content of the recording, but I am pretty sure it was similar.

We reached our destination at what is probably my favorite corner in San Francisco. Castro and Market is within blocks of some of the nicest houses, tastiest restaurants, most exciting bars, and the best movie theater in San Francisco. After seeing a Man vs. Food episode (if you haven’t seen this show you don’t know what you’re missing. It is every bit as awesome as it sounds) filmed at a sandwich shop called Ike’s Place and hearing glowing recommendations from my friends I was determined to eat there. I know this doesn’t have to do with a bus ride, but I will not let this visit take place in vain.

We expected the line to be long, but I don’t know that we were prepared for what awaited us:

Ike's place

I was the 35th person in line. After 50 minutes I placed my order, and after a grand total of 1 hour and 15 minutes I got my sandwich, which did have fried cheese sticks inside, and was rather delicious, but I have to say the experience was rather anti-climactic.

Our transfers expired to the minute we got back on the bus. I gave a very big smile and hello to the driver, hoping he would let us slide since we were in ambiguous territory, and he did. The woman behind us pulled out a ukulele, and if she hadn’t been enormously talented I imagine the ride would have been torturous. This wasn’t any “Over the Rainbow,” either. She played a few songs I had never heard but that were all hauntingly beautiful. It’s the first time I’ve actually been disappointed when music on a bus stopped.

I did manage to find the stop at which I parked my car. Thankfully, the driving did us all the favor of announcing the stops himself.

Walk of shame

I am still unpacking after my move, which is much more painful than I could have imagined it would be. Without enough furniture it’s proving hard to put my clothes away, for example. Staying up until 11-12 each night has left me with no time, let alone energy, to do much bus riding.

Wearing new shoes as I walked to work this morning left me with a pretty bad blister that had me taking the 29 to a shop that I would have normally walked to, so I was able to witness this fine event:

Occasionally I will ride on a bus with a driver who’s making up for all of the other ones who turn a blind eye to an expired transfer or a back-door entry. I had the king of those types of drivers today. After making three people get off the bus for having expired transfers, he called each person up who slipped by without paying.

All except one returned to the front to pay. The bus was crowded, and I couldn’t see through the crowd to the back.

“Please don’t hold everybody up,” he said sternly, “I will come back there.” He paused. We gawked, trying to figure out who it was that was holding up the bus.

And then he was true to his word. The imposing man, an African-American with a booming voice and a barreled chest, rose and went back there. He disappeared among the crowd, and I could only hear what was happening. She tried to explain that he wasn’t paying attention when she came on – it was pretty much the worst excuse I had ever heard from someone who had been caught without proof of payment.

“You think that means you don’t have to pay?” She still stammered, trying to get out of the inevitable.

“You’re holding everyone up,” he scolded. The rest of us were getting anxious and some of the other passengers began yelling at her. “You’re holding us up!” “Come one, just pay already.”

She took her walk of shame to the front of the bus, where she shelled out her two dollars, got her transfer (good for 180 minutes instead of the standard 90 – which I found amusing since he was so strict about having a valid transfer), and took a seat next to me. I felt like asking her “what the hell is wrong with you,” but I know that she is only one among thousands who try to evade fares every day. Today she just got on the wrong bus.

I’m moving!

My move is great news for me – I’m moving into San Francisco from across the border in Daly City, and away from the demon-possesed neighbor children whose favorite game is to run in circles while screaming “ahhhhhh!” at the top of their lungs. It’s also a better location in terms of blog-writing.

But in the short-term it’s bad for my blog because all of my free time is spent packing up the apartment my boyfriend and I have lived in for four years to get ready for the move.

We’re escaping this place on October 3rd, which means that my blog will be on hiatus until October 11, the first date I can ride a new bus line.

Thanks for staying with me, and I’ll be back soon!

A couple of news articles

I will be heading back on the bus tomorrow, but in the meantime I wanted to share a couple of news articles with you.

First is that two councilmen in Honolulu proposed a bill that would outlaw offensive body odors on buses. I know that many of my readers have experienced rides on the bus next to people who would be violating this law. It is a problem to decide what is deemed “offensive,” and there are, of course, many civil rights considerations to be made.

In the end one of the cosponsors decided to drop the bill after it received nationwide attention.

The other story is a rather frightening one. Last week an 11-year-old boy was attacked on a MUNI bus in the Mission District during broad daylight on his first bus ride ever. A homeless man stabbed him and he was in critical condition for a while. Thankfully he’s now in good condition and will recover, but it is horrifying that this happened.

To make matters worse, the camera on the bus didn’t work so the surveillance film the authorities wanted to use to broadcast his image in order to catch this creep doesn’t exist. I bought mace (I do know I have to be careful because if I use it on the wrong person they may be able to overpower me and use it on me), and I will keep my eyes out for anyone matching his description, getting off the bus promptly if I see anyone like him.  I am also staying out of that side of town on the bus until he’s caught. He’s still at large.  He is described as an African American man, 6’2′, in his 20′s or 30′s. He aslo has – can you guess what’s coming – strong, offensive body odor.