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Friday, March 20 – The Light at the End of the Bridge

Vallejo 6:35 a.m.
I browse the line of cars this morning, passing by the first two tiny cars and choose a safer looking larger sedan. This week has been about one day too long and I am not happy about going to work. So I’m picky about my ride today. In the back seat once again but behind the driver, which is unusual. A child’s car seat is on the other half of the seat. It appears the couple in the front seat are together. She’s driving. Both are jean-clad in their Friday fineries. I’m wearing my gym clothes under my coat, ready for another morning workout. I’ll suit up for work afterwards.

It’s very much Friday light on the 80 freeway this morning and we are moving along. Dawn breaks at about 7 a.m. and the East Bay hills to my left are a jagged silhouette against the gradually brightening sky. Around the curve and down into the Berkeley stretch and as we pass by the cement freeway supports of an adjoining exit ramp a pigeon darts out of a cleverly made nest in a crevice of the cement and briefly flies alongside the car.

Off to my right the Golden Gate Bridge is a pale line against the soft blue haze of the early morning bay. My white egret is bending over the water in the East Shore marsh area, probably checking out his breakfast choices.

In the midst of these scenic lovelies a piercingly bright illuminated supersized billboard is flashing an array of advertisements. It is like an out of place Las Vegas casino sign, and is right alongside the freeway near the bridge. I’ve seen it before when I’m leaving San Francisco, and it’s visible a mile away on the morning freeway which circles the bay.

The March 2 New York Times had an article “Roadside Marquee – Drive to Distraction” about these new high tech digital billboards. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/technology/0)

The gist of the story is that these billboards, which change images (and advertisers) every 6 to 8 seconds, are yet another dangerous distraction for drivers who may be already texting and cell-phoning. Concerned lawmakers in both Michigan and Minnesota are holding hearings on legislation that could put these digital signs, that include video and animation, on hold.

I agree that they are a huge distraction; as a passenger I have to really stare at the flashy spectacle to read the message, something I could not be doing if I were driving.

On top of that, they’re just plain ugly and a real eye sore on this lovely San Francisco landscape.

Thursday, March 18 – The Conference Call

Vallejo 6:40 a.m.
I’m in the backseat of a black Mercedes sedan. The driver is wearing a green satin shirt and black slacks; long straight very light blonde hair. She makes me think of Meg Ryan – more because of her gestures and voice than her face. “How long does it take to drive to San Francisco?” she asks as we get settled in the car. The front seat passenger is silent, perhaps still thinking about how close she came to being run over by my husband a few minutes ago, who was about to drop me off at the car pool area. She’s dressed all in black, with short black hair, and she was nearly invisible darting across the busy street to the car pool line in the pre-dawn dark.

So I answer the driver’s question. “It averages about 45 minutes. On Friday it could be 30 minutes; on a bad day as much as an hour and a half.” Hard to believe this horrendous commute is only 35 miles.

The driver says she has a conference call coming up and may have to take it in the car, depending on the time.

“I’ve heard they’re going to start charging toll for the car pool lane”, she says as we take off. The carpool toll, which goes into action on July 1, is an issue that pushes my commuter gal button and I give her more information than she probably wants. She was unaware that the regular, non-carpool toll is being raised to $5 and we agree that the $2.50 for carpoolers will still be a good deal.

She checks to make sure the heat is comfortable for us, pointing out a lovely little heat vent just for the back seat (ahh), and we are on our way. Within a few miles she has to take the conference call and asks the front seat passenger to write down the call-in information as she calls it out.

Approaching the Berkeley area, the driver becomes an active participant in the conference call, identifying herself as Lisa and describing an awful sounding accounting procedure to someone named Brian. Traffic slows to about 10 mph as we pass Berkeley and I look out the window at the other lanes of slow traffic. Right alongside us is a huge white truck. As I watch, the truck comes up behind the small sedan in front of it and hits it. My god. What’s weird is that the driver of the sedan doesn’t respond. I am looking right at him and he continues to drive along as though nothing happened. Not a flinch, even. I exclaim, “did you see that truck hit that car!” and Lisa shushes me, since somewhere in space and time at the other end of this call a roomful of people can hear every word I’m saying. She turns around and gestures that yes, she saw it too and pantomimes with her hands the truck hitting the car. We drive on picking up speed as we cross the bridge. The sun is coming up and it looks like we’ve made the trip in about 40 minutes today. We get out at the drop off spot, mouthing ‘thank you’ to Lisa who is still on her conference call.

Wednesday March 17 – Top of the Morning to Ya!

Vallejo 7:20 a.m.
Back to my later time of departure. No gym today, but i did a workout before I left home. My goal with all this vigorous exercise is, of course, to tone up, get stronger, look and feel better. But short term goal is the May 16 BAY TO BREAKERS! Every year I say I’m going to run (well walk, actually) in this 12K notoriously outrageous race, but this year I’m really going to do it. I’ve even paid my fees and officially registered. 12K translates to the 7-plus miles from the San Francisco Ferry Building (the Bay) across town to Ocean Beach (the Breakers).

I’m riding in the back seat of a small Toyota sedan. I’ve ridden with this guy many times, but he never speaks, so unfortunately we’ve never gotten acquainted. He’s an older guy and today he’s wearing a black billed cap that has ‘www.levi.com’ printed on the back. The girl in the front seat is 30-something and keeping to herself. A few miles into the commute we hit stop and crawl traffic. An accident involving an overturned car is blocking a couple of lanes about a mile ahead, according to the radio, and we go slow for about 20 minutes, then traffic picks up again. Mysteriously there is no sign of any accident on the freeway – Cal Trans must have been super efficient in clearing it all away.

I’ve donned a green scarf and sweater in honor of the day, which look like it’s going to be the perfect San Francisco Day – no fog or wind, lots of sun and 70 degrees. A great day for St. Patrick’s roistering!

Tuesday, March 16 – Wake Up!

Vallejo 6:40 a.m.

It was dark as night when I climbed into my SUV ride this morning, a Toyota hulk of some nature. As I wait in line for my ride I hear a rooster not too far away crowing his wake up song. On and on he goes with his timeless tune. Inside the van his song is replaced with a jazz tape which plays throughout our ride (I get the full benefit (or not) of the music sitting in front of the rear speaker).

I’m keeping to my earlier schedule, determined to get a gym session in before work as many mornings as I’m able. I am very sore. A big shaved-head guy is the driver; a lady in a cozy looking black and white checkered coat is in the front seat. All lanes of traffic are heavy but moving this morning – we’re an army of commuters about to storm the City and wake up the offices and shops and cafes and begin the work day.

I did a little research on rooster-crowing (why do they do it in the morning?). Actually, roosters crow all the time; we’re just more aware of them in the pre-dawn quiet. Their crowing, like all birds, is an announcement of territory. They’ve also been known to crow when a hen lays an egg. There may be more crowing going on in the morning hours because that’s when chickens and other birds are most active. But I still like to think of the friendly rooster’s trumpeting as a wake up for us humans and the rest of the world.

The sky begins to lighten as we pass Berkeley, but it’s still very dark in this back seat with tinted windows. I peer out at the view across the bay trying to make out activity in the water. Freighters are delivering two giant cranes to Oakland this morning and will be bringing them in under both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Early morning news says they are super huge and the CHP (California Highway Patrol) will be pausing traffic on both bridges as they pass under them. But it’s still too early and too dark for me to see much out there.

Once on the bridge the light brightens and the City softly starts to come alive, the sun comes out like a golden opening night spotlight, touching the windows on the downtown highrises as it moves from building to building. Time to wake up!

March 15 – The Ides

Vallejo 6:45 AM
The new daylight savings time gives us a dark and cold send-off this morning. There’s a brief wait for a ride and then I get into the front seat of a 747. Well, it’s actually a Lincoln Navigator – this is a really HUGE SUV. The dash is lit up with an array of lights and dials and buttons like the cockpit of a jumbo jet. The driver is a pleasant, corporate looking fellow in a crisp blue-striped shirt. We comment on the time change and how we enjoyed the light longer last evening, and the remainder of the ride is noisy, incomprehensible radio news/music.

Daylight savings time actually began after World War 1, the idea being to save fuel by reducing the requirement of artificial light. Check out an informative article in today’s Daily Latest News (http://www.dailylatestnews.com) How that translates now to getting up essentially an hour earlier in the dark, I’m not sure. Undoubtedly in the early 1900s people were asleep in their beds and not getting up so early to commute so far.

Today also marks the ides, or 15th of March, as in “Beware the Ides of March” from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. Caesar was warned of danger on the ides (or middle) of March by an astrologer, ignored the warning, and was assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C.E.

For the rest of us, hopefully March 15 is just another day.

At 7:15 it’s beginning to look like a pretty good one. Here comes the morning – a hazy sky streaked with pink and grays. The sun is fully up as we cross the Bay Bridge at 7:30 and the city is sparkling.

March 12 Friday – Spring Forward, With Caution

Vallejo 6:50 a.m.
About a dozen riders and 5 or 6 cars are all converging simultaneously at the carpool line as I walk up. We all get sorted out and the next car in line for me is . . . I can’t believe this!! It’s the same maniac in that little red Honda I rode in yesterday (see March 11 blog). There’s that damn mirror ball hanging above the dash. I tell the guy behind me I’m not taking the ride. “I rode in that car yesterday and the driver is dangerous!”. He just smiles and goes ahead and gets in. With the light traffic on Friday and the freeway wide open, he’s gonna have a ride he won’t forget. It gives me great pleasure to walk past the Honda to the next ride in line. It’s a bright blue Chrysler Cruiser.

I’m in the back seat, next to a child’s car seat. A young tired looking woman is at the wheel – same vintage fellow in front seat. He grabs hold of the handle above the door and doesn’t let go for the entire commute. Odd.

KBLX Radio is on and is saying Daylight Savings Time is dangerous. This Saturday we set our clocks ahead and lose an hour. Numerous studies that have been done by sleep experts and psychologists have found that there are more heart attacks, work-related accidents, and traffic accidents (7% more) on the Monday following Daylight Savings Time! Most of us are sleep deprived to begin with and then we compound that when we turn our clocks forward by losing yet another hour.

Besides being extra careful if you’re a driver next week, try to get to bed earlier on Sunday, get some morning sun on your face as early as you can. It helps to ‘reset’ your body’s clock. Worst thing to do is leap out of bed at the last minute and jump in your car. So listen up, my fellow commuters! Take care on Monday, and every other day, too, of course.

It’s 7:16 as we round the curve by the marshes and my egret is standing in the middle of the pools, working away. He’s a gorgeous guy. The bay is a spectacular mix of dark clouds and golden patches where the sun is coming through. It’s Friday Light and the end of winter.

March 11 Thursday Out of Sync

Vallejo 6:45 AM
Hurrying, running late, forgetting cell phone and lunch, going back home to retrieve and finally at the carpool line. Phew. No cars at all, and then one pulls up. I get in. Because I was not paying attention, I screwed up and have climbed into the CLASSIC BAD RIDE. This is a small red Honda roadster, low to the ground (I had to climb down to get into the car).

I get tucked in, fasten seat belt and we take off, pulling at least 10 Gs. Or so it seems. The air conditioning is ON, although it is 45 degrees outside. The vent is aimed at my face and I push it aside, providing some relief. As I do that I notice there is no passenger air bag. Wonderful. A small mirror ball is swinging wildly from the rear-view mirror, spewing prismatic reflections about the tiny car. It adds to the craziness of this nightmare ride.

The driver is a Mexican-American in his 50s and I can tell by the way he works the gears (manual transmission) that this is a car that likes to go fast. He’s wearing a blue tooth gizmo in his ear. The car trembles and strains to go faster with each gear shift. Where is the traffic this morning to slow this bastard down? The freeway is wide open and this guy is loving every 85 mph minute of it. He pulls out of the carpool lane whenever he comes up behind a car, accelerating and passing, then cutting back in.

Would this be the time, do you think, that I should tell this driver, who smells too strongly of Dial deodorant soap, to slow down, and risk a confrontational situation with him as we go 80+ mph? I think not, and feel like crying.

Traffic is getting a bit heavier thank you god as we near Berkeley. I promise myself I will not do this again if I have to stand in the line for an hour! Ah here’s Berkeley and traffic is mercifully crawling along. The horrible car groans and strains through the down shifting gears. The driver is not happy. Neither is his passenger.

When we reach the drop off at Fremont Street at 7:30, I climb out of the car as quickly as I can and say nothing. It is a pleasure to see him drive away.

Wednesday, March 10 Runaway Toyotas

Vallejo California 7:15 a.m.
The cold weather remains (42 degrees), but it’s sunny and clear and a glorious morning. I get in the front seat of an older Toyota sedan. Both driver and rear seat passenger, Asian-American fellows, are jabbing away at their cell phones, the driver sporting an i-phone.

Off we go and the portable GPS sitting on the dash guides our way down the 80 freeway and tells us we’re going 39 mph as we cross the Carquinez Bridge. ‘Light Rock Less Talk’ radio tuned in very loudly and the driver’s body language suggests no talk in the car. Okay.

I’ve been checking out the message boards on the never-ending Toyota crises – the latest being the guy in San Diego with the runaway Toyota Prius that was tearing along at 94 mph. I always thought if you just turned off the ignition, the car would eventually coast to a stop, but it sounds like (from some of these message boards) that doing that on a Prius might make you also lose power to the brakes. In the case of a Prius, you ‘push’ the ignition off with a small button.

However – some folks suggested that the San Diego driver should have shifted into Neutral, which would have disengaged the wheels, and the car, although with racing motor, would not have continued to be propelled forward.

The solution that the Highway Patrol gave him – to use both hand and foot brake – ultimately worked. Hopefully none of us will face this terrifying situation, but if you ever do, remember to use both brakes and shift to neutral, if you are able to function at all going 100 mph!

I was surprised to discover that nearly a million Prius have been sold since they appeared in 2000. I’d thought there would be more.

I’ve been checking out the cars in the other lanes today and it looks like about 1 out of every 3 cars, at least today, on this freeway, is a Toyota. Just fyi.

We’re at the 80 overpass nearing the Bay Bridge approach and the sun is OUT! A mile or so ahead on the freeway and bridge I can see the long line of cars moving along toward the City, sparkling and reflecting in this great sunny morning. My beautiful white egret is standing below by the marshy pools, head cocked, watching for his breakfast.

We move past the toll plaza mess and are in the City by 8 o’clock.

March 9 Cold and Clear Tuesday

Vallejo 6:40 AM
35 frigid degrees but I see a wonderful lineup of many warm cars. Mine is a 2-door Honda and I hop in the front seat. The driver is wearing a MUNI (San Francisco’s City Bus System) uniform and when we exchange greetings I say, “You’re a MUNI lady!”. Her response is an unenthusiastic groan. I ask which route she drives and she says she’s not driving anymore – that she’s doing something else for MUNI. I can tell she doesn’t want to talk, and especially not about her job, but she does admit she’s glad she’s not driving a bus anymore.

There’s a bright blue cut-out-tree air freshener hanging from the mirror, marked ‘New Car Scent’, and a funny little stuffed green frog toy swinging from her keychain. KBLK Radio.

It’s a crisp sunny morning and we’re moving along at 55 mph. The driver’s cup of coffee smells delicious.

Nearing Berkeley I can see all the way across the bay and there’s a huge freighter leaving under the Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz is sparkling and it’s one of those almost painfully clear days – so clear that you can practically see in the windows of all the buildings on San Francisco’s hills.

7:45 AM and we arrive at the drop off on Fremont Street. I ease my sore muscles out of the cozy car and head off to the gym and work.

Monday, March 8 Sharing in Silence

Vallejo 6:40 a.m.

I played hookey Friday, which made this Monday all the more painful as I groaned my way out of bed at 5:30 a.m. Back to the gym this morning, so I’m here early again. Looks like this may become my new time of departure. Cold winds this morning and all night – they rattled our old house. I’m in the back seat of a dark blue 4-door Toyota Corolla. 30-something woman driver, dressed in a black sweatshirt and black trousers. She has her head in her cell phone as I get into the back seat and gives me a distracted good morning greeting. She puts away the phone and off we go with KBLK on the radio. What a great haircut she has! Very stylish short bob – it looks terrific. A Safeway bag with several boxes of Tampons lies on the back-seat floor; her black jacket on the seat next to me.

No chatting today. The side rear view mirror reflects the front seat passenger who is sitting very still staring straight ahead.

I like a bit of conversation, and also like some quiet time too, so I can read, text, blog, or just sit and collect my thoughts. But today we’re silent.

I read a recent article in the NY Times about the new cab sharing in NYC. The news story is at (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/23/want-to-share-a-cab-with-a-stranger/). This Sunday’s (March 7) Times included a column on the program, which officially began last Friday, from city critic Ariel Kaminer who tried out the program. It’s a good and funny story – read it if you have a moment. (“Sharing a Cab Ride is Hard Enough. But Words, Too?” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/nyregion/07critic.html?src=twr). Kaminer describes the oddness of being squeezed together in “100 cubic feet of space without speaking to one another”.

Ha – we do it all the time here in the casual carpool lane.

Light and fast traffic today. We whiz past the flowering pink and white fruit trees all abloom in time for the first day of Spring on Sunday.

We’re in San Francisco at 7:30 and I’m off to the weights and bikes at Club One.