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  • Waiting for a ride

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.