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  • Waiting for a ride

Thursday, March 4

Vallejo 6:40 AM Cold – its 44 degrees!

I’m early today. I’ve just joined a Club One gym and am going to see if I can get in a workout before work. So it’s been a mad dash out the door and to the carpool. The rhythm of the commuters on the freeway over here is different – these are the get-to-work-at-8 am people.

It’s a free for all at the carpool line! Not so many cars and the ones that are pulling up for passengers are being stopped by riders walking up to the pickup line. Meanwhile I am standing at the line watching this mess, freezing my ** off and getting antsy about getting to the gym and work on time. It straightens out in a few minutes and the line of cars moves up to where it belongs.

I get into a Jeep – a real, military style Jeep. Square and all no nonsense metal. I’ve heard these are not the safest ride on the freeway; that they tend to be top heavy and tip easily. Oh well, here I am. A faded Jack in the Box head bobbling atop the antenna gives me a sightless stare.

The mirror decor here is a lovely rosary made of tiny shells with a beautiful thick silver cross attached. A can of coke and chapstick await their turn in the drink well next to the driver. I noticed when I got in that this jeep smells like a saloon – it’s not the driver – must be a booze spill somewhere at some happy point.

On the freeway overpass near Richmond a group of demonstrators stands holding a giant sign that says SCHOOLS – NO WAR. Today is a the Day of Action in Defense of Public Education protest by teachers, students and other educators, protesting the cut in funding for California’s educational system. Thousands of demonstrators are expected to make their message heard throughout the state.

The Jeep driver is a friendly fellow with a red mustache. He says he’s been driving every day only recently. Before then sporadically. He’s a San Francisco fireman with a knee injury, so until he has surgery and is recovered he’s on light duty and his hours are more commuter conventional. “This driving is killing me!” he says. We agree it’s a hellish commute. The jeep is noisy and we holler to hear each other.

We discuss the Toyota troubles. “Do you think they’ll bounce back?” I ask. The fireman says it’s not the Toyota corporation he worries about, it’s all the individual dealers and the economy in general that troubles him. A small sedan abruptly cuts in front of us near the bridge approach and the driver mutters under his breath. I say, “what do you expect, it’s a Toyota!”. We both laugh.

The sun is winning against the fog as we cross the bridge at 7:30. We’ve just passed a weary and small flock of magnificent Canadian Geese resting and feeding at the Eastshore marshes near the freeway.

It’s going to be a beautiful day in San Francisco and it looks like I’ll be on time.

Wednesday, March 3

Vallejo 7:20 AM
A stormy day. About 40 cars are lined up waiting for riders. I’m in the back seat of a Scion. I love these funny looking box shaped cars! Lots of room, easy to step right into, plus they look like cartoon cars. The young woman driving checks to be sure I have enough leg room before we take off.

The car shows evidence of small children. There’s a child’s book, small plastic toys, a Parenting Magazine on the floor of the back seat. A silver cross hangs from the mirror and a photo of a toddler-aged little girl is propped up on the recessed part of the dash.

I see from the large display on the dashboard that our speed is between 13 and 20 mph. Traffic is slow, of course, with the rain. This is going to take awhile.

I sit back and relax with my English murder mystery, “O Gentle Death” by Janet Neel.

March 2 A wet, endless commute

Vallejo 7:15 AM
It’s really pouring and I run to my ride. Another VW Sedan, a 4-door today. I realize once I’m seated in the back seat that it must be a smoker’s car. Cough, cough. The car smells bad.

The driver’s big black briefcase is on the back seat next to me. There’s a small re-cycling situation on the floor – a grouping of empty plastic water bottles and a few aluminum soda cans are in and around a square plastic box. The driver reaches around behind the seat and plunks an empty lime green plastic drinking glass into the container as we start our journey. He looks good in a rust-colored corduroy jacket and dark brown trousers. The front seat passenger is a handsome young islander looking guy in a great slightly damp trench coat – the kind with all the epaulets and belts and buttoned tabs. I see he’s carrying a bright red umbrella – a nice touch.

The driver must have a sore muscle. He periodically leans forward and pulls up his shoulder. I study his face in the rear view mirror and decide he looks a bit like a ravaged and very tired Michael Caine.

We’re off to a fast start, going 60 mph, passing the other 3 lanes of very slo-mo traffic, but the fun ends within a few miles and we’re crawling along with everyone else. The car pool lane is now as full as the other 3 lanes, which means that either there are many more carpoolers this morning (NOT!) or there are people cheating – single drivers sneaking over into our lane. But they’re safe today; in this downpour it’s hard to see who’s in a car. I don’t see the highway patrol out here, which is a break for the cheaters. The fine for being in the carpool lane with fewer than 3 people starts at over $300 and doubles and triples for repeated offenses.

KNBR Radio has a discussion going on about Senator Bunting from Virginia who is single-handedly blocking unemployment benefits for 100,000 people today. Perhaps his concern over spending money we don’t have is well-intentioned, but where was he when the war in Iraq was costing us over $200 million a day and dumping us into the mess we’re in now?

We’re moving slightly faster as we get into the last leg of the trip. It is really a deluge out here on the road. The car windows are all fogged over and the stale smell of cigarette smoke wraps around us like a mildewed blanket.

We slow down again at the final curve before the bridge, past the Eastshore State Park that runs 8 1/2 miles along the East Bay shoreline (see http://www.ebparks.org/parks/eastshore for the whole story on what is called the most outstanding achievement in the history of open space protection). Moving at only 5 mph past the marshes at the edge of the road, I can see skinny-legged sandpipers browsing through the grasses.

Here we go now moving quickly past the toll plaza’s 18 frozen lanes of gridlock and onto the bridge. The bridge is a soft gray tunnel of rain and fog, Alcatraz is barely visible out there in the Bay, and then the City’s landmarks begin to emerge – the Transamerica pyramid, the Bank of America monolith, Coit Tower. We’re finally here at 8:45 and I thank the driver, happily breath in some fresh air before maneuvering myself and umbrella to the bus stop.

Monday, March 1

Vallejo 7:25 AM
Late. But there are about a dozen cars waiting. I tuck myself into the back seat of a shiny white 2-door VW Jetta. The driver and lady in the front seat are chatting and seem to know each other. I’ve ridden with this driver before, but in a different car. He’s a really big guy – maybe 400 pounds and more than fills the driver’s seat. The front seat passenger, his friend, or partner, is a tiny curly-headed lady. A styrofoam cup in the cup holder between their seats is filled with small sweets – York’s peppermint patty, Snicker’s, Hershey’s.

This is a new car and very comfy. A stylish child seat is on the back seat next to me, with a two-toned color scheme of salmon and gray, in an attractive rounded shape I haven’t seen before. Also looks very new.

KCBS radio is on, but it’s hard to hear in this car – could be snow tires are making the noise.

Very few cars are at the toll plaza on this gray, chilly first day of March. Amazingly, we arrive at the drop off in San Francisco at 8:15 a.m. A quick, safe, uneventful sweet ride.