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  • Waiting for a ride

Wednesday, April 7 Short and sweet and warmer


Vallejo 6:50 a.m.
A few riders and a few cars to go along with them, so no waiting for anyone. As I walk up to the line I see a big tour bus type vehicle parked across the street from the carpool line. A fellow in a black suit and chauffeur’s cap is pitching the bus company’s (Bauer’s) new commuter service. “Free coffee and bottled water, Direct TV, wifi, restroom on board, plus the first trip is free, too!” he tells us. We sign up on his clipboard with our e-mails and contact info so we can get more info – like the cost, which he is unable or unwilling to share this morning. It sounds promising.

My ride is the back seat of a Suburu Highlander. The driver and I discuss the possible bus commute. “Sounds good,” he says and that he would consider it rather than driving, depending on where it drops off and picks up. Hopefully that info will be forthcoming.

It’s a gorgeous spring morning. Cool, but the temperature will be in the 70s later today. The air and sky is swept clean and clear after the days of wind and rains and the view across the bay from Berkeley is even more spectacular than usual. The City and all the buildings look like a postcard picture.

We’re at 65 mph the whole way. A few ducks and sandpipers are mulling around in the Eastshore Park water. Into the city at 7:30 a.m.

Tuesday, April 6 Hark, Hark, the Seals Do Bark!


Vallejo 6:45 AM
It’s about 40 degrees this morning, and as I leave the house bundled up in my winter gear I can hear seals barking over in the Carquinez Strait, just a block away. A fellow I used to work with who was a serious fisherman told me “when the seals are barking, the salmon are running”. Hopefully this is an omen that will mean a replenishment of the bay area’s depleted salmon population. It’s a happy sound and I bark along with them for a few bars.

When I’m dropped off at the carpool line it is a LINE this morning. About 50 riders lined up and no cars. Cars pull up in little batches of 2 and 3, and are only taking the required number to qualify for car pool (2 passengers) – even though they have plenty of room for another passenger, or in the case of an SUV 2 or 3 others! Small minded, I’d say. Damn, it’s cold out here and it looks like I won’t have much gym time before I go to work. 20 minutes later it’s my turn. I get into the back seat of a Toyota Corolla and an older gentleman gets into the front. Our driver barely acknowledges us. No good morning for him. He’s a 50-something Asian American and he doesn’t look happy. We pull away from the curb and as we slowly drive by the still long line of waiting riders, a women leans out asking for a ride. “no”, he says emphatically, shaking his head. “No!” Wow what a mean spirited attitude.

There is plenty of room in this back seat which I’m sharing with a box of Kleenex, one of those silver reflector things people put in their windows when they park in the sun, and I see on the floor, sheet music for the Messiah. maybe left over from Easter Sunday? Hard to imagine this guy singing, let alone singing something as rousing and joyous as the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. No barking for him!

Traffic bogs down and after about a mile I see why – a rear-ender has torn off the entire rear bumper of a car and the crumpled chunk of metal is laying in the center lane, forcing cars to go around it. The 2 cars involved have pulled over to the side and we go past them, picking up speed. Around the corner of the Eastshore Park and the baby Egrets are all out plodding around in the shallow water, their new white feathered selves brilliant against the gray water.

It’s a sparkling sunny morning and as we come across the bridge, the sun momentarily hits the peak of the Transamerica Pyramid building creating a showering ray of light, reminiscent of the old RKO Radio Tower logo. We’re in the city by 7:45.

Monday April 5 Sun and Showers


6:40 a.m. Vallejo

Fortified with plenty of Easter chocolate, I’m highly motivated to be up early to get to the gym. A very cold wet Easter weekend here and this morning is more of the same. Two ladies are hovering at the riders’ line, indecisive about which car to get into. I go ahead and get into the first car, an older Toyota pickup. The driver is a grizzled older guy with long gray old-hippie pony-tail hair. He’s a painter, clad in old overalls with lots of paint splattered tools on the dash and poked into the cup holder. This is definitely a working vehicle for him.

“No one wants to ride with me this morning. I wonder why” he says. I diplomatically point out that perhaps the two ladies probably wanted to ride together (which they couldn’t do in this 2 person pickup). “No, he says, “they weren’t together, they just didn’t want to ride with me. I don’t know why riders are so picky – it’s a free ride.” I agree, but tell him that some people prefer a newer vehicle, or a larger one, or maybe are waiting for a friend. I add that some ladies are reluctant to ride alone with a male driver. I am quick to add – before we pick up speed on the freeway – that I avoid dangerous drivers who drive too fast. He agrees that would be a definite consideration.

He’s been driving and occasionally riding in the casual carpool for about 10 years and asks me if I know a lady named Barbara, who used to be what some of us in the line called a ‘monitor’ for the carpool line. I may have known who Barbara was, but not by name. The whole ‘monitor’ thing used to amuse me no end, when I took casual carpool home at the end of the day (now I usually take BART or the Ferry – the carpool line at 5 PM is L O N G, and the wait for a ride is often an hour). The self appointed monitors were riders who would position themselves at the head of the line, and as drivers approached, would urge them to take more riders. This was done by holding up fingers on their hand, leaning forward and calling out (depending on the size of the vehicle), “3, can you take 3?”, or “4, take 4 riders!” These people were great, like cheerleaders, and the whole pack of people waiting in line would be energized by them. And they were very effective. Many drivers would acquiesce to their urgings and take an additional passenger or two, which helped move the line along considerably.

One lady monitor in particular (and perhaps this was his friend Barbara) was very enthusiastic in her urgings, and one evening when a large van pulled up she persuaded the driver to fill his van and take 6 passengers, and she called out to the line “6, roll ’em out, 6 riders!”

My driver said that Barbara had been hit by a car at the Vallejo car pool line area, one evening after work when she had been dropped off and was crossing the street to return to her parked car. I have long thought that this was a dangerous situation. It’s a busy street, just off the freeway, and gets chaotic with riders being dropped off, drivers making u-turns, cars pulling into the car pool lot (which is also a Greyhound Bus station), and there is no 4-way stop or street light there.

I asked when this had happened, and he said several years ago. I also wondered if she had survived, since he was speaking of her in the past tense. “Yeah, she made it, but it was a hit and run, and the driver left her for dead. They airlifted her to a hospital and she was there for quite awhile. She recovered, but never rode carpool again.” He got to know Barbara through the carpool. They discovered they were neighbors, and worked near each other in San Francisco, so she was a regular rider with him, whenever their schedules coincided. “She worked for a law firm, and they were real nice to her. It took her almost a year before she could go back to work. They never found the guy who hit her.”

Our ride today is moving quickly – almost like a Friday. It may still be a Spring holiday for some who have not returned to work. We’re almost over the bridge by 7:20. The driver asks me where I work, and when I tell him, he says he goes right by there and is happy to drop me off. Wonderful – a ride right to my door. I picked a great ride this morning.

Thursday, April 1


Vallejo 7:35 a.m.
Very late. I’m super sore from my gym exertions and have overstretched something in my back. No gym today, and oh how I wish no work, but tomorrow (Good Friday) begins 3 days off, so there’s that.

Happily, today’s ride is just what the doc ordered. A really luxurious Mercedes sedan with the driver a lovely young woman beautifully coifed and red-nailed manicured (although jean clad for her Friday), smiling and as gracious as a flight attendant. The tape she’s playing says “SPA” on the dash screen and it is soothing and mellow. I let my tortured back muscles sink into the perfect leather seats and gaze out the window at a landscape that makes me think of fjords or Iceland or far away steppes.

The land is gray and shadowed and the water of the bay is shades of icy blue and gray. Cruising past Berkeley there’s that knock-out view of San Francisco, today looking like a distant land of Oz – all misty turrets and towers.

Up onto the bridge at 8:10 a.m. over the calm slate gray Pacific water. The murmuring sounds of the tape and this still, cool view lend a sense of time stopped – of something waiting to happen.

The egg to hatch, the bud to bloom, the sun to warm. Happy spring holidays to us all.

Wednesday, March 31 Out Like a Lion?


Vallejo, 6:40 AM
It’s very cold today – in the 40s, and the forecast through Easter Sunday isn’t a whole lot better. I woke up to the light of a wonderful full moon streaming through the windows and it is still visible as the sky lightens, above the clouds over the bay.

We’re in a Honda sedan this morning. The front seat passenger hobbled into the car, very carefully and painfully, wearing a black soft leg cast. I asked her what happened.
“It happened at work, when I was getting on an elevator,” she said. “The elevator dropped as I was stepping into it, and I was saved from falling down into the shaft by the people next to me. They grabbed my arms and held me up.” She went on to relate how, as she was dangling above the shaft, the elevator came back up and down a few times, hitting her leg. I don’t know how she can even talk about it. Terrifying. Like something out of a Bruce Willis movie.

We are rolling at 65 mph all the way today – even through Berkeley. The storm has been clearing as we go along and the City is looking very pretty from across the bay. All pink and gold with soft clouds touching the tallest buildings. Up onto the Bay Bridge with the morning sun at our backs. There’s Treasure Island, which always looks like a movie lot to me. Several enormous left-over military warehouse type buildings look just like Warner Brothers sound stages. Not a bad idea for the future of the island – sell it to one of the studios. A great location!

Our driver is a gentleman in his 50s. Cordial, quiet, good driver. Warm car. Mmm.