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  • Waiting for a ride

Thursday, May 27 Eeeyoo! (achoo!)

More chilly rain for today and tonight, but the Memorial Day weekend forecast is for HOT! Too bad I’ll miss it. I’m off to NYC on Saturday for a week in the great big apple. So I’ll miss the bay area’s probably brief warm weather, but it looks like they’ll keep it warm for me on the east coast.

Today’s ride is pretty bad. The vehicle, a Honda CRV, looked promising, but once I opened the door, I should have turned around. Trash and clutter around the seat is a bad sign and there was that aplenty. Once I got in and closed the door, it got even worse. The guy driving had a huge cold. Yuk. A real juicy, nose-running-off-his-face disgusting noises head cold. He kept fumbling for kleenex from a box between the front seats, and as we entered the freeway he swerved the car in the middle of a giant sneeze. Honestly, if we had not been entering the freeway, I would have asked him to let me out of the car. Once we’re really underway, I see he’s a bad driver to boot. The speedometer moves up to 80 mph while he’s tailgating and changing lanes. Luckily, the rain begins to really come down and he’s forced to slow down with the rest of the traffic. In between sneezes and blows the driver plops a cherry in his mouth from a small, damp awful looking plastic container perched in front of the box of kleenex.

The one saving feature of this ride is NPR radio, which I listen to intently to keep my mind off this revolting ride. Fortunately, the trip is brief – traffic is light, and we’re across the bridge by 7:50 a.m.

This morning was one of the few times I’ve had a post-ride conversation with my fellow passenger. As we left the car and started down Fremont Street, we both looked at each other, shaking our heads. “I hope I don’t get that cold”, I say. “I’m on vacation next week.” “That’s what I was thinking, too,” the guy from the back seat said. “I just got over one, and don’t want another. Not a good ride today.” We wish each other a good day and move on to our workday.

Wednesday, May 26 Breathe!

A damp chilly morning, but the air smells beautiful. Fresh, with all the bewitching aromas of the trees and plants and grasses blasting away. Great! A short wait for a ride. I turn down the first offering – a red mini cooper. My 2 previous rides in this car have been terrifying. Like being in a high-speed chase. I defer the ride to the couple behind me (“we’re together”, she says). She is a petite 20-something and he, about the same age, must be at least 6 foot 2. The line up of riders watches while they tuck themselves into the tiny car. The girl gets in the back and then Mr. Tallboy somehow folds himself into the front. As they drive off we see his knees pressed into the dash and he doesn’t look happy.

I’m next and get into the back seat of another red vehicle, but larger, a Jeep SUV. The driver is about 50 and his front seat passenger, already in the car with him, appears to be his mother. He greets me warmly and we chat briefly about the weather then off we go. Plastic covers the floor of the back seat, a Forever 21 shopping bag full of (not Forever 21) clothing sits on the seat next to me. The woman in the front seat starts speaking a rapid fire non stop Spanish monologue which continues for the duration of the trip. I see her ancient hands reflected in the window. They are calloused, worn, hard working hands. She holds a Starbuck’s paper cup and a breakfast bar. A small white plastic cross hangs from the mirror, and numerous religious medals and Lotteria cards decorate the car’s ceiling. A large strawberry shaped air freshner dangles from the car’s ceiling light and is emitting an awful smelling deodorizer, next to a gold sequined butterfly ornament, which is pinned to the ceiling.

Traffic is terrible but not in our happy car pool lane. We hit the bridge at 7:45 along with the sun and arrive in San Francisco at 8 am.

Tuesday, May 25 Rain, rain go away

I’m in the back of a big Nissan suv. A tiny woman is driving and she’s wearing a fabulous cotton turtleneck sweater. The colors are gorgeous – all pastel stripes – pink, yellow, orange, green, blue, gray. A white plastic rosary hangs from the mirror. Her black jacket and a faux-leopard computer case ride near me in the back seat. A small video screen stares up at me from between the front seats.

The sky gets increasingly dark as our trip progresses. Rain is imminent and is forecast for the entire day. Traffic is very heavy this morning. At 7:40 a.m. we round the corner by Golden Gate Race Track and enter the Berkeley ‘corridor’ which is 4 full lanes of traffic crawling towards the Bay Bridge and points beyond. At the end of this corridor, the traffic divides at a complex intersection known as “The Maze”, where freeways 80, 580, and 880 all merge. The 80 freeway, which is my commute, continues on over the Bay Bridge; the 580 and 880 take you to Oakland, Alameda, and the Oakland Airport. As we continue in the carpool lane on towards the bridge, we experience what I consider one of the carpool lane’s finest moments – where we bypass the toll gates and whiz past hundreds of cars slowly oozing through the toll area.

Looks like trouble on the bridge with 3 tow trucks and 2 CHP cars all stopped in the right hand lane, lights flashing madly. Some unknown disaster. Once we’re past them we pick up our speed and are across the bridge and in the city at 8 a.m.

Friday, May 21 Gas and Oil, Toll and Trouble.

Snow is predicted today on the higher elevations of the bay area. Who says’s there’s no climate changing going on? A cold but mercifully brief wait for a great ride in a VW Passant. Very pretty woman driving with a wonderfully rich and melodic latina accent. She turns on the heater that warms the seats and it is wonderful. Ahh. We discuss the weather and agree that the planet is definitely undergoing a major shift. And now it looks like the Gulf oil spill may become an international incident as well, with the oil spreading to waters around the globe.

The rider in the back seat falls asleep as we continue to chat about the soon-to-be toll charge for casual carpool. The driver asks me, “Will you object to paying the driver $1.25?” I give my usual spiel – no of course not. It is not the drivers fault that the only simple minded solution to the over-runs on the bridge and freeway repairs is to raise the toll. And to put at risk a beautiful commute solution known as Casual Carpool.

I ask her if she will let riders ride if they do not pay, and she emphatically says “NO! it is not worth it to me to pick up people if I have to pay gas and parking plus the toll. If they do not want to pay, they cannot ride with me”. We agree this is going to be hard on the casual carpool. In today’s setting of environmental desperation where we need to get rid of our gas-guzzling cars (or at least use them less), and use more public and shared transportation, why, why cannot toll authorities, public transportation officials and our elected representatives see that we need to make a drastic departure from the way we are doing this. We’ve got to stop relying on the oil that has cost countless lives and misery in the Middle East, pollutes every breath we take, and now is destroying our oceans. Eventually, of course, the oil will run out and we’ll have no choice.

The lovely driver says, “In other countries, people protest, complain, make noise, but here we are quiet, until it is too late.”

I consider what she’s said. It’s true – not enough of us attend public meetings, sign petitions, join protest groups, write to our representatives. Maybe we’re just too tired from commuting.

Tuesday, May 18 A slow day

I’m moving slowly this morning and am half an hour later than I should be. After 7 AM the line of riders is usually long and the cars are few. So I wait. And wait. But here’s a lovely ride in a new Chevrolet sedan. Spacious and comfy and the driver invites a 3rd passenger, so we are 4 and a full load. We all thank her and comment on why people don’t usually take more riders when they have the room. “I’ve heard them say it makes the car out of balance and uses more gas”, she smirks. “That’s nonsense!” The front seat passenger says she’s heard it has something to do with the insurance. “More nonsense”, says our no-nonsense driver as she heads out onto the freeway. She’s a 50s something Eve Arden type. (Go Google Eva Arden, a terrific actress whose career began in the 30s). I remember Eve Arden in an early TV series called “Our Miss Brooks”. It was also an even earlier radio series. Younger blog readers may remember Ms. Arden as the high school teacher in Grease and Grease 2. Check it out and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Traffic is awful, even in the cp lane and we slog along. My rear seat companion, a youngish Asian-American fellow, is sound asleep next to me. A bit of sun is making its way through the thick fierce-looking clouds covering the bay and as we roll past Berkeley I see the sun is hitting the pale buildings of the City. The Spring tide is out leaving a shallow shoreline. 8:15 AM and we are in San Francisco.

Monday, May 17 – I’m back and Bay to Breakers is over!

Monday morning, the day after the 99th Annual Bay to Breakers run in San Francisco – and my first go at it! I did it. 7.46 miles in 2 hours, 15 minutes. I walked – briskly – rather than running – in deference to a damaged knee, but it was still quite a work out. Sorry to have abandoned the Commuter Gal blog, but daily workouts at the gym plus a heavy time of year at work kept me away. I can’t believe I walked across San Francisco. It was great. Wow.

My ride today is a warm, luxurious Mercedes sedan with a diminutive, accountant-type lady driver. The weather is like November. Drizzly, 50 degrees and the prediction for the rest of the week is the same. Yuk. Traffic is fairly heavy today – at 7:20 a.m. – but today, for the first time in many I am not rushing to get to the gym to hop on the treadmill before work. I’m taking a day off.

We pass a stalled, broken-down commuter bus about half way down the 80 Freeway. What a drag for that bunch of folks. I’ve had a few carpool breakdowns. All very unpleasant. One was on a hot day returning home in the early evening commute. The driver’s car heated up and was smoking. The other rider and I had to give him our bottled waters to pour in the radiator. Really. It was ridiculous, but we made it home. One other time a car ran out of gas on the Bay Bridge (“my fuel gauge doesn’t work”, the driver said, “and I guess I underestimated how much gas to put in. Sorry”. Uh huh.) and last year the new lovely car I was in just stopped running. All systems failed. A highway patrol halted traffic on the 80 and pushed us over to the side of the road where we waited for a mechanic. I and the other rider wound up having to take BART the rest of the way in – the mechanic gave us a ride to BART and the driver graciously gave us money for our fare.

As we cruise past Berkeley and Emeryville today I look across the bay to the City and it is a dark, gloomy vista. Not a glimmer of sunlight. The marshlands at the end of the East Shore Park are quiet with only two terns gliding in the pools. We quickly pass the gridlocked toll lanes approaching the bridge and join the slow-moving traffic on the bridge. The quiet empty bay on my right is a contrast to the packed, squirming impatient commuter pack on my left. What a deal. We’re in the City at 8 a.m.