Bay To Breakers – 100 years


I just had to do it – the 100th Bay to Breakers, Sunday May 15. Last year was my first time and I’d thought my last, but the 100-year anniversary this year sounded like a special event I couldn’t resist. In preparation I’ve been going to the gym in the morning before work, doing ‘training walks’ on the weekends and getting shaped up for the 7.46 mile event.

Commute-wise, the best way to get to the race, especially if you’re outside the city, is public transportation. Baylink Ferries (the ferry from Vallejo) had a special Bay to Breakers 5:30 a.m. ferry. For me, that meant getting up at 4:30 a.m. – torturous to be sure, but better than taking a car and dealing with traffic and no parking. I ditched my plans for a costume because of the threat of rain and instead found a 99-cent plastic see-through poncho to take along. Although I only used it for part of the race, I was glad I had it.

After a chilly and wet start, the day turned out to be sunny and gorgeous. Because of added security and new regulations, the race was quite calm compared to last year and I missed the craziness and energy. No floats allowed this year, so there was no music along the way, except for a few groups of party folks along Fulton Street with boom boxes. 3/4 of the way, in Golden Gate Park, we passed several live bands. And there were still a few hearty naked folk, some even barefoot, too, but the outrageousness was missing. The best thing I saw was a guy in Golden Gate Park, near the Conservatory of Flowers, standing on a giant debris box. He was wearing a Barack Obama mask and holding a big sign that said “Thank you Navy Seals”. (this was of course, not long after the Bin Laden assassination). He looked bizarre jumping around up there on top of the box with that hilarious mask on.

I walked across the finish line at Ocean Beach about 2 hours after I began, smiling into the cameras, and looked around for my commemorative Bay to Breakers t-shirt. And the 100th Anniversary medal we were promised. I was told I’d have to walk about a quarter of mile back into the park, which I did, reluctantly. Enough walking, already! I was tired and hungry and my feet hurt but I trudged along. Finally, after about a mile there were long tables lined with boxes on one side and young, serious-looking volunteers on the other. The boxes held plastic wrapped commemorative medals. They were great! And now for the t-shirt I was promised. A volunteer said it was a little further up the road. By then hordes of runners were in the park and we could barely move. We walked and walked and no sign of t-shirts or signs indicating where they might be, and no one seemed to know. The runners I saw wearing the new t-shirts said they got them before the race. There were booths set up with free food samples (chips, cheeses, chocolate milk, peanut butter bars) and I managed to snag a few of those and sustain myself as I marched on.

I finally gave up on the t-shirt and joined my family for a delicious lunch at Tsing Tao – one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Richmond district, at 34th and Clement. And I decided to pay another $10 and just have the t-shirt sent to me. Yeah, I’m glad I did Bay to Breakers this year; it’s always a feeling of personal satisfaction to make it across that finish line, but I hope the city relaxes a little in the future and lets some of the craziness back into this wild, unique and very San Francisco celebration.

Valentine Carpool – Did you bring your pillow?


MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14
It’s a little drizzly and overcast, but no standing in line for the riders – a long line of rides is waiting for us. I hop into a Valentine-Day-Red Chevrolet truck – a Silverado. Very comfy and even some leg room in the back. The driver is a polite fellow with very short hair, practically bald and a weird-looking beard on his chin. He’s wearing camouflage clothing. A small green fish chochkee dangles from the mirror, looks like a bass. Traffic is bad, but the carpool lane has a definite advantage this morning and we make the 30+ mile commute in under an hour.

So what are you doing for Valentine’s Day? Chocolate, over-priced roses, romantic tea for two? Well, here’s an SF tradition that’s new to me, but will celebrate its 5th anniversary today. The Annual San Francisco Valentine’s Pillow Fight. It takes place today at 6 PM in Justin Herman Plaza (Embarcadero at Market – right in front of the Ferry Building). Check it out on U Tube – there are numerous videos of previous ‘Fights’ depicting the insanity of thousands of people beating each other with pillows. From time to time a pillow bursts open and the flying feathers add an aesthetic punch, especially to those with their mouths open. With the light drizzle out there this afternoon, the feathers may be sticking rather than flying. But it looks like the participants won’t mind either way.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Rainy Day Commutes


A few reflections from the past week’s car pooling . .
The day before the Thanksgiving holiday was a good day to stay in bed – a cold, wet and dreary day. But I was out on the freeway. My ride was the back seat of a super-sized pick up truck. The driver was a very young-looking guy with an earnest way about him. He asked if I had enough room and drove carefully. A series of Spanish CDs serenaded us on our trip. Several earlier accidents slowed us down. Heavy traffic in and out of the city. I wonder if more people are driving and avoiding the ‘patting’ and screening mess at the airports.

The following Tuesday, November 30 was cold, but not freezing. There was another spectacular sun rise show this morning. Brilliant shades of crimson. My ride was a Honda sedan and started off well. A crisp, business-suited fellow at the wheel was very solicitous about the heat, the reclining features of the seat, room for my bag. However, once on the road he was a terror at the wheel. Driving too fast, zipping in and out of lanes. All made worse by the fact there was very light traffic and lots of room for him to be crazy in. We made the normally 50 to 60 minutes trip in 30 minutes.

Wednesday, December 1 was another cold commute. I rode in an older model Volvo sedan. Not a bad ride except that there was no heat in the car, although the driver appeared to be fiddling with the dials throughout the trip. It was really uncomfortable. I felt like asking for my toll money back. Traffic was heavy and slow, prolonging the agony, although the carpool lane kept moving between 20 and 40 mph. I thought about the impending express lane conversion and if it had been in place on this ride, we would all be moving at about 10 miles an hour.

Thursday, December 2 I’m in a WARM Toyota Prius. 60s something driver is crisply white-shirted and suited. Yet another amazing sunrise. KCBS radio is talking about the November 11 Fastrack screwup. That was the day that traffic on the Bay Bridge was halted for several hours because of the disturbed driver who claimed he had a bomb. In an attempt to get traffic moving, the California Highway Patrol instructed drivers to turn around and take another route, which many did. Unfortunately, Fastrack counted that as illegal, and all those drivers were billed an additional $56. The transportation officials are working to straighten this one out.

Friday, December 3 I’m snug and warm in a Honda sedan. It’s a damp cold morning. Friday light traffic and the news today is that the wrecking ball will begin demolishing what’s left of the Transbay Terminal. I walk past the demolition each morning on my way up to Market Street and my bus, and today I stop for a final look. The old building is pretty well hollowed out, the roof and windows are gone. A surprising number of people have stopped to look and take pictures. The wrecking ball will strike at 10 a.m., after I’m at work. I say goodbye and trudge on.

Monday, December 6.
A break today in the week-end storm. No cars yet, but it’s not a long wait. I’m in the back seat of a Toyota. The driver is distracted as I and the front seat passenger get in. He seems to be reading an auto repair bill, and barely acknowledges us and our toll money. He’s wearing a cell phone ear device and a too-small black fedora style hat. With his black jacket and glasses, he looks like one of the Blue Brothers. Traffic is heavy so it’s slow-going this morning. I stay immersed in my book (The Coming, by Joe Haldeman) and have tuned out much of the ride, but I sense that this fellow is an aggressive driver. It really shows as we exit the bridge and get in the drop off line. A car cuts in front of him and he goes nuts. Tail gating and obviously angry. He’s further annoyed by the fact that the other rider and I do not spring from the car as he approaches the line. When we finally get out, the other passenger and I agree the guy was a road-rager and will not ride with him again.

Once again I walk past the rapidly vanishing old Terminal building, and although much of the building is now rubble, what shocked me was the destruction of the two 3-story pine trees that had been in front of the building, probably since it went up. I guess I knew they would go, but it’s hard to see trees that were so beautiful and majestic hacked down.

Tuesday, November 16 Changes in the Air


Today’s ride is in a VW sedan – a two-door. It’s a squeeze to get into the back seat but once I’m in it’s quite roomy. The couple in front seem to be together, both 30-somethings. The guy is driving – he’s a big fellow, probably 300 pounds. The lady is petite. It’s a golden morning, that special California sunlight that only we have. Traffic is awful. The carpool lane is great and is moving, but on heavy days like this many single drivers break the rules, taking a chance on a big ticket, and cut into our lane. So we all wind up slowing down. The warm weather is vanishing, but what a treat these few days have been. Autumn and Winter are about to move in along with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Each day when I exit the carpool at Fremont and Howard streets, I walk up Fremont to Market Street, where I catch my bus, the #2 Clement. (I have yet to try catching a bus at the new temporary bus terminal.) I’m sure many of you carpoolers walk the same way past the rapidly vanishing old Transbay Terminal. It’s been quite a dramatic demolition over the last couple of weeks. The overcrossing on Fremont street is completely gone, drastically changing the light on that street. Demolition is scheduled to take a total of 8 months, with 4 phases. We are now approaching Phase 3, which will include walls and windows and sidewalks. The crews have been working 24/7, scheduling the noisiest work for nights and weekends.

I walked slowly past the crumbling cement and naked iron supports of the old bulding this morning, recalling an article written by Callie Millner (SF Gate, August 16, 2010 – “Transbay Terminal thrown Under the Bus”). She expressed her surprise that there wasn’t a greater effort made to save the old building, or at least more noise made about it. She took one of the final tours through the place (sorry I missed that) and talks about the old diner and bar: “I was particularly taken with the old diner, which has a teal-and-butter color palette and a long teardrop of a counter. On the far right side of the diner, a shelf of plants were still green, and it wasn’t hard to imagine a former, bustling life for the place – complete with plastic-backed menus and uniformed waitresses slipping pies out of the old-fashioned refrigerated shelves above the sink.”

The architect for the old terminal, Timothy Pflueger. also designed the Castro and Paramount Theatres, 450 Sutter, and the SF Stock Exchange. Callie notes, “it’s loaded with historical features, many of which have been covered or shuttered for years: banks of phone booths, a long and lovely newsstand, an old state police office with a jail cell.” When I turn around at the corner of Market and Fremont and look back at the building, I can still feel the energy of the old place, and am glad to know that some of its artifacts are being preserved in historical museums and in other train and bus terminals.

Friday, October 29


The last commute day of the month (for most of us) and what a great ride for me!

A very gray overcast morning which felt more like the middle of the night than the morning – it was dark! The line of cars waiting for riders was wrapped around the block, so no waiting. I hopped into a commercial pick up truck (an electrical contractor), paid my toll and off we went. We chatted about the usual things – the weather, the traffic and in the pockets of silence I enjoyed the driver’s choice of music – classical. He was a very ordinary, electrical-contractor looking type kind of guy, in his late 40s or early 50s. Sort of a long crew-cut, workingman’s attire. He said he prefers classical music and is “tired of all the political advertising” on the commercial radio stations.

That got us into a political chat about the candidates (we don’t like Meg or Carly), the marijuana initiative (he’s not sure about it) and the general state of affairs (politicians are too busy being politicians and not tending to our business). As we drove through the relatively light Friday morning traffic, the sky lightened a bit and nearing Albany I saw a lone white egret, legs tucked straight out behind, flying above the freeway. Another mile down the freeway and a dozen wild ducks journeyd on their migratory way.

Near Berkeley there’s always a grand view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge, and the driver said he’d had the most amazing Golden Gate Bridge experience. “I got to climb up to the top of one of the towers”! I asked him how he managed that, and it was through a friend who’s an electrician with the bridge. He described the tiny elevator they rode in, and the walkway around the tower. He said it was a perfect, clear day and he got a great photo of Baker’s Beach and the City. A rare experience.

As we came over the Bay Bridge with the Ferry Building just below, he said he’d never been in the Ferry Building, although he is a native San Franciscan. I encouraged him (and all of you, too) to pay it a visit. Besides being of historical interest, it’s a delicious adventure in Acme Bread, Cowgirl Creamery and their dozens of delicious cheeses, plus great gelato, olive oil, a fish market with the freshest fish, books, gadgets, restaurants, all terrific. I frequently take the ferry home in the evenings and if I’m not dashing to make the ferry, stop and buy a loaf of bread or some fresh croissants from Acme. “I think I’ll take a ferry ride over one weekend and check it out”, he said.

We said our good-byes at Fremont Street to the background of a rousing piece by Bach on the radio. As I got out, walking up to my bus I had the feeling once again that the casual carpool can be a special very human experience, and is much more than bickering over the tolls. Happy Halloween to all. Our November commutes begin on Monday.

Monday, August 9 A last look


Off we go again and its another cold gray Monday. Many cars await, so I climb in the first ride, a big Ford van. Just me and the driver who must be some sort of construction guy. The rest of the van is filled with equipment. “I love this weather”, he says. I guess that’s why he has the air conditioning on. It must be about 40 degrees in this van. It’s a fast ride, about 40 minutes, and I’m wearing 2 sweaters and a muffler, so I survive.

I decide not to try the new Transbay Terminal, a couple of blocks away from the drop off corner, and walk on up to Market Street for my bus. As I walk past the old terminal, I see the bulldozers and heavy equipment already at work. At the corner of Mission and Beale, I turn back for another look at the old building, and see about 100 pigeons lined up all along the edge of the roof, watching (undoubtedly with dismay) as the bulldozers and heavy equipment begin tearing out the bushes and shrubs that face the terminal. I’m sure the pigeons and the other city birds will miss, as will I, the two giant pine trees that stand on each side of the block-wide lot. Those trees must be as old as the building.

For a great slide show of the final hours of the old terminal, and an eye witness account of the very last ride (that included champagne)!, check out this blog -http//transbayblog.com/2010/08/06/farewell-transbay-terminal/.

Wednesday, July 28 The Old Transbay Terminal – last chance to see it


I arrive at the Vallejo carpool line at 7:30 a.m. and am greeted with a wonderful long line of cars, all patiently waiting. My ride is a VW Passat, a great car. I recognize this driver and have ridden with him before. Suit and tie guy in his 50s, careful driver, nice temperature in the car. I give him $1, the rear passenger gives $1.25 and off we go. Traffic is still vacation-light and when we reach the toll gates, they are nearly empty. I glance at the on-going new bridge construction and remember this is an historic day for the new bay bridge. The first piece of the 525 foot tower will be put in place today. Once completed and lit up, it’s going to make a powerful architectural statement – one giant tower holding the cables for the 4 1/2 mile span.

Another major transportation project begins next week with the closing of the old Transbay Terminal at 1st and Mission Streets. Check out the website (www.transbaycenter.org). The proposed animated sketches you see are a HUGE departure from the old building – very light and airy. Construction on the new permanent terminal, which will be located where the old one now stands, will be ongoing for the next 7 years, and will centralize the region’s entire transportation network, including Caltrain and the High Speed Rail.

When the old terminal closes next Friday, August 6, all bus service will move to the new temporary terminal at Howard and Main Streets. A full list of bus stops at the temporary terminal can be seen at http://www.temporaryterminal.org. Us casual carpoolers, who line up on Beale, between Howard and Folsom, will have a front row view of the action at the temporary terminal, which is right across the street from our line up area.

The changes aren’t good news for everyone. Besides displacing a number of permanent homeless residents who’ve come to call the Terminal home, the demolishing of the 70-year old structure will end the lives of the giant trees that have provided shade, homes for hundreds of birds and one of the few living green environments in the south-of-Market chaos.

If you want a last look at the old terminal before it’s blasted away, there are hourly guided tours this FRIDAY, JULY 30. Meet at the ground floor entrance at 1st & Mission Street at noon, 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm or 4 pm.