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  • Waiting for a ride

THE CARPOOL MIX


TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 2011
A sunny morning, short line of riders and I’m soon settled into the comfy back seat of a big, shiny white Nissan Maxima. I turned down the first ride (car was small, filthy, driver looked unfocused) and was glad I did. I no longer have qualms about being a bit picky about my rides. I am paying my way, after all.

We take off on this lovely morning, three ladies. The driver, an African-American lady in her 40s, with a stylish short, spiky hair-cut, designer dark glasses, power suit and the front seat passenger, a diminutive Asian lady in her 50s, a beige cloth coat, and me in the rear, the Caucasian lady dressed-for-the gym-before-work Commuter Gal. The casual carpool throws people together at random, sometimes in funny ways.

Like the day I saw an impeccably dressed fellow, perhaps 50-something, squeeze into the back seat of a brilliantly colored VW bug. The two guys in the front seat, who were together, were chuckling around with their wild hair, tatoos, and loud sounds coming from the tape deck. From the look on his face we could see the passenger had realized his mistake too late as they zoomed off. Or the lady rider who always had a box of kittens with her and usually a large bag of bird feed as well. She would interrogate the drivers about the car’s temperature and choice of music before she accepted the ride. I used to see her clutching her kitten-carrier and feeding the pigeons at the old Transbay Terminal. She once told me she rounded up stray kittens to take to the SF Humane Society.

I often see car pools out there on the freeway made up of unlikely combinations of people – serious readers as passengers and a very flamboyant driver jabbering on her cell phone; an older, solid driver with a young girl in the front seat meticulously applying her make up and a large angry looking lady in the back seat on an animated cell phone call. Or a construction guy’s pick up truck with a pair of Montgomery Street executives squeezed in the rear and front seats. For a long while there was an immensely over-weight and odiferous passenger who would barely be able to climb into the unfortunate waiting car, and once he did the entire passenger side of the car would lower at least 6 inches. I was the rear seat passenger with him once. Only. I haven’t seen him for awhile.

Usually the mix is not so dramatic and much of the time the ride with strangers is not so strange – we are all sharing the agony of getting up early and having to commute for the better part of an hour or more just to get to work. Most of us share a sense of humor about the commute and its frustrations and enjoy the exchange of conversation or just the the quiet time to read and ponder.

Today’s comfortable ride was fast (for the carpool lane, anyway – about 40 minutes), and we 3 ladies expressed our thanks and wishes for a good day to each other as we left the car and went on our way.

A Ride and a Chat in a Z Car


TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8
Somewhat hesitantly, I step into a 2-seater sports car this morning, small, but not tiny and very comfortable, even with all my usual commuting gear.

Pleasant guy at the wheel. I can tell he loves his car and I ask him what it is – “It’s a Z 2006”. I later learned that Z’s are a Japanese car, manufactured by Nissan. Z cars hold the record as the best selling sports car of all time – over 2 million have been sold. Z owners love their cars!

This Z driver in a bright orange long-sleeved t-shirt, is a regular casual carpool driver and is an SF MUNI bus driver as well. “I love seeing the people and giving them a ride’, he says with a big smile. He’s a terrific driver and I feel relaxed and safe in the car. We talk about public transportation and agree that without MUNI San Francisco would be paralyzed. “And some people say we’re overpaid! We have to be more than just a driver of a vehicle. I have to be a policeman, fireman, attorney, counselor, tour guide, all on top of driving the bus.”

I tell him that I recently learned (SF Chronicle’s Matier & Ross Monday, February 7) that SF’s about-to-be former police chief Heather Fong, who will be leaving SF Hall of Justice some time this year, will leave with an ANNUAL pension of $229,500.

He exclaims “And the city has these huge projects going on, too! “The new Transbay Terminal plus the underground extension of BART under Stockton Street. Who’s paying for all this?” Take a look in the mirror, fellow taxpayers. Our votes on the ballot agreed to salary and pension increases for fire and police officers in 2002, after the 9/11 fall out.

We talk more about the frustrations of traffic and commuting, (we’re both concerned about the new tolls for commuters) and his special frustrations as a city bus driver. “People walk right out in front of us without looking. They’re on their cell phones, or trying to beat the light. But it’s still the best job I ever had!”

We’re soon over the bay bridge and into a sunny San Francisco morning. A great ride, a great driver and a super car.

Out with the Old, In with the New – 2011 is here


Tuesday, January 4, 2011. Groan. It’s time to get up at 5:15 a.m. and go back to work, after nearly 2 wonderful weeks off. A hard start to the new year. Huge fog going on this morning and we can barely see out the windshield en route to the casual carpool. As the sky begins to lighten, the fog clears slightly. My first carpool ride of 2011 is in a big Ford Pickup with a roomy and comfortable back seat for me and my stuff. Both driver and truck are very tidy and organized. His jacket and satchel are neatly stowed behind the driver’s seat. Driver is wearing a dark plaid shirt and black trousers. Crisply neat hair-cut, slicked back. With the combination of the country music on the radio and the pick-up truck, this guy would look right at home wearing a cowboy hat. The passenger in the front seat talks about the weather for awhile, actually for quite awhile, and then settles down.

We take off in light fog, but as we cross the Carquinez Bridge it’s like being in an airplane. No bridge, no water, no visuals at all. Just thick, thick fog. Sight returns after we get across the bridge and traffic is moving along. A last spectacular look at the fog just before we round the corner to the bay bridge – it lays like delicate lace over the shallow water near the shore.

OLD YEAR/NEW YEAR. It’s time for the old to make way for the new and in California we have our new Governor (Jerry Brown, inaugurated in Sacramento yesterday, California’s 39th governor). It’s a tight budget for him to work with (a $28 billion deficit). I hope this doesn’t impact us commuters with yet more tolls and restrictions and higher mass transit fares.

The old Oakland-Bay Bridge is gradually being taken over by the emerging new Bay Bridge and its 525 foot tower. The tower’s fourth and final section will be in place in March, 2011, and the bridge is now expected to be completed in 2 more years – 2013. We’ll be feeling some of that work in early summer when the lanes get re-routed again.

This morning, as I walked up from the carpool drop off to my bus stop on Market Street, I was shocked to see all the open space where the Transbay Terminal used to be. A lot happened during my 2-week absence. You can check out a speeded up-time-lapse video of some of the demolition at
transbaycenter.org/construction-updates/construction-cameras/demolition- camera. It’s fascinating watching the site grow dark as night falls, and gradually light up with the morning light and traffic. This winter will see the end of the demolition and the beginning of the new foundation construction.

I’ve been looking at new cars – it’s getting time to retire the old Hyundai. I plan to get a hybrid, but have been so happy with my Hyundai Elantra, I’d like to continue with Hyundai. Especially after reading December’s reports from both the auto insurance industry and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Topping their lists of the safest new vehicles for 2011 is Hyundai Genesis (large sedan) and the Hyundai Sonata (mid-sized). Hyundai even got a high mark from the auto insurance people on its small SUV, the Hyundai Tucson.

Happy New Year to us all and safe commuting.

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.

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/.

Friday, August 6 – The week ends and so does the Transbay Terminal


Wednesday and Friday rides take off once again in the chilly gray fog. (I stayed home Thursday). Amazing that only 10 miles away it’s 80 and 90 degree weather. We are cursed with this heavy fog bank along the coast of California this summer and it is a drag. Refreshing, no doubt for visitors from the steamy east. After a frosty 10-minute wait, Wednesday’s ride is a Toyota SUV. The driver was a high energy guy in a crisp dress shirt and jeans. A big good morning. As I handed over my toll dollar I asked him if the riders were all paying up. “Oh yes, everyone is real good about it”. The other passenger pays $1.25.

Today (Friday) I was happy to see a line of about 20 or 30 cars waiting for riders. I hopped into a Nissan SUV driven by an Islander-looking lady in a bright chartreuse sweater. A crystal bead rosary swung from the mirror as we took off, flying down the nearly empty freeway at 70 mph. One cup holder appears to hold toll donations, the other was filled with yellow butterscotch candies in shiny cellophane. The cool air was on (it’s 54 degrees) – an ongoing mystery to me why drivers turn on the air conditioning in this weather. Near Berkeley a lone pelican flapped through the super heavy gray fog over the freeway blanketing the bay area this morning. I saw the rest of his flock further on down the freeway, swooping, as only pelicans can, over the bay. The Golden Gate Bridge was invisible in the muck and the city appeared to end at Nob Hill. We whizzed past a nearly empty toll plaza and into the city at 8 a.m.

I walked up to the Transbay Terminal for my last bus ride from the 70 year-old building. Demolition begins next week. I asked the driver, “This is the last day I’ll catch my bus here, right?”. “Yah, historical day”, he says with a heavy Russian accent. “Very historical.” He’s excited about the change in locations and goes on to give me a completely incomprehensible description of the new bus routing and where I’ll be catching my bus on Monday. But I’ll figure it out – the new temporary terminal is only a couple of blocks away and is highly visible – all white metal struts poking up into the air. The driver adds that the original plan was to have the buses pull inside the terminal to pick up passengers, but that changed when the city realized it could make better ($) use of the indoor space for vendors, so riders will continue to catch buses outside, as we have been doing at the old terminal.

And so the fifth week of the new bridge tolls ends. And the end of the summer that never was is not far off. But here’s the weekend once again and let’s make the most of it. See you Monday.