I’m a hick from Hawaii. After the last fifteen years on Maui with its mellow two-to four lane roads, I’ve lost the ability to navigate heavy, multi-lane traffic in new places. On this trip to San Francisco I decided not to rent a car: just save the headaches of driving and parking (which my daughter, who I’m staying with, told me were numerous.)
The main event of this trip has been the arrival of my brand-new niece. We decided to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to my sister’s house in the East Bay get me in the mode of travel that will be my main way of getting around for the next week as Tawny has to go to work, leaving me on my own at the house (not that self entertaining is ever hard, for a writer!)
The adventure to the East Bay began with a walk to the BART station. It was STEEP. Apparently San Francisco has a lot of hills. There were semi-ominous hand-lettered signs warning of “we will broken your hands” to those who’d been, apparently, getting into parked cars on the road. The “Ingleside” area Neighborhood Watch has a vigilante streak!
Then, we went down into the bowels of the earth—lined with concrete, of course, and smelling of cigarettes and urine. (To preface this whole discourse—the last time I rode a subway was in 1983 when I went to Boston University from Kaua`i. I remember being equally bug-eyed and rattled.)
Tawny oriented me on the mysteries of the Clipper card and adding money, then showed me how Google Navigation pulled up the schedules by just putting in your desired destination and mode of travel. She walked me through the turnstile and down to the platform. “How do we know which one it is?” I kept asking.
“They all go to the same places, so it doesn’t really matter,” she told me. Three times.
The train’s approaching roar filled my ears with the howl of a thousand trapped demons, and it whizzed up, throwing dust in my (bulging) eyes. The doors flew open with a clang and the interior yawned like the mouth of a subterranean beast. “Come on Mom,” Tawny said, tugging my arm because I was clinging to the schedule sign.
We went in and sat down on the Pregnant and Handicapped seat because “I want you to watch our route as we go” and the map was directly in front of me.
The train started with a lurch and I yelled (over the shrieking banshees that apparently carry this hell-beast to each destination) “Where are the seatbelts?”
“What could we hit? It’s a train, Mom!” she yelled back. This information is relatively meaningless to me as a writer. My imagination is capable of providing any number of disastrous things to hit. Anyway, we made it to our destination without incident (except my hyperventilation as we went under the length of the San Francisco Bay at warp 11, causing my ears to pop) and had a lovely visit with my sister and her beautiful family.
On the way back, I headed for the same deck we’d arrived on.
“Mom, we’re returning, so we are on the train heading the other way,” Tawny said, with the talking-to-a-toddler note that had begun creeping into her voice. This is the kind of error in cognitive processing that makes my hands clammy with fear about doing this by myself. By the time we settled in our (non-handicap) seats, I was so tired from all the excitement I actually almost fell asleep. The yowl of metal-on-metal, the banging and rocking, were sort of becoming womblike, reduced to overwhelming, thought-canceling white noise.
I told myself these were safe and friendly sounds, and almost believed it by the end, using some of my anxiety-reducing self-hypnosis techniques. And then I got so relaxed I would have missed our stop if Tawny hadn’t got up and tugged my hand.
Tomorrow I do this all alone, and throw in a ferry ride to boot. Wish me luck.
This made me remember riding on the Metro in Mexico City for the very first time when it was brand new and clean and had no thugs or gang members harassing people.
I am just unused to it, I think…
Toby, you’ll do fine. Remember it is your adventure and you are in control. It helps to review the map a bit before you leave so that street names and stops are familiar. Oh, and if you do get lost just use the app that Tawney showed you.
I love your thoughtful comment. I will bear that in mind. One cool thing is you could get on and off and then fix the mistake without paying if you made one.
You are so cool, Toby. I could never imagine myself visiting in a big city. I am country all the way, the largest town near us is either Orlando or Tampa, and I would not drive in either. Have lived here all my life, of course, 20 – 30 years ago, I drove all over the state!!!!!! See what happens as we age, but in reality, things have changed so much in the last years. Hope you are having fun, and do not get lost, LOL!!! I know you will be glad to get back home!!!! Take care, be safe.
You’re going to rock it! BART scared me to pieces at first, and I had to figure it out all on my own. It was absolutely horrible – until things clicked, and then it was my best friend. Once the pieces fall in to place, you’ll see how simple it is and you’ll see how awesome it is. I promise. 🙂
Oh good, I hope you’re right as my maiden voyage alone is tomorrow!
Just remember that you can always get off, switch platforms, and go back. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had to do that – forgot which stop I needed, wasn’t paying attention, fell asleep on the train… People do it all the time. No harm, no foul. It’s an enclosed system, you can’t get lost. It’s all good. YOU CAN DO IT! 😀
Just keep thinking mellow, island thoughts. We used to live in the East Bay and used BART periodically to get places. There are plenty of maps, places to sit and collect your thoughts, and that nice little app to straighten you out. Just think of it as an adventure and research. You never know when you might want to use a little bit of this experience in a future novel! Welcome to the mainland!