There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, September 3, 2007

The day after the transitarian Summer of Love

From a transitarian perspective, the 40th anniversary Summer of Love free concert in Golden Gate Park was a real trip, man.

Sorry, I'm still coming down off the second-hand smoke high from the five and a half hours we spent in Speedway Meadows on Sunday.

The wife, the kid and I started the trip driving to the Amtrak station. Sacramento Regional Transit just couldn't get us to the station before 7:40 a.m. from the No. 82 bus that runs in front of our house. So we had a choice of driving to Watt/I-80 and paying $10 in roundtrip fares for two adults and a kid, or we could leave a half-hour later and drive downtown in Sunday morning traffic -- you could count on one hand the number of cars on the road at any one time -- and pay just $6.50 for all-day parking.

We arrived at the Amtrak station with enough time to find a Park and Pay machine that worked. The first one didn't. We had ordered the Amtrak tickets on-line -- two adults and a kid (15) roundtrip for $105 -- and picked them up at the station.

As we waited to board the train to Richmond it was apparent we weren't the only passengers heading for the concert, if tie-dyed shirts and peace symbol earrings were any indication.

The train left on schedule and by the time we reached Davis the kid was asleep and the wife was across the aisle, stretched across two seats, reading. The view from the train is mostly industrial but between Martinez and Richmond it was quite picturesque.

We arrived at Richmond at 9:08 a.m. To get to the BART station you just walk downstairs and across a lobby to the BART ticket machines. Unfortunately, I'm such an amateur with the BART machines that we missed the 9:15 train to Oakland and had to wait for the next one.

We boarded a Fremont-bound train at 9:35 a.m. with a few dozen other riders. But with each stop the train filled. By the time we reached MacArthur station in Oakland the train was standing room only. The switch from the Fremont train to the Daly City train was painless, with the connecting train arriving within two minutes. But the train was crowded and I ended up pressed against the door. I nervously watched the door jump around as we barrelled under San Francisco Bay.

At our stop at the Montgomery station in San Francisco we exited the train and walked up the stairs to Market Street. The No. 5 Muni bus stop was just beyond the BART station on Market Street.

At this point we joined a growing number of people excitedly heading to the concert. As we waited, several were discussing where to get off on Fulton Street on the north side of the park.

When the No. 5 bus finally arrived, a long line of riders queued to get on. By the time everyone was on, the bus was more crowded than I have ever witnessed in Sacramento. At the next stop, an equal number of people boarded and now the bus was so crowded that the concept of personal space had been squeezed off the bus entirely.

The driver started skipping stops, leaving behind many people who wanted to board, but then he had to let a lady off. When he opened the rear side door, a crowd of people rushed the bus. About a half-dozen managed to board, but we were stuck there until another half-dozen abandoned their attempt to get on and cleared the door.

Squeezed in the rear of the bus with an unbelievable number of riders, I tried to imagine this happening in Sacramento.

In your dreams, I thought. Sacramentans whine loudly if they have to stand, let alone stand touching other riders.

Actually, it wasn't that bad. The wife and I ended up striking up a conversation with a woman who is the academic director for fashion design at the Art Institute of California at San Francisco and her husband, who were also on their way to the concert. My son is an art major, and we spent much of the ride discussing admissions policies.

Eventually the bus arrived at Fulton Street and 24th Avenue and everyone going to the concert got off. We had planned to get off at 30th, but this appeared to work just as well. It was a short walk on a dirt path to the boundary of the meadow at John F. Kennedy Dr.

We found a place to sit at just before 11:30 a.m. We were probably 200 yards from the stage, maybe a little more.

As expected, the crowd had a significantly higher percentage of paunchy, gray-haired attendees. The kid was given an opportunity to wander and take photos. You can see his photos here. It occurred to me that I was his age when the original concert was held. That was the symmetry of the trip to the concert.

The wife created this clip during the Jefferson Starship performance (with a young stand-in for Grace Slick):

The trip back worked just as well in reverse. Forwarned of the crowded conditions on the No. 5 bus, we walked to 30th Avenue to board, rather than 24th Street. We got on; people waiting at 24th didn't. The bus was mobbed at the next stop when someone got off. Again we had to wait until people rushing the bus gave up. BART to Amtrak and Amtrak home was a smooth, uneventful experience.

On the Amtrak ride home I napped. Try that on Interstate 80 after a long day in The City. The rocking motion of the train and the moaning of the horn were very relaxing.

We were in Sacramento at 8:45 p.m., 13 hours after we left.

"Well, you pulled it off," said the wife. "It worked really well."

We were all, including the kid, glad we made the trip.


Jim said...

Thanks for describing your itinerary and experiences! My wife and I are going to take the family to San Francisco, hopefully in a few weeks, and it's good to hear transit success stories for this multi-agency trip.

John said...

In the past, we have driven from Sacramento to BART and then taken BART into The City. This was the first time we tried taking Amtrak. It was a bit pricey, but it was very convenient. And if you have kids who don't travel well strapped down in the backseat of the car, train travel can even be useful.

My son went to an elementary school where for each grade there was a big field trip. For sixth grade, the class spent several days and nights in San Francisco. They had to plan out all of the places they wanted to see and how they would get to the places using public transit. They were given bus passes. The parent chaperons were told to only intervene in life-threatening situations. Otherwise, the kids were on their own. (This was really hard for the parents of sixth-graders to do.) It was quite an urban adventure.