Thursday, May 06, 2021

Bus Report #1069

 I took the 1 California bus downtown this afternoon, to meet S. for our first post-vaccine dinner together, my first dinner out since before the pandemic. 

The bus was not crowded at all, just a dozen or so women and a couple of men, everyone masked (some surgicals, one lovely embroidered one, one mask with Sanrio characters, and one patterned with the Giants logo), and everyone quiet, except for one woman who was listening to music on her headphones and singing to herself. 

The ride down California felt almost normal. Most of the shops and restaurants were open, a few new ones, a few empty storefronts, people walking around. 

A man got on the bus wearing a knit face mask that had stretched out ear bands and an open knit that would be useless to keep anything in or out. Ridiculous! I couldn't knit a better one, but that wasn't the point.

We crossed Fillmore and climbed the hill. I love the apartment building near the corner, the curved one with the multicolored doors on each floor. It always reminds me of a building from an Almodovar film. Out front, paramedics carefully loaded someone into an ambulance. I hope they were okay.

Van Ness, still under construction. 

On the next corner, an outdoor eating parklet. Redheaded smiling man turned and grinned into the bus from his seat.

New graffiti on the old Apple Market building.

Le Beau looked the same, and as we came over the hill and headed down into Chinatown the sun came out for a few minutes, making everything look fresh and bright.

The WHY? painted on the brickwork near Stockton always makes me smile and did again. 

I haven't been to Chinatown in over a year. It was quiet when I got out at Grant and Clay, the shopkeepers already closing up for the night at five to six at night. 

Lots of boarded up shops, plywood covering windows, with security gates pulled across for added measure. 

Li Po's closed, hopefully temporarily. 

People walked quickly down the sidewalk, hunched.

It was too quiet.

Please go to Chinatown when you can - grab food at a favorite restaurant, get a drink somewhere, perhaps at the tea place near Jack Kerouac Alley. Support our neighbors, please.

I ducked down the alley and found myself walking through the Vesuvio outdoor drinking area. All the seats occupied with a good mix of locals and tourists.

City Lights was open. I went in, browsed for a few minutes. A few sections have been moved but I found what I wanted and spent some time in the stacks. Found a new translation of a Guillermo Rosales book I didn't even know existed, rejoice! At the checkout counter the bookseller tucked a bookmark and a postcard into the book and I thanked him and wished him a good, safe evening.

Across the street I sat down to supper in the Tosca shared spaces parklet, ordered a cocktail and waited for S. 

North Beach was busier than Chinatown but honestly still felt too quiet. 

When S. arrived, we hugged for the first time in over a year. I could've crushed him, but I didn't. It wouldn't have been very friendly, you know?

Monday, April 12, 2021

Bus Report #1068

 Yesterday afternoon I crossed the park to meet up with S. for coffee and a walk.

I hopped on a 44 O'Shaughnessy and took my favorite seat, in the back, by the window.

The new normal, everyone heading for a solo seat, masked, quiet - at least on this bus.

Long-haired man with studded belt and wristbands, holding a dripping bag of food from Taco Bell.

Woman with short hair, the sides freshly razored with a zig zag design. Her mask was a pretty marigold color, thick, sturdy fabric.

At the next stop, a handful of folks in surgical masks filed in one at a time, took up distanced seats in the back.

The park, when we got to it, was full of people - walking, biking, roller blading, it was wonderful to see. Everyone having a good time. I hadn't seen the De Young open yet, but it was, people spilling from the doors or getting pictures taken in front of the huge photo of Frida Kahlo out front. 

A couple got on and sat behind me. 

"This is fantastic," said the man. "Just look at how many people are out enjoying themselves, and this bus goes right through it all!" 

I wanted to say, you're right, isn't it great, how can you not love public transit? But I didn't. Just sat with my face angled towards the open window and the breeze, and the sun. 

I jumped out at Lincoln and 9th and went to meet S. and her friends. 

At Arizmendi, I recognized some fellow Richmonders - all of us going for the good stuff (but for the love of S., do not come between her and her coconut croissant!)

After a walk, a coffee, and some quality park time, S. walked me to catch the 43.

This was the opposite of my earlier ride - the few people on the bus were not following proper Covid protocols - unmasked or partially masked, which really is the same if you ask me.

The driver stopped to take on a passenger at Haight and Masonic - a person with three trash bags, a huge yellow suitcase, a broken umbrella, and a filthy facemask that might have been blue in a previous life, but which was now a dark grubby brown. It took them a long time to drag their stuff to the bus and then to throw it inside.

The driver should've just not opened the door for them. I know it sounds heartless but Muni requires a fare and a proper mask to ride and this person had neither, and was already a problem before the doors even shut behind them.

We made it to the next stop but then the suitcase slid across the floor and got caught in the well of the leftmost door, making the doors stick open, and keeping us from moving. Instead of freeing their suitcase, the person just started shouting at the driver, "You better open the doors, you better open the doors or we can't go nowhere!"

The driver called out, "You gotta move your suitcase!"

The person shouted back, "I can't move the damn thing, not with the doors open!"

In all honesty, while the suitcase did look stuck, a good hard yank would have freed it but no one wanted to go near this person or their stuff. Finally, the driver walked to the back and pulled on the doors and forced them shut, and the person dragged the suitcase a few inches. "I told you," they muttered.

At Fulton the person shouted that this was their stop and that no one could enter through the back door until they were done getting all their stuff. Out went the trash bags. Out went the suitcase, skidding across the sidewalk until it rested upside down by a tree. Next came the umbrella and then finally the person got out.

They screamed at the handful of folks waiting to board, "You shoulda gotten in on the front!"

A woman with a dog and a man with three duffel bags had been waiting and the man said, "I can't get in on the front, not with all my bags."

The strange person disappeared around the corner, their stuff still strewn across the sidewalk.

A tiny, hunched man shuffled in through the front door and stood at the farebox dropping quarters into the box one at a time. Great, I thought. Longest shortest bus ride ever.

He got on, holding a mask in his hand but not putting it on. He sat across from the man with all the duffels.

"I hate wearing these," the tiny man said. "They're the worst."

The duffel guy nodded. "Yeah, you can't breathe with em on at all." He said this, and then proceeded to put another mask on top of the one he was already wearing.

I just shook my head, sucked my teeth, tried to look annoyed but that is hard when you've got a colorful mask covering your face. 

When we got to Geary I got out, and hurried across the street, and walked the rest of the way home. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Bus Report #1067

 More like an on foot report, but still.

I went out today to run errands and get a haircut. Afterwards I walked over to visit E., and swap some marmalade for her excellent homemade cookies.

As I walked up to her building I saw Olga, dear sweet Olga, sitting out on her balcony, adjacent to E's apartment.

I smiled beneath my mask and waved up to them both.

After a visit with E. I called up to Olga, in my terrible Russian, and waved some more. She grinned and waved back. It was all I needed, really. Just knowing that she was okay was enough for me.

I turned to leave. A man with shoulder-length hair and blue track outfit stood a few feet away. He waved at me and said, "Hello!"

I smiled back, waved back. I knew him - but I couldn't place him.

He laughed, his eyes crinkling a little. "You don't know me?" I'd know that accent anywhere.  It was Alain, the Frenchman! 

I chuckled as he took his mask off for a moment to show me his wide grin. 

"Of course I know you!" I laughed. "How are you?"

"Ah, I do not take the 33 anymore," he said, shrugging. 

"I haven't either," I said. "Come with me," I gestured for him to follow me. I took him back to E. and Olga's building, the two of them were still chatting across balconies.

"It's our friend, our Russian friend," I said, and he and I both waved up to Olga. 

She waved back, and then Alain and I said goodbye and parted ways.

It was wonderful to see the both of them, two of my 33 bus crew. 

I walked home, an extra spring in my step.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Bus Report #1066

 After work I stopped at the grocery store with a plan to walk the rest of the way home.

Best intentions and all that - I made it most of the way back before the wind and my heavy bags got the best of me. 

I caught the 38 on a quiet corner of Geary, sat a respectful distance from an older woman watching videos on her phone, a student in a colorful mask, and a man who looked as though he'd been nodding off for a while. 

He was slumped in his seat, two backpacks at his feet, a thick, dog-eared, mass-market paperback entitled Law and Order half falling from his swollen hands. Skin sunburned red. Faded tattoos on both arms down to his knuckles.

The bus stopped short at the next light, startling the man awake, sort of. His movements were slow - as though he was underwater. He held the book in one hand and started patting his pockets with the other. 

Two syringes rolled onto the floor. He picked them back up and pocketed them again. 

As we pulled in to the 6th Avenue stop the man lurched to his feet, spilling the contents of his pockets onto the floor again. He scooped everything up - syringes, coins, small pillbox, orange needle cap - and then grabbed his bags and got out the bus. On the sidewalk he knelt and took everything out of his pockets again. 

A few minutes later, I got out at my stop and walked the rest of the way home.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Bus Report #1065

372 days since my last bus ride, I got on the 38 Geary outbound towards the V.A. Hospital today.

It is an understatement to say it has been a long year. A very, very long year. 

I've been on foot, mostly, or in cars - getting motion sick every time. I never get motion sick on Muni. 

I've spent a lot of time this year slowly sipping Cokes, trying to regain my equilibrium after a car ride. At the office, at home.

I had to go to the library and since my local branch three blocks away is still closed, the nearest one is 25 blocks away, uphill. And I don't always want to walk, to be honest. There are some desolate blocks of Geary between my apartment and the library, and they've only grown more windswept, empty, and quiet during the pandemic.

I unzipped the side pocket on my bag, where I keep my Clipper card, reaching in for the card so I could check the cash balance - I haven't opened that pocket or bought a monthly pass since March 2020. The receipt, kept as proof, was still tucked behind the card in my card holder. 

I called Clipper and was happy to hear I still had $14 on the card. Leftover from my last BART ride to Oakland.

Checked Next Bus, two buses en route in the next fifteen minutes. Jacket on. Books tucked into totebag. Triple-layer face mask on. Walked out to the bus stop as though I did it every day. As though it was still normal.

The bus arrived and I got on, chose an empty seat near the back. 

Friends, can I tell you how happy I was to be on the bus? How I looked around at the handful of other passengers, all of us masked and silent, and I almost cried? 

My city, our city, looks better from the height of the bus than it does on foot. I've walked that 25 blocks a dozen times since that library branch reopened but seeing it from the bus, it just... filled me with joy. Truly.

The woman sitting in the rightmost seat in the back got out by the burger place. The man who had been in the leftmost seat wore a camo-patterned mask while he studied a sheaf of papers he took from a manila envelope. He got out by the discount grocery store. 

I've been trying to avoid making eye contact with people lately, but I caught his eyes just before he hopped out. Dark brown under bushy eyebrows.

I'm rusty, could not remember how many stops until my own. Pulled the signal cord just in time, and got out onto a sun-drenched block of Geary. 

I could've danced to the library - it felt so good to be taking Muni again. 

On my way back from the library a few minutes later, I took the bus for a few blocks just to be on it, sat in the back, enjoying the quiet and the familiarity, the wheeze of the hydraulics, reading the signage about mask requirements and how to properly sit distanced from each other on the bus.

I got out at 28th, calling a loud 'thank you' to my driver.

I walked the rest of the way home, plotting my next rides, feeling the 'Miss Rachel's Neighborhood' vibe coming back.

It's not all blue skies yet, but they're coming back, friends. 

And I am looking forward to bringing you along with me.

(extra thanks for the encouragement to get back on the bus from Michael and C.)

Saturday, May 16, 2020

What is a bus rider without a bus to ride?

Hello and I hope everyone is doing well.

I haven't had anything to report since I haven't been on a bus since before the shelter in place order.
I haven't left my neighborhood since then either. I circle Mountain Lake, I wander down to Arguello or up to 14th Ave., but that's about it. I love to walk but I miss my commute. The early morning quiet, and the fog, watching the markets in the Mission open up, the proprietors stacking all sorts of fresh produce in neat pyramids on their display tables.

I miss everyone - Jeannine, Alain, Olga, all our wonderful drivers, and my fellow commuters. 

I miss the folks along the "Miss Rachel's Neighborhood" route. And you know I worry. How are the guys from the garage? The folks at Safeway and Noah's? Are any of the drivers sick? What will it be like when we can go back to work?

But there have been sunny spots in all of this.

The third week of shelter in place I ran in to the Frenchman and his daughter over near our bus stop. It's a funny thing, seeing someone in a different context, in the middle of the day, and while you're wearing masks. We laughed and said hello, and it was so good to see him.

Another day, I visited E., standing out front her building and calling up to her window. I'd forgotten that she is neighbors with Olga. Olga sat outside on her little balcony, and E. leaned out her window, and I waved and called up to them both. Olga laughed when I tugged down my mask for a moment to show her who I was. In a jumble of English and French E. explained to Olga that we are friends. It was afternoon but I good morninged Olga in Russian, making her laugh again.

Walking home from the grocery store last night I saw another familiar pair - the obsessively religious mom and her daughter. They looked good, the mom less checked out than usual, the daughter taller than before, tanned, rolling down the street in a pair of roller blades. I smiled at the mom but she didn't notice. I was just glad they were okay.

I've crossed paths with the friendly woman from Schubert's a half dozen times. The bakery is open again and seem to be doing a good, brisk business.

At the bank the other day, the security guard held the door open for me. "You take care of yourself, young lady," he said.
I grinned and said, "I will if you will."
He chuckled and replied, "I'll do my best."

And I hope you all do, too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stay safe out there, friends, commuters, and strangers

I've been home for a week now, like many of you but not all of you.

Thinking today of Jeannine, working at the hospital, and of our wonderful drivers: Leon, Keith, Stephan and all the rest. The essential personnel we automatically think of and those we do not.

If you can stay home, STAY HOME.

If you have any masks, hand sanitizer or other items that our local medical professionals and other front line workers could use, please donate them to your nearest hospital or fire department.

Order online from your favorite bookstores, get gift certs from your favorite restaurants, and above all remember that this is the time to be selfless, not selfish.

Remember, so many of our friends and neighbors are at risk so only go out when necessary and do your best to maintain a good 6 feet of distance from each other.

Even when we aren't together in body, we're together in spirit.

I miss you all and hope we can be together again soon.

On a more personal note - readers in Boston or Salt Lake City or Tucson - I have people that need supplies for hospital and social service organizations and can get you in touch with them if you have anything you can drop off.
realitycoursepress (at) gmail.