This was one of those day when I have some free time. Already spending too much time in front of computer, I really wanted to get out. How about taking a tour around the city? I can just hop on a Muni bus and let it slowly take me to visit little known neighborhoods, to see part of the city that's seldom seen, and on bus routes I have never taken? This will be an exercise of patience, a meditation on a meandering course if you will. Move over 49 miles drive, I am going to make this all on our unassuming buses, all for as little as $4.50.
A sleek modern bus pulled into the stop. My first leg of the trip started outside of the Golden Gate Park. I boarded this clean an uncrowded coach with large windows looking out to a bright sunny day. "Twenty First Avenue", the automated system announced the next stop. Perhaps this was a holiday, there wasn't anyone waiting at the stop. The bus passed without stopping. "Twenty Third Avenue", the next stop was announced. Again the bus didn't stop. "Twenty Fifth Avenue", still we passed. The announcement kept rolling, and the bus kept flying through. This was unreal! Muni was unstoppable!
The pickup became more frequent after we traveled down the Sunset Boulevard. A big guy in gray hoodie got on board. Next stop it picked up a middle age couple carrying a shopping bag on wheels. An older woman talking on the phone came next.
Regular Muni riders have probably all shared rides some with strange people. Today was no exception. No, this person was not the threatening mental type you might have met. She was super friendly. She greeted everyone as she got board. She greeted the driver, the passengers sitting in front, the passengers in the middle, and the passengers in the back. Then she sat down. Then she talked to herself. Then she greeted everyone again. Then she talked to herself some more.
We have soon came to the Paris Street, followed by Lisbon, Madrid, Naples and so on. It is the little known neighborhood of Excelsior with streets named after great European cities. This forgotten corner of San Francisco is surprisingly pleasant. On the tree lined street, families were walking around. The big hoodie guy got off. Then a woman carrying a baby girl came on. The old woman was still talking on the phone. The baby girl was close to drowsing off. Sit tight, the big bus is going to rock you to sleep.
The bus flew through the John McLaren Park, the best park in San Francisco that I have never been to. It is a large patch of forested hill top with scenic view of the city.
As we arrived in the San Bruno Avenue, the last two passengers, myself and the woman on the phone, were finally getting off. With no one on board, I worried the bus driver will become bored. My concern turned out to be unfounded. Three new passengers quickly climbed on the bus to take our place for the remaining part of the journey. (45 minutes trip)
My connection bus showed up right away. Too soon! I gave the bus a pass and opted to walk this neighborhood a bit. San Bruno Avenue was lively this morning. People were coming to shop and to its cafes and restaurants. A large crowd waited outside a dim sum restaurant. Whatever it's Yelp rating may be, this place must be good.
9-San Bruno is a friendly bus. A lady found a mother and son she knows on board and greeted them heartily. Another mother with a stroller has caught the attention of a shaved head guy with piercing. They began to have a conversation. The old lady sitting next joined in. The driver got some love too. A guy came up on the bus to give her a hug. They chatted a little before he jumped off.
Usually it makes my blood boil to see this. As the driver is having some leisure talk on the job, the bus is going to miss one or more traffic light cycle, wasting the passengers' time. But this was a holiday. So I didn't mind waiting a little bit. After the first buddy has left, the bus kept idling at the stop while the driver kept chatting with a second buddy outside. I was patient. But this was clocking a few minutes already and people were wondering how much longer this is going to be. Finally the cause of the delay was revealed. The first buddy came back with a bottle drink for the driver he bought from the store. Now that the drink was taken care of we could finally resume our trip.
I met another weird guy in this bus. He was talking and gesturing to himself. His sanity seemed intact though. Turned out he was enjoying himself listening to rap music. He kept spitting out bust after bust of toneless words, which I found not so entertaining. Peace has returned after he bounced off the bus happily.
9-San Bruno continued on the great Market Street. Usually a bustling boulevard, Market Street was a very quiet in the holiday season today. I became the last passenger to get off near the Ferry Building. (38 minutes trip)
From Chinatown, I hopped on to the line 45 trolley for the next leg. A slow coach, 45 took its time to make meticulous and exacting move at every stop and every maneuver through Chinatown.
Soon it began to climb the steep hill. Here in Russian Hill we found the old San Francisco, the hilly neighborhood, the ornate apartment buildings, the Art Deco facade. The San Francisco that we saw in the movie "Vertigo" where James Stewart roamed 60 years ago looks remarkably similar today. Over the crest, the trolley rolled back down to Van Ness Avenue below.
Here I have encountered the third strange person in the trip. This one was a real lunatic. He suddenly came in front of the bus, shouting and pointing his finger at us very aggressively. I was so glad he was not inside the bus. This was so absurd that the driver took off and laugh him away.
As if to show my loyalty to Muni, me and another passenger were again the last to get off this bus. (15 minutes trip)
28 zoomed quickly through Lombard and then onto the the Doyle Drive. This is the most scenic Muni trip hands down, with Golden Gate Bridge in full view.
This was also the first time today we ran into heavy traffic. First there was bridge traffic. But the worst was at the Golden Gate Bridge viewing area. The small parking lot was overwhelmed by long line of tourist cars. The bus horned repeatedly trying to push away the cars to reach the designated bus stop with little progress. Everyone was stuck and nobody was getting anywhere. This place badly need some traffic management. Next time when you are on the 19th Avenue waiting for the 28 and it takes forever to come, it might be tied up in this parking lot here.
I made a stop over for Golden Gate Bridge. The sky was blue and the air was clear, just the perfect setting for the bay and bridge view. It never gets tired even I have seen it a hundred times. I waited for next bus to continue my trip.
For the first time today, the bus was full. It resembled my typical commute, a bus so packed that people can hardly move. Except this bus did not really resemble a typical commute. Look carefully, people were reading maps and guidebooks. They were speaking in foreign languages. It was a bus full of international tourists, Chinese, Japanese, Europeans. I chatted with a group of girls on their school break and turned out they came from as far as Yemen. Everybody loves San Francisco. Perhaps some were doing a round San Francisco tour by Muni just like me?
The bus sped pass Presidio, heading back to Marina where I first came from. I have boarded the wrong bus! How could this happen? It turned out I was tricked. At the Golden Gate Bridge stop, buses going to opposite direction both pick up from the same spot. Look before you leap! I got off as soon as I can after Doyle Drive, spun across to the other side of Lombard St. The correct Daly City bound bus met me there right at that moment. Problem solved! It was almost as simple as turning back on a subway.
So it was the most scenic ride on Muni take two, the full view of Golden Gate Bridge again showing in the front window. The gridlock had a take two also, the same slogging and horn blaring one more time. Traffic I hate you.
We went through the MacArthur Tunnel, downed the hill to the tree lined Park Presidio boulevard, swept the curve across the Golden Gate Park. After a total of 1 hour 25 minutes on 28, including 12 minutes going in wrong direction, I have returned home. It was one glorious day around San Francisco by Muni.