How I Get Around

I didn’t pull a flat EKG after the last post after all, and will celebrate with an overdue account of my own travel habits.  A next-to-nobody like me could bump along on a Chalmers Rotobaler, for all anyone cares, but I think that those who vote or sound off on transit issues should be forthcoming about how they get around.

I bought a car after moving to San Francisco, as noted in my older-and-wiser-look-back post. I bitterly told myself to burn my Clipper card in effigy and drive full time after the big Federal money for the Central Subway came through, but that was over a year and a half ago, and … well, what can I say? I still depend on my monthly Muni A pass, and still take almost all my inside-the-city trips by transit or on foot.

In 2011, I described myself as a once or twice a week driver. It’s now closer to once a week. I have given up on myself as a gardener, and no longer need a car to lug mulch, soil and the hopeful young potted things that invariably withered beneath my brutish and insensitive fingers. (Do plants have after-lives? Have they forgiven me, if they do?)

I can’t offer a good excuse for driving so little. Years ago in college, a friend used to go off on black philosophic riffs on the larger meaning he found in entropy: that life tends inexorably toward disorder, that what is ordered and good and right can only deteriorate if left alone. That isn’t quite how the lab coat types see it, as I’m sure he knows now, but I am still reminded of Charlie’s bleak words whenever I drive in San Francisco.

The city is compact, finite, ideal for transit. Left-leaning voters must be as likely to favor transit measures as any in the country. San Francisco is rich. But nothing works, it’s San Francisco, after all — the mayor showers in the nude with disc jockeys in San Francisco — and the fare dodgers slip with impunity onto the beat up, crowded buses, the farebox recovery ratio is under 25%, they can’t even hire the drivers they’re supposed to have — here, here, here. The voters seethe with disgust, hold onto money they might wish they could spend¹, and now here I am in my global warmer, too, becoming part of the problem, driving on the same routes that the buses plod upon, on roads with no space for me, hunting for a parking space I can grab before someone else gets it, amidst the exhaust fumes and squealing-of-brakes and tireless honking.

Entropy! That’s what the word should mean. Let the scientists find another term for their pesky thermodynamic law. I feel absurd, and defeated, and so remain as gloomily faithful as a cuckolded Catholic to the Muni that cheats on me; I turn from its transgressions with the Central Subway, as a grim Hillary must have turned with clenched lips from every new stink of perfume on Bill’s collar. I endure the 29 ride to the Richmond to walk with a friend, and opt for transit-centric restaurants when dining out.

* * * * *

No, there’s more to it than that. I’m not being candid enough. I am selfish, too; I don’t enjoy city driving anymore. When I began my motoring career in the ‘burbs, I assumed that personal travel simply required the assumption of little worries. Would my car break down, be ticketed, stolen, vandalized? Would I be rammed into by a drunk, or, likelier, infuriated by a passive-aggressive tailgater, or a horn honker? Would I have to cringe, swerve, slam on the brakes if a child darted out from between parked cars?

Maybe it was eccentric and hair-shirted to live without a car in spread-out L.A., but just the same: those years taught me that I could travel without worrying about any of that stuff. There wasn’t a car that had to be fetched out of a Pershing Square or Beverly Center or Santa Monica Promenade garage. I didn’t have to worry about time on the meter or a crook with a shaved key. I was free!

* * * * *

My travels to the suburbs are another matter. I usually climb behind the wheel if headed to any spot on the Peninsula distant from BART or Caltrain, or anywhere at all in Marin or Sonoma. I’m also fond of occasional long-distance treks on the 580 or 5 or other faraway stretches. I have driven my car to L.A. three times, and was behind the wheel while exploring the Pacific Northwest. I enjoyed these trips nearly as much as I detest city driving. I’m sorry, fellow transit geeks, but it’s so.

I may drive much more frequently if Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project hacks into my home-to-BART-and-back travel times. I have no complaint about TEP. Service revisions simply have to take casualties. I might be one; I’ll see.

I bought the car three years ago, and have run up a bit less than 12,000 miles, including the L.A. and Northwest trips. (I rented a car in the South, and while researching my novel in Indianapolis.)  You can run the numbers and furnish statistics for yourself, if curious.

Now you know.

Update, 6/14/14:  Clipper cards are burned in effigy in San Francisco; not Southern California TAP cards.  Sorry.  I also added ‘might’ to the sentence indicated by the footnote.  I can’t cite a survey indicating San Francisco’s eagerness to fund high dollar transit projects if convinced that dollars would be well used. 

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