What sort of San Francisco day will it be? As I make my way trainward, the question rings with promise and something else. In suburban Menlo Park there’s the weather. It is far too warm for a wool pullover, but it is also far too early to pass judgment. I have checked the San Francisco weather. This attire could prove entirely appropriate. We will see. What else will we see?
We see the 10:14 roll into the station right on time, Dexter at the helm. He is the epitome of the American train conductor. Portly, he brandishes his paunch the way he probably once did a ticket punch. Who would have guessed that tickets and punches would run out of steam? Who would have guessed that steam would run out of steam? Dexter is old enough to have seen tickets and coal-fired locomotives go the way of all things. For now, he has a simple, but extremely indirect, question. Lowering the wheelchair lift, he asks, “do you really want to do this?” I smile, mistaking this for aimless badinage. Once inside, I get the idea. The morning train is packed with fans en route to experience the San Francisco Giants. What is gigantic about the Giants, I want to know. But not now. Now, I want the man with the folding wheelchair strangely sitting on a trunk to move one or the other. Sure, he says, sure. People seem to drink on the way to baseball games, then drink more on the way home. Mentally, I create my own space, hunching over a book and hoping for the best.
All the way to San Francisco, station after station, poor Dexter steps from train to platform to more or less plead with those waiting. This train is full, he says. No less than three empty trains, Giants specials, are right behind. Wait a few minutes, he urges them, and you will have a train that is spacious, air-conditioned to the maximum, and reasonably quiet. Everyone ignores him and clambers aboard. The train now pulls out of each station at a noticeably slower clip, acceleration seriously affected by increasing weight. Meanwhile, Caltrain northbound is beginning to resemble the black hole of Calcutta on wheels.
I am so grateful to be off and, passing through the San Francisco station, to hang a left turn in the direction opposite to the baseball park. I proceed to the #47 bus stop, find the Muni driver hibernating. But not for long. The wheelchair lift drops, I ascend, and we are off. In San Francisco, as in most cities, the public transit experience varies by district. The #47 passes through some once marginal areas south of Market Street that are now in transition. No, they are in quiet upheaval, and so are the residents. Such as the man sitting across from me. He boards, explains to the driver why he can’t pay his fare. The driver shrugs and lets this go. I like San Francisco. I don’t like the man across from me, though. He’s living proof of what happens when extroversion and alcohol mix. He tries to compliment me on my straw hat. I nod, then look away. He continues talking, which does not surprise me. His patter persists for the next 20 minutes. I’m telling you, you think that, the FBI will tell you to think again, they will, and the judge too, they are all thinking they can do it, most of them, and they can’t, they can’t even, because they’re always coming, like those, they tried, and they told them, and there’s not much, but if you tell him, ask the driver, because he was there before that guy, and there are thousands, and most of them don’t even know it, but you ask them if you want to, I’ve been there.
Also being San Francisco, the elderly Russian woman speaks her native language to a friend while appearing to be genuinely oblivious to the gesticulating and elbowing of the garrulous dipsomaniac to her right. She is made of sterner stuff than I. It’s a relief to see the #47 stop at Post Street. Though once on the sidewalk, the experience is disorienting. What was on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue? Nothing but a hole now, the entire block reaching to Franklin Street, now under construction. San Francisco is like this these days. Chenery Street, our future home, is also like that these days, a construction crew having demolished the foundation and poured another, all in recent weeks. We are part of the problem, Jane and I. The solution being utterly elusive. The problem is elusive too, but that’s another story.
The story from the afternoon presentation at the city library couldn’t be simpler. If there is such a thing as a Domestic Violence Restraining Order – why isn’t there a Gun Violence Restraining Order? I leave the meeting as I do all such events on firearms policy, sadder but wiser, but mostly sadder. Good thing I have an opportunity to take the Muni 83X bus nonstop to the Caltrain station. That’s right, this rush hour express actually does this miraculous thing, journeying from San Francisco’s Civic Center to the railway station without a stop. It’s a wonderful idea, and if I didn’t have to wait an astonishing 30 minutes for the 83X, it would be much more than a concept. On this day, though, it isn’t. I miss my express train home. So, I shop at the Safeway across the street from the station. I am there just long enough to experience a kindly black man in the fish department who weighs and prices my shrimp, then pointedly adds another free quarter pound. He can’t make much money, this guy. That’s why he may appreciate free food more than most. I thank him profusely, unsure of what to do with an unwanted amount of shrimp. I am also not sure what to do when crossing Fourth Street, an arctic gale attempts to seize my hat, and a passing Chinese guy grabs it. He laughs raucously. I don’t know what to say. His hard, shrieking laughter is so over-the-top that I don’t even say thank you. Maybe because all I can think about right now is home.