Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Everything is connected

Sometimes, things happen connectedly right after one another, like a set of dominoes put into play.

A few weeks back, I decided that it wasn’t tenable any longer for me to take the bus home after my night shift. After seeing someone get robbed at my connecting stop, and the fact that for a few of the nights, it was only me waiting for the bus; it’s the smart move to make. It’s not that I’m scared to be mugged - you’d never go outside if you’re afraid of such a thing living in San Francisco - but rather it’s the additional stress that I can definitely do without. My head is a on a constant swivel during times when I’m at the station alone, stress level elevated.

As I’ve read lately, stress causes an intense burden on the human body, so if I can throw some money at a problem to make the stress go away, it’d be worth every penny.

The solution for my night commute problem was originally to take either UBER or LYFT home. It’s a bit spendy compared to taking the bus, but relative to buying a second car to commute with, it’s far less of a headache and much more convenient, not having to worry about parking and maintaining yet another vehicle. The entire point of this exercise is to reduce stress, remember?

I was ready to execute this plan when I realized my brother is permanently home from college now, so he’s available to do chauffeur duties. Why don’t I pay him the money instead and have him pick me up at work? He’s just starting out working after undergrad, so he for sure could use the extra cash every month. So I broached the plan to him and he was completely onboard, because the additional money allows him to do something he’d wanted to do for some time now: sell his VW GTI for another car.

I’m sure there’s some altruism in there too, and that he loves his big brother.

Anyways, the main reason for him wanting out of the GTI is because he’s getting knee pain from operating the manual transmission, though I’m sure the car enthusiast wont to switch cars simply for a taste of new flavor is part of the mix as well. After we agreed on the arrangement of him doing UBER duties for me, he immediately put in motion to sell the GTI and acquire an AUDI A3 - all within the same day. Three days later, the deals were done, and my brother is driving in his new, automatic gearbox car.

Funny how this was put into motion by me seeking to reduce stress.

Nothing, just a peacock walking by while refueling the car.

A tradition unlike any other

Property crime in San Francisco: a tradition unlike any other.

As I was waiting for my transfer bus last evening, I noticed a dude sort of hiding out in the center median of the avenue, looking back and forth at the bus stops on either side. I half thought nothing of it because honestly it’s not all that weird, and half thought that dude must be looking for an opportunity to rob someone. For much of the time I was waiting for the bus, the guy remained on the median, continuing to look back and forth, scoping out the scene.

I grew up in the ghetto part of town - back when San Francisco had such a thing, so I am well-trained at not making myself an enticing robbery target. I almost never take my phone out; listening to podcasts is all I do during the commute, so the iPhone stays in my pocket the whole time. I even use the cheapest pair of black in-ear earphones I can find on Amazon, so to avoid the extra attention a set of AirPods or Beats headphones would attract. I don’t wear any jewelry, and on particularly hot days where short-sleeve t-shirt is mandatory, I even take off my watch and put it in the backpack.

It’s about making myself as less of a potential target as possible.

Sure enough, the dude in the median was indeed looking for someone to rob. A few minutes before the bus arrived, he and two other guys walked over to our side of the avenue, pass the cluster of us waiting at the station, and proceeded to quickly snatch the phone off the hands of an unsuspecting woman behind us. After that, they swiftly got into a waiting car, and sped off. The victim had no chance.

Even with activation lock technology rendering stolen phone unusable for the next person, I guess there’s still a lucrative parts market. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a coordinated attack by four guys simply to steal one phone. Though now that I think about it, that woman probably wasn’t the only victim that night.

Welcome to the richest city in America!

You only get slivers here and there.

The kids are back in school

Today marks the first day of Fall semester for the K through 12 kids, so naturally the bus I take to go to work were full of the young ones, and for some, their parents also. What was for the past few months a sparsely ridden bus route returned to being a jam-packed slog, with each subsequent stop filled with hopefuls looking to squeeze in just beyond the closing doors. Today’s commute was easily 10 minutes longer than usual, though I didn’t mind it because I simply listen to podcasts until it’s my stop to alight.

The return of the pre-college kids on public transport is my specific signal that Summer is indeed over, and it’s back to the normal grind of the regular school schedule. Of course, I am sensitive to this because I work at a university, and we go back to our particular scheduled programming in a week’s time. As someone who prefers peace and quiet, I’m oddly looking forward to campus starting back up; the atmosphere of learning can be very contagious indeed.

The crowded bus today made me reminisce of the trip to Japan back in July, and how glorious public transport in that country is. Despite the enormous population density, the system there is super efficient, and has the adequate capacity to deal with the sheer number of people. Most importantly, everything is always on time, so schedules are completely dependable. I fondly remember taking the local train during rush hour, and despite the sea of humanity, there was a train every two minutes on the dot, so getting on wasn’t an issue at all.

Contrast that with my experience today, where my usual bus passed by our station with a ‘not in service’ sign, leaving the following bus even more packed that it had to be. The morning commute on the first day of school maybe isn’t the best time for that, SF Muni.

The dark side is the best side.

The dark side is the best side.

When even the buses are too crowded

One thing I realized in the contrast between taking the bus at night and taking the bus during "normal" commute hours is just how much more passengers there are in the latter. Honestly I was slightly annoyed the bus had to stop at every stop to let people off, compared to the bus at night in which it'll breeze through all the stops until my destination. Now that schools have begun Fall semester the negative effect is compounded: last Friday it took me a solid hour to get home, where it usually takes 40 minutes.

The population density of my neighborhood is only going to go up (there's two huge housing constructions happening on the western and eastern end), so if the buses are crowded now, I'm not sure how they are going to handle the additional thousands of people. There's but two main road arteries that leads out of the neighborhood, and even now it's already super congested during rush hour. Street parking is already impossible so let's add another hundreds of cars? Good luck with that. 

I sold my own car, electing to take public transportation, to avoid the above hassles. A few years from now however I can foresee that even taking the bus might be untenable due to the increase in passengers. Won't do me much good if I can't get on the bus and have to keep waiting for the next one (or one after that). I don't think I can live with the amount of wasted time if my combined commute to and from extends well beyond two hours.

For the sake of curiosity, I started to look at alternatives.

One would be the motorcycle. There are no laws prohibiting lane-splitting in California so a bike can simply weave through heavy traffic to get up front (as I see motorcyclists do all the time). Compared to cars, bikes are dirt cheap to buy and insure (no $21K Ducati Panigales in my future), get impossibly excellent fuel mileage, and are stupid easy to park. I plan to stay off the freeways so I don't think it'll be all that dangerous, either. 

I reckon an M1 license is in my future. 

 

At least it isn't busy on the weekends. 

At least it isn't busy on the weekends. 

Students on an early afternoon bus

I take the bus to work at 1:30pm, and to my surprise I constantly find students on the bus. Not hordes, but there's always a few. Isn't it just a bit early for these kids to be out of school? Perhaps they are delinquents.

The earliest school dismissal I ever experienced was back in middle school: 2pm, and even then I thought it was nuts to be let out that early, because it meant school started at an ungodly hour of 7am (I was never a morning person). As I reflect about it now, my teachers had to arrive earlier than that. Sleep is overrated, I guess. 

My first two years of primary school was in China, and school in Asia is an all-day affair: the day begins promptly at 8 o'clock, and we didn't start walking home until after 5. It was de-facto, full-time daycare service for the parents because school hours complemented normal adult work schedules perfectly; no one needed to take off work early to pick up their kids. In that regards I think the system in Asia is more conducive to workforce productivity. 

There was a two-hour break for lunch and nap time, so cumulatively classroom learning hours was the same. There weren't beds or anything for naps, we were tiny enough to lie down on paired desks or chairs. I didn't appreciate it back then (I've hated naps since I can remember) but looking back now I think structured naps are an excellent idea, especially for little children. Not only is more sleep always beneficial, kid's attention spans being short as they are, having a sleep break in between morning and afternoon ought to help learning retention tremendously. 

Obviously, such a system would never get implemented in America (because "freedom"), though I bet a sizable amount of parents wouldn't mind sticking their kids in school for longer hours. Children sleeping on desks and chairs (or floor even) would be considered torture here in the States so schools would need dedicated dorms, and who has the money for that? 

So instead we've got kids let out of school early in the afternoon and making a ruckus on the bus, as they are wont to do. Perhaps I'm just an misanthropic curmudgeon who's getting old.  

19th and Holloway. 

19th and Holloway. 

First time night commute on MUNI

Heading home from work last night was the first time I took the bus this late (I get off at 10:30pm), and I have to say it was not anything out of the ordinary. The only small hiccup is the duration between buses is absurdly long compared to normal commute hours. I thought the app was malfunctioning when I checked schedules on NextBus and saw the next train wasn't for another 25 minutes. Had I drove I wouldn't been home already in that time. 

Fortunately the prolonged intervals is offset by the lack of traffic at that time of the night, so the trains and buses are quite quick. There's immensely less passengers too, which meant fewer stops and pickups. I was amazed that my connect bus got from Balboa Park station to my house in 10 minutes, where it'd normally take 25 minutes when the sun is out. Even with the extended wait times, the trip home last night ended up taking the same amount of time when I worked "normal" hours. 

One negative though is that San Francisco, as famously usual, is bitterly cold at that time of night. Yesterday was no different: (Karl the) fog rolled in heavy and there was an ever so slight of a drizzle; standing at an unprotected bus stop for 20 minutes was not exactly the most comfortable occasion. I think I'll start packing a beanie.

Do I miss having a car, then? The time saved by driving compared to an hour on the train and bus is significant (~45 minutes). However, to achieve my current financial goals I am willing to trade that time for more money. Compared to the fiscal outlay of car ownership, a MUNI unlimited monthly pass is but 78 dollars. There's always UBER if a train never arrives or I really need to get home quickly. 

But let's see how day two and onwards go. 

A train station all to myself. 

A train station all to myself. 

The kids are back in school

San Francisco Unified School District is back in session for Fall so just when you thought traffic couldn't get any worse around here, out comes thousands of parents driving their young ones to school joining in on all the fun. 

Must. Be. Nice. Right from the start of elementary school onwards I either walked or took the bus to school. Granted the grade school I went to was a 10 minute walk up the hill, I bet you parents of today would drive their kids to school given the same distance. Wasn't crime much worse back in my day? My immigrant parents were to busy at work earning money to stay afloat in this new country of ours to care. 

I don't begrudge them an ounce. 

If I had kids I'd drive them to school too, no matter how short the distance. I probably won't let them roam freely until after puberty. You should all thank me then for not having kids and therefore not contributing to the traffic calamity. It isn't just highways that gets jammed up: on my usual commute bus there are tons of parents, who otherwise can't afford to drive, taking their kids to school. Good on them indeed but the buses are packed enough as is. 

You'd think the transit agency would add more buses when school is in session, but that sounds way too logical for SFMTA. They can't even get enough drivers to fulfill the usual quota! On my route there definitely is not a bus every 8 minutes as prescribed in the official schedule. Far too often I encounter 20 minute(!) gaps between buses during rush-hour, and those days are the worse. 

I'm looking forward to returning back to night-shift next week so I can take the bus at 1 in the afternoon and it'll be empty as can be. Until then, this week is one of the very few times I really miss having a car. 

Perhaps I should try biking to work...

Perhaps I should try biking to work...