Last summer was an unusual one for me by any measure. Homeless because I’d sold my home, and carless when my parked Toyota was wrecked, I opted to not replace the car for a while and entered the world of public transport users in the San Francisco Bay Area. While I’m aware that there are those who, by choice or necessity, use public transportation every day, it was new to me in California. I’d grown up in the Bay Area, returned to raise my son in the mid-70s then left again in the ‘80s, only returning for visits. With rare exception, none of these times of my life could have been negotiated without a car.
But public transit has come a long way and Bay Area residents are blessed these days with the opportunity of using a Clipper Card, an integrated system that unites a multitude of local BART-bus-train-ferry systems in the 9 Bay Area counties. Added to the convenience of one card that pays for all rides and reloads itself automatically, is a steep discount for seniors and other groups that qualify.
Above, Vallejo Transit Center where I signed
up for my Clipper Card. Below, "my" bus.
In the summer of 2018 I found myself living with friends in Vallejo, in the northeast of the Bay Area counties. When my car was declared “totaled” by my insurance company and the generous rental car allowance ran out I had a decision to make. Having lived so long in my real life without the benefit of public transportation, I enjoy not having to drive when I travel, so it seemed more an opportunity than a potential difficulty. It did have it’s challenges, though, as I’d been drafted for childcare duties which meant a convoluted commute between Solano County and the redwoods of southwest San Mateo County where my son and granddaughters live. I would stay with them during the week, returning to Vallejo for the weekend, with one trip a week each way. I found myself excited by the prospect. Prior to turning in my rental car I drove down to the Vallejo Transit Center, no line at the ticket window, and in 5 minutes had my Senior Clipper Card loaded and ready to make trouble.
The San Francisco Bay Ferry in Vallejo
Passing Marin County, Mt. Tamalpais & San Quentin State Prison, above,
then under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Below, approaching San Francisco, Alcatraz Island & the Golden Gate Bridge.
Below, Ferry Terminus, Pier 1, Port of San Francisco, The Ferry Building.
I had an expert consultant in the person of Deb with whom, along with wife Val, I was living temporarily (though not as temporary as we’d originally thought!). Travel Gumbo readers first met Deb in my birthday 2015 blog post when we hit Chinatown between her shifts driving a Golden Gate Transit bus and her knowledge led the way to solutions now.
The route to La Honda in San Mateo county from Vallejo in Solano County would begin on Monday with a walk around the corner to the #6 SolTrans bus stop on Tennessee Street. I’d ride to the end of the line, the transit center, then walk about a block through a city parking structure to the western edge of town and the Vallejo Ferry on the Napa River, across from the former naval base on Mare Island. An hour’s ride on the San Francisco Bay Ferry would deposit me at the bottom of Market Street at the historic Ferry Building. Turning left, 2 blocks walk along The Embarcadero, then a streetcar to CalTrain 4th & King Station for the 20 miles south down the Peninsula. I’d disembark in San Carlos where a text would alert my son to my arrival as he left work, my ride over the mountain to his home in La Honda. All would be reversed for the trip back to Vallejo on Friday. If it seems complicated, it was, coordinating 4 departure and arrival schedules connected by 3 walking sections, plus integrated restroom stops and snack pick-ups as I passed through the Ferry Building between boat and train.
Streetcar, above, to the 4th & King Street CalTrain Station.
In 1979 the country experienced the Great Gasoline Shortage and like some other parts of the nation without much in the way of public transport, California suffered. My son & I reacted by planning a week’s vacation without a car, previously unheard of in our neck of the woods. From Redwood City, just one stop from where I lately alighted, we took the train to San Francisco, then a bus up Highway 101 to Willits where the Greyhound driver dropped us on the doorstep of our motel. Next morning we caught the Skunk Train over the Coast Range to Fort Bragg, the day after that “The Stage,” a station wagon that did a run the few miles down Highway 1 to Mendocino. Several nights at The Seagull where my then 8 year old son took up beach combing, a bus back across the Golden Gate Bridge and the train to Redwood City. It was the best trip ever for the Daring Duo. Now almost 40 years later, my summer commute was a huge reminder of that most fun trip and for this Bay Area child of the American automobile age, the summer of 2018 was another revelation.
Postscript: After a fall trip to Arizona and Mexico to clear my head, all of which I’ll be sharing in weeks to come, I replaced my wrecked car and found a house. And while things are not yet quite back to normal, it's been an adventure and good things have grown from the disruption, including myriad insights I might not otherwise have been granted. I’m very fortunate and will not ask for more.
Visit the Clipper Card website for more information.
Next week, a closer look at the San Francisco Ferry Building.
More PortMoresby stories here.