Thursday, May 5, 2011

Muni "bonds", or "How I rode my bike and then caved in"

As a not-wealthy resident of San Francisco, I have a relationship with MUNI transit. It's not great, it's not (usually) terrible, but it is certainly special. The most accurate comparison would be to the relationship you might have with that college friend or roommate that always hangs around and conveniently has a car, but no one is quite sure why he's part of the group because the only time you talk about him is to talk shit or recall a ridiculous story that usually ends with someone dancing drunk on a table at a stranger's house or getting slapped in the face at a Wendy's. But still, you keep coming back for more - and part of you kind of wants to.

On Tuesday I missed the 31-Balboa inbound and chose to walk down to the 5-Fulton, as is often the case. MUNI open sourced it's vehicle tracking data and I have a nifty app that tells me when the buses come now, but to no surprise it has an incredibly difficult time keeping track of the 31 inbound. "6 minutes" it says, and then a moment later it refreshes and reads "10 minutes". Once I relax and settle into the last sips of my cofee, it tells me "12 seconds, ha ha. you're screwed I tricked you." So now my only reliable signal is the mid-pitch ZZZ-ing noise of the electric engine of a bus tearing its way down Balboa toward my apartment, past my apartment, and away from my apartment. When the winding noise first penetrates my windows in the morning, I have approximately 50 seconds to grab my gear, get down the stairs and run two blocks to the bus stop. It may or may not actually stop.

Whatever is going on here, just leave the station and walk away.
So on Tuesday I walked to the 5, boarded, and headed in to the urban core for work. The bus filled up, became full, continued to fill up until there was nowhere to move, and then a middle aged man vomited everywhere in the middle of his second bottle of gin.

On Wednesday I opted to ride my bike to work, and it was wonderful, and clean, and warm. I rode past the Conservatory of Flowers, along dirt trails, amongst giggling children playing in fields with remarkably absent parents, and I even lost a 2 1/2 mile street race through the Panhandle and down Page by several seconds with a strange hipster on another Peugeot. All this and I still got to work 20 minutes earlier. But of course, I can never stay away forever. I always come back with some rationalization, secretly curious about strangers I’d see and the next MUNI mishap that I could be part of. And in the back of my mind, I always think that it will be a little bit more convenient than another mode of transportation. After a 300 ft climb uphill on my first mile going home, dodging cars on narrow streets and bikes flying in the opposite direction, I had my justification.

For now I will split my time between the open, beautiful bikeways of Golden Gate Park and the congested anarchy of MUNI in rush hour, until the next health-hazard drives me to the streets once again. No matter the malfunctions, delays, anxiety, reckless abandonment of traffic code, claustrophobia, and generic icky-ness of certain bus lines, it seems I will always return to this awkward friend.

One writer on Muni Diaries sums up his the experience nicely, with graphics!

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