Fifty-Two Minutes

Yesterday, my last class let out about noon, and I was scheduled to start work in San Francisco at 1 o’clock. The fantasy: I could take public transit and make it over to the city and be at my desk right on time. Reality: I know that if I leave class at noon straight up and walk down to the downtown Berkeley BART station, the first train under the Bay comes at about 12:25; with the walk from the 16th Street/Mission station on the other end, I’d be at work at 1:10.

There was an alternative: the F bus on AC Transit, which has a stop right at the student union on Bancroft Way. It departs for the city at 12:15. I could ride the F to downtown San Francisco, walk a block or so to BART, then finish the trip. I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be any faster than just taking BART to the city, but seeing that I could ride the F for free with my student ID card and venturing forth in the spirit of experiment (and also without consulting the F timetable), I climbed on the bus. As it pulled away from the curb at quarter past the hour, I was thinking the trip from the middle of Berkeley — about 12 miles at midday — might take 30 or 35 minutes (by car at that time of day, and absent an exploding gasoline tanker along the way, the trip would take about 20 or 25 minutes).

One thing you forget about the East Bay buses if you haven’t ridden them for awhile is that, except for the rare express line, the stops are spaced maddeningly close together. In downtown areas, sometimes there’s one on every block. So progress along some streets can be slow. And it was yesterday. I noticed the route was somewhat similar to what I remembered from decades past; we even stopped at the site of the old 40th and San Pablo “station” — a shelter outside an old Rexall drugstore next to a defunct hotel that had become a small-stakes card joint called the Bank Club, as I remember it.

The F line in former days got on the freeway immediately at that point and went to San Francisco. Now, though, it throws in a long, time-consuming and seemingly pointless loop past Emeryville’s strip malls and big-box stores before finally, finally getting on Interstate 80 and crossing the Bay Bridge. The bridge portion of the trip is a highlight, because the bus puts you up high enough to see over the solid parapets across the water. We took the righthand lane yesterday, and I got my first end-to-end view of the bridge’s new eastern span (check a photo from a guy who has gotten a rep for documenting the project).

At freeway speed, that part of the trip doesn’t last long. Soon, we were off the bridge and deposited at downtown San Francisco’s doomed tabernacle of transportation, the Transbay Terminal. I say doomed because the place is going to be torn down. That fate aside, someone has seen fit to install some rather fancy new digital clocks on the passenger platforms. The one I saw when I alit from the F said 1:07. The trip took 52 minutes; the route taken was about 13.1 miles, so our average speed registered a hair over 15 mph (bear in mind that the first six miles took about 42 minutes to cover — under 9 mph; the final seven took about 10 minutes). The run I was on actually took six minutes longer than the scheduled called for.

Oh, well. The bridge view was great. But that’ll be my last trip on the F until I have some extra time to kill.

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