Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Confusion by the Bay

The Colonel is not one of the brightest points of light on planet earth—in fact, he’s like, second from the bottom—but if there is one skill he does have it is Urban Navigating.

The Blond is continually amazed at my ability to pretty much close my eyes and drive right up to our destination in any city—any state. I also have pretty good luck figuring out a city's buses, subways, etc.

So, to prepare for our most recent trip, the Colonel went into MAJOR NERD MODE, doing the google and learning all about the San Francisco Mass Transit System, including the infamous BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

That being said, The Colonel and the Blond would like to go on the record stating that we have never experienced a city trying so hard to AVOID TELLING YOU WHERE YOU ARE.

It all began when we boarded the BART (Body Aromas Reeking Terribly) for the simple trip downtown from the Airport. Perhaps we are naive Midwesterners, but when we ride the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis, there are bright LED signs indicating the next stops, along with a Cheery Voice clearly announcing the station name and connecting routes. “Bus…number Fifty-One…number Fifty-One.”
On the BART, we planted our tired posteriors on some old urine, sweat, and vomit stains and looked around for a station display. Seeing nothing, we confidently (I’m good at this, remember?) awaited the on-board announcement that were approaching the 1st Stop. As the train slowed to a stop in the next station, we heard the intercom crackle to life with the following nugget of information, which I now quote, word for word.

“ .”
Not to worry, all transit stations have their names posted prominently on bright,colorful signage, easily visible from the train cars.
"Ha-ha," the city quietly chuckled to itself.
While signage is not COMPLETELY missing, the following facts are true of BART.
1. The train windows are VERY darkly tinted.
2. The station platforms are VERY dimly lit.
3. Any station signs that do exist are about the size of a dollar bill, and race by your window before you can squint. And your car never, NEVER stops in front of one.
After several stations whizzed by, reveling in their anonymity, the Blond began to get nervous.
"Where do we get off again?"
"Market and Powell"
"And how do we know where that is?"
"I'm working on it..."
Fortunately, her young eyes are superior to mind, and she spotted a tiny, worn "Powell" sign just early enough for us to grab our bags and exit without being crushed by rapidly closing BART-doors.
Now, on the Streets of San Franciscotm, the Blond had one comment.
"Uh...where ARE we?"
"I think we're on Market, but where is the F-Line Stop?"
Our 7 day, Unlimited MUNI passport was in my pocket, itching for a workout. I seriously wanted to grab the connecting street car I had so painstakingly researched.
"Should we just get a cab?"
"Just let me do my job, OKAY?"
I craned my neck around, looking for ANYTHING that would indicate a station heading toward Fisherman's Wharf. We found a small platform about a half-block away, but it was clearly heading in the wrong direction.
We would still be standing there, if a younger, obviously less URBAN-SAVVY man hadn't come up and shown his utter lack of a Y-Chromosome by asking a local for directions.
"How do I get out to Fisherman's Wharf?" he asked. I was so embarrassed for him.
"Over there..." The lady pointed.
Okay, so there was a platform (more like a narrow curb), but it had NO SIGNAGE, and it just sat there, daring us to find it.
Once on the F-Market/Wharves street car, we were on our way. I have to admit, that the Driver of this mini train, actually did keep us posted on where we were. If he hadn't I am sure we would have just stayed on the tracks and ended up back where we started.
We disembarked near our hotel, thinking the toughest part of the process was behind us.
And then we walked past the entrance to the Holiday Inn three times before we found it.
Please note the complete lack of any sign indicating that this is anything other than a parking garage. I can assure you that this IS the entrance to our hotel. They just don't want you to find it.

Upon entering, we found this sign. We found the phone and called for assistance, being assured the desk person would be there in two minutes.
Twenty minutes later, after (this is true) acting as an interpreter/apologist for a group of Japanese tourists, we finally met with a desk person, who checked us in and assigned us to room 1345. Thirteenth
Hopping into the elevator, we of course realized that the hotel did not have thirteen floors. Lost again.
The Blond smartly suggested we try the third floor.
I stupidly thought I could just hit the button marked "3" on the control panel.
Find it...I dare you.
This kind of thing would continue throughout the week. We sincerely believe this city is trying to lose us.
There was the cable car operator who missed a switch:
Cheerful Cable Car Guy: "Folks, I just drove over the switch. Rather than the Powell/Mason line, this is now the Powell/Hyde line. "
Us: "But we don't want to go to Hyde!"
Even More Cheerful Cable Car Guy: "Sorry.."
He then prompted us to disembark on an unguided, unplanned walking tour of Chinatown.
There was also the Sullen Ticket Clerk at Coit Tower telling us to just "Follow the Yellow Line", which promptly disappeared after a few feet, along with the clerk.
And the very helpful Hotel Concierge, pictured here at his/her desk.
All in all, we're having a good time, but considering how the Colonel has spent most of this vacation sitting forlornly on park benches, studying Google Maps, trying to figure out where the heck we were, we are also looking forward to coming home on Friday.
If they haven't moved the Airport.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL. Well, at least it gives you something to blog about, right?

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Reinman said...

I lost it when I saw the elevator button picture.

Ha ha, stupid San Fransisco.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Reinman said...

Ha ha, stupid Reinman for not knowing how to spell "San Francisco."

5:46 PM  
Blogger Colonel Havoc said...


After your correction, I went back and changed all my spellings.

stupid Colonel.

6:12 AM  
Blogger JMS said...

You're probably home by now, but for any others hating on or heading to the Bay area, google maps has public transit info for the entire area, so if you put in your desired destination and select the "public transit" option, it will show you how to use BART, Caltrain, buses, to get there.
How much was that unlimited metro pass? I spent a week there this summer, traveling by public means and spent about $65.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Colonel Havoc said...

The Metro Pass was $24, but did not include the BART trip in and back.

7:13 PM  

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