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Trip Report

Western Trip

January 12-17, 2005


Taking a break from the winter blahs on January 12-17, I headed for the west coast. My plan was to fly from Harrisburg to Washington Dulles by United Express connecting with a 5:00 PM flight to Minetta Airport in San Jose. The Brazilian-made Embraer jet was hours late arriving in Harrisburg as it had originated in Chicago where snowy weather was horrendous. Since I had missed my connection to San Jose, United booked me on its 9:45 PM flight to San Francisco.

I got about ninety minutes of shut-eye on this five and half hour flight. The Chicago weather caused turbulence-even at 35,000 feet-for about an hour. Every time I tried to nod off, the plane rattled me from my serenity. Arriving at San Francisco International Airport at 12:45 AM Pacific time. I schlepped my bags off to the rubber-tired people-mover, Airtran, and rode to the end of the line. The automated system deftly moves through switches as it pulls into a stub-end section. To prevent passenger access to right of way, all stations have coordinated doors which open as soon as Airtran arrives and opens its own doors.

Hertz had a car for me since I had switched my reservation from San Jose to San Francisco. Magellan, the in-car GPS navigation, guided me to I-280 which was deserted at 1:30 AM. I made good time and soon was at the Hyatt Saint Claire in San Jose located on the corner of Market and San Carlos Streets. This is a quaint six story hotel with nice furnishings; very comfortable and at reasonable rates. I slept about five hours, awakening to clang clang of Valley Transportation Authority's LRV's cruising up San Carlos Street before turning onto First Street. The hotel's dining room looks out on San Carlos Street for a nice view of LRV traffic.

My schedule did not permit a ride on VTA, but I did observe the LRV's in interesting venues that included street running, mall operation, and private right of way. A freight line-UP, I suspect-crosses First Street in the downtown. The VTA right of way ducks under the line rather than cross at grade. I also caught a glimpse of CalTrain locos and commuter cars sitting a yard waiting for evening rush.

On January 14, I drove down twisty highway 17 into Santa Cruz. The honky-tonk boardwalk for which the town is famous was not open. The street-running rails of the diesel-powered Santa Cruz Big Trees, and Pacific Railway was reminiscent of the interurban era as they meandered alongside the boardwalk before disappearing from view next to a roller coaster. In the summer when the town is full of tourists, a street-running train must make quite a scene. The Santa Cruz line, though standard gauge is part of the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad of Felton, CA, a steam-powered narrow gauge operation that provides rides in the magnificent redwood forest nearby.

The next day I returned the car to the airport. Airtran delivered me to BART. Unlike WMATA in Washington, DC, BART's ticketing system is uncomplicated. I slipped five bucks into a machine, requested five cents change, and out popped my farecard. A numerator overhead announced when the next train would arrive. The wide cars operating on five foot gauge track are quite comfortable-padded fabric-covered seats-and fast. Except at junctions and certain curves, the trains "flew" between stations. Commodious though the cars are, expect to carry luggage on your lap if traveling during rush hour as there is little storage area.

The fare gate at Powell Street swallowed my card, and soon I was in daylight at the junction of Powell and Market Streets where the Powell & Hyde and Powell & Mason cable cars terminate. I hefted my bags six blocks to Union Square where I registered at a hotel. Afterwards, I went to the TIX booth in Union Square and bought a Muni day pass for $9. This is a good deal if you are doing lots of riding. Cash fare on MUNI is $1.25 except for cable cars which are $3.00.

At 1:30 PM on a sunny Saturday afternoon, tourists jammed the cable cars. I was lucky to get a spot as the gripman turned away passengers due to over-crowding. A lot of people got off on California Street which is on the crest of Powell Street. It is also the crossover with the California Street cable car line. On the down slope of Mason Street, the gripman decided to showoff. After engaging the cable, he released the break, and then left his post to chat with some passengers who were standing on a running board. Though the cable beneath the street held the car to the normal nine mph, I found the ride a bit nerve-wracking, especially since the cable car ran though an intersection. When approaching Columbus Avenue, a four lane road, the gripman returned to his post and dropped the cable so the car could turn onto Columbus for two blocks before another turn onto Taylor for termination at Bay Street.

The cable car coasted onto a turntable which the gripman and his conductor pushed so the cable car was facing properly for the return. When I first rode the cable cars in 1968, passengers could help with the turning. Not anymore, the area around the turntable has fencing and passengers must queue and then board only at the gripman's bidding.

After lunch at the Fisherman's Grotto, a tourist trap but I had nice view of the fishing fleet and the seagull antics, I hiked up Leavenworth Street about five blocks to the bottom section of Lombard known as the "crookedest street in the world." This zigzag is a Mecca for tourists who were out in droves taking pictures which must be bothersome for property owners who live on the street. I hiked to the top of the zigzag and observed a parade of automobiles and motorcycles negotiating the steep incline from Hyde to Leavenworth. I flashed my Muni pass and hopped a Hyde cable car down to the Beach Street turntable.

My Muni pass gave me access to the Embarcadero heritage trolley line. A PCC in a Louisville, KY paint scheme rolled up on Northpoint. Louisville had a PCC for one day and decided to exit the trolley business. This Louisville PCC, like a cable car, had a crush load of tourists. I alighted at the Ferry Terminal and walked across Justin Herman Plaza to the corner of Drumm and California Streets. By now it was dark , but I could see cable car lights ahead. California Street Cable Cars which run between Drumm and Van Ness have grips at both ends so no turntables are necessary. The gripman drops the cable and coasts over a switch, changes ends, and is ready for the return. I rode as far as Stockton Street and then walked two blocks to my hotel. I changed clothes and then headed for Geary Street where I boarded a diesel bus for a ride up to Van Ness.

Tommy's Joynt is a neighborhood pub at Geary and Van Ness that offers food and drink at very reasonable prices. Wait staff will serve you drinks, but you have to fetch your food cafeteria style. Three cooks work behind a counter making sandwiches and entrees. Pay the cashier. Two TV sets keep sports fanatics entertained but, thank God, there is no loud music so everyone can have a conversation in a decent tone of voice. I returned to the hotel on an electric trolley-bus via Post Street.

Sunday, January 16, I took a Hayes Street electric trolley-bus to Alamo Park. The electrics are fast, quiet, and comfortable. At Alamo Park I saw the painted ladies, hillside row houses featured in the old TV series Full House starring Bob Saget and the Olsen Twins. I walked over to Golden Gate Park, rented a bicycle, and had a fun ride through the park and down to the Pacific Ocean beach. Big sign on the beach which a number of people ignored: "Danger! Rip Tides. People who have swum or waded have drowned here!" Wet-suited surfers were out in force. Coming through the Golden Gate were several container ships-resupplying Wal-Mart?

I had lunch at the visitor's center and then pedaled uphill-except for one steep part that forced me to push the bike-back to the park and the bike shop. There was a trolley-bus stop nearby, so I asked someone at the stop if I could get back to downtown. "Yes," was the answer. After a ten minute ride, it was evident that the bus was coming to the end of the route. As it looped through a neighborhood for the return,the driver, realizing that I was on the wrong bus told me to stay on until Geary Street.

The Geary Street diesel bus was articulated. About midway in the trip, the bus paused on top of a steep hill. The driver decided to floor it. Wild ride down. I guess pedestrians know enough to stay out of the way. I had dinner at John's Grill on Ellis near Powell. The attraction was that it was inspiration for the book and movie Maltese Falcon. It also advertised good jazz. Save your money. The food's ordinary, the ambience is nothing but a bunch of photos of has-been movie stars, and the jazz is non-existent. There was a guitarist who played show tunes without improv.

January 17, Max's on Post Street near Union Square delivered the best breakfast on my trip. On the previous morning I had eaten at Lori's Diner at Powell and Sutter which was OK. Lori's has a 1950's motif including a full-sized Edsel in the dining room. Food counts with me, that's why I preferred Max's.

After checking out of my hotel, I walked the six blocks to BART at Powell & Market Streets. While I was getting ready to buy my ticket, a small man about 5'4" approached me. He was clean and deferential, and offered a faster way to buy my BART ticket. After I collected my farecard, the man said: "I'm short a dollar, can you help me?" Then I knew this guy was no Samaritan but a hustler. I figured a dollar was a small price to pay especially since luggage encumbered me. After I paid him, he moved on to some other unsuspecting tourist.

Evidence that BART is automated became apparent when I, sitting in the lead car of the airport-bound train, observed the motorman leave his seat for some reason during a stop at Daly City station, The train doors closed and the train began to move forward. The motorman returned to his seat as speed increased.

After purchasing a bag lunch at the airport, I boarded US Airways to Pittsburgh. Arrival time was ten minutes late which ain't bad. My prop flight to Harrisburg was forty minutes late due to over booking and overweight baggage. From sunny San Francisco, I arrived in bitterly cold (ten degrees) Harrisburg; but at least I didn't arrive in a blizzard.

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