Eclectic adventure triggered by a San Francisco trip

By:  LPJ

A puzzlingly fun adventure on a mixed weather day happened for me Wednesday last week. My first solo trip to San Francisco from Palo Alto (California) – that alone, made my criteria for adventure. It started at 7 in the morning, on a dark and blustery day. I wasn’t exactly solo … well, I ubered. What would have normally taken a little over one hour took two slow hours in the midst of persistent downpour and dense traffic on the 280 freeway, with a penitent driver who repeatedly apologized for the agonizing turtle-paced flow. I actually didn’t mind. The pitter-patter of rain was lulling me to doze on the back seat.

Uh, I almost forgot – yes, I did mind! I needed to make the 9 a.m. appointment. That anxiety actually perked me back to awareness every time my head nodded for a doze. The movement of cars on the road was painfully slow – and the clock on the dashboard was mercilessly ticking fast. Oh yes, I minded. But I kept my cool.

Finally, on the dot, I stepped out of the car and rushed through the door of the building for my 9 a.m. appointment! That seemed like a miracle to me. And guess what, as I half jogged to the building, sunshine burst out through the gloomy clouds – only to hide again as I walked out after my appointment. This time, I chose not to spend $101.40 on ubering, so I asked pedestrians outside what bus to take to the San Francisco train station. Mixed information that I had to muddle through. I even asked someone who barely spoke English but gestured wildly as though his arms and hands could spit out the words. But I got to the Caltrain station just fine.

Rain turned to a pleasant mist this time, and it looked like the clouds were clearing up to give way to the blue. After a 20-minute wait, I was happily positioned inside the train – my first time to travel in Caltrain by myself. That brought a torrent of memories of when my husband and I would hop on the train on some weekends, just to go to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf to eat those long, big, fat shrimp sandwiches outside of Alioto’s restaurant. I was so tempted to find the bus to Fisherman’s Wharf for a shrimp sandwich, but thought, nah! Not by myself.

The train ride was relaxing, except for bursts of coughing behind me and on the other side of the aisle. I had actually forgotten how the sound of train wheels on the railways were so stimulatingly monotonous (an oxi-moron –  conflicting ideas structurally parallel). The audio was like the weird sound effects of whole sceneries panning out on both sides, sometimes just fields, but often a blur of buildings, stores and streets. Unlike the early morning rain, the sound of wheels screeching on the rails didn’t drowse me out. I eagerly looked at every scenery and watched passengers get off and come on board. A total mix of age, attire and looks. A serious crowd. No one smiled. Except the cute little toddler secure in his father’s arms.

The voice on the speaker announced Palo Alto. My turn to amble toward the exit for a quick dismount. Everyone moved efficiently, though not hurriedly it seemed. Then I walked to the bus stop. If I had known I’d wait for 40 minutes, I could have tried to hike home, and would have probably reached my place in an hour. But I was glad I waited. Forty minutes of standing and waiting weren’t spent in idle impatience. Things were happening around me which, to the disinterested onlooker, could be trivial, ordinary and insignificant. Not to me.

A group of young men, mostly teenagers, was waiting for the bus as well. One kid, in a wheelchair, was constantly yelling and making jerking moves with his head. It was an ailment-caused behavior, apparently. While sympathy for this boy was unavoidable, what struck me as outstanding was the gentle, kind and caring attention his caretaker gave him – softly speaking with him to engage the boy in conversation, or showing him interesting details nearby, or massaging his head as the boy shook it wildly from side to side. This man spoke both English and Spanish to two of the kids in the group. He looked Mexican, in my estimate, medium height and, as I noticed, always by the side of the boy in the wheelchair. Such kindness, patience and genuine concern showed clearly on his face. No rebuke in his voice at all; just a comforting assurance. A soft-spoken man attending gently to a yelling and wildly restless boy. That image stuck in my mind as I approached my bus for the trip home.

But before I climbed the bus, I caught sight of a man lying down on the cemented ground in the far corner of a walkway. Initially, I thought it was a homeless man stretched out for a nap. I looked again. The man stood up and extended his arm to wave at an approaching female. The guy was tall and neatly dressed, not at all looking ragged or frayed as I expected. He was in a bus driver’s uniform, so he most likely was grabbing a quick rest before resuming his route. The woman was also in a driver’s uniform. She was tall and blond. I continued to watch as the bus was holding for more passengers. I could not look away from the couple at the far corner beyond the bus stop. It obviously was a romantic tryst aiming to be not so obvious. I wondered how many routes had to be driven before that blissful meeting. I wished them well in my mind, and turned my gaze away as my bus rolled on.

I had a fun adventure filled with meanderings that began with an anxiety-ridden ride to San Francisco for an early morning appointment, on a Wednesday that started dark and blustery, but turned out to be a bright, sunshiny, warm and happy afternoon – even though absent was a robust and bulging shrimp sandwich!

Linda P. Jacob