Monday, January 5, 2009

This Time, I'm Hating on Caltrain

Clearly my mistake was buying a 10-ride ticket this morning.

Last year I rode Caltrain 3-5 times one way a week. I bought tickets one at a time except for a 10-ride in the Fall, which I lost after about 5 rides. This year I'll be riding it both ways from SF to Palo Alto around 4 days a week. So on my first trip of the year I bought a 10-ride ticket at Millbrae and vowed to hang on to it. I validated a first ride in Millbrae, rode to Palo Alto, all was well.

Returning home after work, I stuck it into an inoperative validator at Palo Alto while a friend watched. "Oh, you didn't get the free pass from the company," he commented. Nope, we have change in our commuting program this year and we do get free passes for one mode of transit (3 zones of Caltrain in my case) but I missed the deadline. "These things only work half the time. The one down there probably works but whatever," I said, pointing to the other ticket machines 75 yards away. I put the ticket away and we sat down and talked. The train came and we got on. He went on forward to the restroom and do his own thing and I sat down and opened my computer.

I looked up and a conductor was going by, so I said, "Hey, sir...." You have to see the conductor promptly if you have a 10-ride that isn't validated so he can do some scribbling on it. I got out of my seat and started fishing around for my shiny new 10-ride. Meanwhile he didn't even notice me (or ignored me) and headed off to another car.

I would have taken off after him except that I kept looking for the 10-ride ticket, and couldn't find it. Not in my jacket pocket where I thought I put it. Not in any pockets. Not in my briefcase. Not on the floor. Not anywhere! This preoccupied me for several minutes as I more or less turned my belongings inside out trying to find it. But, nope. So I sat back down, philosophically accommodated the $50 I had just wasted, and started fiddling with my computer again. Whatever, I figured, it'll get sorted out.

A few minutes go by and a conductor appears, checking tickets. I really don't know if it was the same guy - the first one blew by me while talking to someone else and I never saw his face. He spends a while dealing with someone else who either didn't have a ticket or took a while finding it. Anyway, he walks up to me and I tell him, matter of factly, hey, I had a 10-ride ticket when I got on, validator wasn't working, now I can't even find the ticket.

I guess I expected he would do one of the following:

1) "Okay, man, sorry to hear that, you have to have a ticket, be sure you have one next time." This is what I see conductors do about 1/2 the time.
2) "I'm sorry, sounds like a bummer, but you'll have to get off the train and get a ticket." This is what I see them do the rest of the time.

Instead, what he does is flip open a pad and say, "You're giving me no choice, I think it's time to write you a TRAN-SIT CI-TA-TION." (He lingered over the syllables.) So he writes me up. I give him a series of "What the hell?" looks as he progresses down his pad. "I bought a new 10-ride in Millbrae this morning. I stuck it in the non-working validator 15 minutes ago. I *thought* I brought it on the train with me. But I don't have it."

He gives me a series of indifferent stares and repeats "You're not giving me any choice" a few times, then says, "Well, I work with people when they come get me right away." I pointed out that I tried to get his (or someone's) attention, failed, and then spent 10 minutes looking for my ticket. Then shortly after that he came along. What am I supposed to do, run down the hallway after him fumbling through my stuff trying to find my missing ticket?

Anyhoo, now I have a fare evasion ticket, requiring an actual court appearance in San Mateo (where I don't work and don't live), and I'm out 9 3-zone rides (well, I guess I got this one for "free"), and instead of being wryly annoyed at myself for throwing away money for a couple of pizzas, I've been fuming about this jerk for the past 2 hours.

Just for the record, "R KELLEY," or "R KELLET," (I can't tell your T from your Y) serial number 551, you are an asshole.

I have my banking statements and whatnot and it should be pretty obvious that I'm actually telling the truth whenever I show up in court. Hopefully I can get the conductor to appear, and get Caltrain to produce maintenance records for the broken validator.

If I weren't on a diet I'd go drink a whole bunch of alcohol calories now.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You're So Busted

I feel a little conflicted here. Let's examine the pros and cons.

Pro: The N waited quite a while for me as I made my way from Trouble Coffee down to the 46th Ave stop.

Con: That's because the operator was getting a sandwich at 7-11 across the street.

Pro: He said, "You ain't got to show me nothin'," as I got onto the train in front of him. I said he needed my token, but then noticed that he had helpfully strapped a stack of serve-yourself transfers onto the coin box with a rubber band.

Con: Same as the "pro."

Pro: The driver asked (as this photo was taking place), "Is that a camera?" I said, yes, it's a Tessina, actually a very small 35mm camera. He said "I've got a camera at home that takes 620 film. Now that's old!".

Con: As I got off at 22nd thinking how cool it was that an operator knew what 620 film was, the train took off with a piece of passenger's luggage still sticking out of the wide-open rear door.

Goes to show, you can be a nice, smart guy, and a lousy operator.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Can't Breeeeeeeeathe!

I've had a horrible cold, or something like a cold but worse, for the past 4 days, and finally ventured out onto the N today.

So I'm riding in the front car next to the middle door, and suddenly somewhere around 22nd street, when the door opens, I'm blasted with this horrible gust from above that not only freaks out my entire olfactory system, but makes me feel like if I don't move, I'm going to die. Not the odor of pee or poo or vomit, or something rotting, or a paper mill, or one of the traditional awful smells. Instead, imagine a mixture of overly scented laundry detergent, and pesticide. Something like that. Imagine the mixture very strong, and warm.

I don't know what it was about it but immediately I felt disoriented and unhealthy. The door closed, and wherever the blast was coming from (the ventilation system? I don't know), it stopped. I could still smell it but from where, I couldn't tell. Then three streets down, the door opened again, and I was blasted by it again, felt instantly dizzy, claustrophobic, and nauseated, and I had to get out of the seat. I felt like I was being gassed! I left by the back door and got into the rear car. But I couldn't get it out of my head, and so I left the train entirely and waited for the next one.

I can tolerate quite a variety of less than ideal smells, or at least endure them while I get away, and I am one of the last people to complain that my environment is unhealthy, but this was freaky. Maybe it was someone's detergent or (horrible) perfume, and my nose was messed up from the cold. Later I was in the elevator standing next to someone who had been smoking and rather than smelling stale, the odor of his clothes was acrid and piercing. Maybe it's a new body spray from Axe. ("Here at Axe, our products make you so irresistible that we had to invent a spray to keep women away.")

But, of course, maybe someone sprayed Fresh Scent Nerve Gas into the ventilation system to kill some critters there, and used 50 times the recommended amount, or didn't let it air out afterward.

Either way, once was enough.

And the obligatory postscript: As the car I had exited took off uphill away from me, the rear door stayed open. I looked at a guy standing on the other side of it and shrugged, and he shrugged back. Then it closed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Random Weird Moments, Part II

Every once in a while there's someone engaged in a troubling distraction in the close confines of public transit. For example, last year, I'd been riding the N Judah from downtown out to the Sunset, and suddenly there was this middle aged Asian guy (balding, stocky, but not fat), running back and forth between the front and back of the car going, in a baritone:

He was yelling plenty loudly enough to make it obvious that every single person in the bus (iPod or not) was actively ignoring him, in the hope that the screaming would be the worst of it. The yelling and running kept up for a little while, then suddenly, a guy in his 20s yelled:
Then something wonderful happened. The crazy Asian guy actually shut up. He sat down and spent the rest of his ride nodding and mumbling busily to himself.

Maybe I'll try this yelling shut up thing sometime.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Nightly Bunch Report, and Other Happenings

Last night, after a little weirdness (see below), I got off a very slow N Judah in the Outer Sunset at around 11pm ... with 4 more trains right behind it. (Call it 3-1/2, because one was a 1-car train.)

Maybe it's just me, but this seems a little ... inefficient.

Where No One Has (Typically) Gone Before

Meanwhile, all this got started when I got off Caltrain at 10:00 and, to my delight, a couple of minutes after I started waiting on the N Judah platform, an N showed up. Everyone got off, we all waited a little while to see if the train was turning around at the platform, and when it apparently was, we boarded. I guess the operator wasn't paying attention to the dozen people getting onto his train, because shortly thereafter the train didn't turn and continued southbound. So there we were, sitting in the parking area and looking at the employees wandering outside, who really didn't pay much attention to us.

The operator never said a word, probably because he was embarrassed at dragging a load of passengers into the parking/switching area. Or maybe because he just doesn't talk.

Aside from That

Two women, who sounded questionably sober, engaged in a brief screaming match while the train was in the subway.

"Oh you bet, you're going to pay."
"I'll pay when I want to."
"You just committed a felony by threatening me!"
"Driver! This woman is threatening me!"

Me, I would have pushed them both onto the tracks at that point.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another Short Turn at Arguello

I really thought I had seen the last of this. But apparently not.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Joseph N. Hall
Date: Tue, Nov 11, 2008 at 10:31 AM
Subject: Short turns on the N Judah again
To: Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Cc: Greg Dewar , Carmen Chu , Fiona Ma , "De Leon, Elvira"

(Greg, feel free to post an excerpt from this on the N Judah Chronicles. In fact I encourage you to. You can edit it as necessary.)

Dear Ms. Gordon,

If you recall your article of August 6:

Muni operators who shorten runs given warning

I was on an outbound N Judah last night (Nov 10) that made a short turn at Arguello, and it was *25 MINUTES* before another train arrived to pick up my fellow passengers on me. We were left IN THE DARK LATE AT NIGHT ON THE SIDEWALK FOR A HALF HOUR by the operator who said he was "ordered to" do this by control. This is probably complete bullshit; if it isn't then someone in control is equally responsible for this inexcusable action - and the operator should have ignored the instruction anyway. The train was labeled "Ocean Beach" when I boarded it at 4th & King and the roller did not change to Arguello until the operator exited the Market St. subway.

There were plenty of trains returning inbound (no shortage, in fact one passed us while the operator was switching back), and few outbound trains, so this train was needed outbound. Ahead of us some outbound passengers would have been waiting over 30 minutes for a train.

This is totally, spectacularly inexcusable and is the kind of unnecessary stupidity and callousness that creates such a negative perception of Muni customer service - when in reality it is only a small percentage of operators and managers who are responsible.

I've filed a complaint with Muni, and will contact Fiona Ma, Carmen Chu, and at least Sarita Britt (Green Division Supervisor), possibly Ken McDonald, today, to find out precisely why this turn occurred, and whether or not some kind of disciplinary action will in fact be taken.

Thank you very much. If you have a little time to continue pursuing this story I would very much appreciate it.

Best regards,


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Muni's Response to "Almost Ripped in Half..."

I'm a somewhat frequent user of the online Muni complaint form. I submitted one after seeing someone nearly killed on the N Judah platform at 4th and King. Sometimes I get responses. For example:

Thank you for your report regarding an incident with a MUNI transit operator on the N-Judah line, which occurred on September 26, 2008. Your report helps the Municipal Railway provide better service by allowing us to focus on areas of concern.

I have asked Sarita Britt, Green Division Superintendent to investigate this situation, and to implement corrective measures to prevent a reoccurrence of this type of behavior.

I appreciate your taking the time to inform MUNI of your concerns. We are earning a new reputation at MUNI, and riders’ feedback is crucial in achieving this goal.

If you need additional information regarding this report, please contact the MUNI Passenger Service Department at (415) 923-6275.


Maria M. Williams

Manager, Passenger Service

SF Municipal Railway