Monday, September 29, 2008

Random Weird Moments Part I

You know those weird things that happen that have no particular context?

Some evening a while ago, I was riding the 44 O'Shaugnessy from Glen Park to 9th and Judah. Shortly after I boarded, two 20-30 year old women came on and sat on a front bench, opened their cellphones, and started talking a little loudly. Kind of: yap yap yap riiiiiight oh my god sure sure yap yap yap oooo really? ....

After a minute or so, the driver abruptly stopped the bus and turned around to face the two of them. He said: "If you ol' bitches don't shut up and stop makin' this an unpleasant environment for everybody I'm goin' throw you off this bus."

You haven't seen two women on cellphones taken more aback in your life, I bet.

The one in front piped up semi-assertively, "Excuse me, did you just call me a bitch?"

"Yeah, bitch," he said. "Now you shut up or get off my bus."

They folded up their phones and sat quietly, making unhappy faces, and the driver resumed his route. I have to admit, one less person talking audibly into a cellphone anywhere near me is one more person I don't mind being around.

Almost Ripped in Half and I Had My Camera Too! Shucks!

Seeing someone get caught in the door of an N Judah and then immediately ripped in half - while you sit a few yards away with a camera ready to go - is an opportunity that hardly ever presents itself.

I got off Caltrain around 10PM on Friday evening and headed toward the N platform where an outbound train was waiting. As a group of about a dozen Caltrain passengers and I crossed in front of the lead car, walk light on, the operator pulled up toward us. I gave him an exasperated "what the Hell?" gesture, because he had just blocked the lead car doors with the railing at the north end of the platform. And of course because he was piloting the huge Breda person-grinding machine that had just lurched toward me. Normally when an operator pulls up like this, he keeps the doors closed and then heads on down King St. while the passengers beat on the sides and flip him the bird. Anyway, the entire front car was blocked by the railing, which extended to within a few feet of the front door of the rear car. The railing stands close to the train - about one foot away.

Unexpectedly, the operator waited, opened the doors, and let us in the rear car while he was out of position on the platform. There was a guy excitedly darting back and forth on the platform asking people at random, "Is this Broadway? Does this go to Broadway?" "There's no Broadway here," offered one passenger semi-helpfully, as she hurried inside. The guy seemed entirely unable to decide whether to be inside or outside the train, and so he temporarily resolved the dilemma by standing in the front doorway, half inside the car, half on the platform. And at that moment, with the door wide open and starting to close, the train moved forward quickly.

The guy, with an expression of complete shock on his face, the kind of expression someone has only when he realizes he is just about to die, leaped backwards out of the door. (This is an expression I had actually never seen before, and even by itself, it was kind of cool to watch.) Almost immediately the railing whizzed by the still-closing door as we headed up King Street.

Of course, had the guy stayed in the door for a fraction of a second longer, he would have been bisected by the railing, and absolutely, without question, torn mostly or completely in half and been dead within 2 seconds of an untimely moment of vacillation.

And I would have been there with my camera!

Well, okay, though I would have been Weegee-on-the-spot until the police ushered me away from the grisly scene, I actually found this horrifying. An LRV is required (by State and Federal law) to have interlocks that prevent the vehicle from moving forward until all doors are closed, and that brake the vehicle if doors are opened while it is in motion. This is not an optional "nice to have" feature; it is a "must have otherwise people will die in ways that can't be shown on CSI" feature. To wit, the guy who was ground to bits beneath the N Judah between 31st and 33rd earlier this year (as in, he was distributed all the way from 31st to 33rd) may have been caught in the door, at least initially. And this confused young gentleman came within arm's length of a similar fate.

Several other passengers were left gaping as we pulled away. After a couple of stops I moved to the lead car and told the operator as we waited at the Embarcadero portal, "Hey, dude, your interlock is totally not working. There was a guy in the door when you pulled away back there at 4th and King." He looked a little my way and said nonchalantly, "Really?".

Yes, really, dude.

I got off at Embarcadero and headed up to the Muni booth where I told the lady inside, "That N I just got off of, the interlock isn't working at all, and the operator pulled away from the Caltrain platform with a door wide open and someone jumping out of it." She looked surprised and got on the phone.

From there I don't know what happened, but apparently no one was dragged to a grisly demise. I got on the next N and rode uneventfully back to the Sunset.

For those of you who care about such things, the rear car was 1550 and the lead was 1545. For the time being, you might want to step lively through the doors of 1550.

I have to point out that the fact that the LRV almost killed someone is not the fault of the equipment. (The equipment sucks, but that's a different story.) It's first the fault of the operator, who was obviously not looking to see if the train was clear down the right side. Checking both sides of the immense metal death hulk to see if they're clear of soft, squishy people is not optional. It's also the fault of whoever failed to find, report, and fix the problem with the interlock or allowed the LRV to be operated without the interlock on.

Another 29, Another FAIL

I got on the 29 this morning in plenty of time to make my work shuttle to Palo Alto. The bus was full and we passed up the usual dozen or so people on Sunset, but all was well until we turned around at Crespi and Varela (Park Merced), where the driver began to say things like: "What's she doing?" and "Well we may not be going anywhere with this bus today." We crossed 19th and our driver stopped, got out, had a quick word with an inspector who had apparently flagged her down, then pulled around the corner and stopped again. The inspector (an efficient-sounding, slender 50-ish woman) and the driver started talking about the outside right mirror on the bus. "I know, I was just trying to get everyone where they want to go this morning," she said.

But the inspector pulled the bus out of service and the driver offloaded us. I guess the reasoning was that we would run over fewer people, on average, if the mirror was set properly. Doing the arithmetic, I figured my shuttle would be 1-2 minutes gone (at least) by the time I got to Balboa Park, so I crossed to the M platform ....

So I'm in our downtown office today, which is fine, except that my management gets annoyed with me if I spend more than one day a week here, and Monday isn't the day I wanted to spend here this week.

Plus I really, really, really need coffee now. At least I can go take care of that in a few minutes.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I Should've Got off at Chrissy Field, Part I

So Saturday I was planning to take some photos of the Maltese Falcon crossing under the Golden Gate Bridge at low tide, 2:00 PM. It took me a while to get my incredibly disorganized gear together but eventually I set out at around 12:30 to catch a 29. NextMuni told me the bus would pick me up at my Sunset stop a little before 1. I figured, most of 45 minutes to get to some spot toward the east end of Chrissy Field, I'd have 15-30 minutes to spare, no big deal.

1PM passed and no 29. I asked a girl waiting on the bench next to me, "Have you been here a while?" 20 minutes she said. Eventually two 29s arrived together. The first was a 25th and Geary and the second, according to the driver of the first, was "going allllll the way." Sounded like my bus! So I got on, lugging over 30 pounds of camera gear, and a tripod, and got set for a scenic ride through the park and around Baker Beach.

Little did I know that on this Saturday morning, there had already been an accident on Lincoln. Then there was this:

Mile-long line for Academy of Sciences opening

The California Academy of Sciences finally opened its revolutionary, eco-friendly, glass-enclosed iconic building in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, and welcomed an enthusiastic invasion by tens of thousands of visitors waiting in line for five hours or more.

It took us at least 10 minutes to get into the park from about 22nd and Lincoln, and traffic was still inching along northbound on 19th. The reason for that became clear a few minutes later when we inched by a couple of cop cars behind a rear-end accident in the left lane. But at that point the road was wide open and it was clear sailing to Baker Beach.

After that, we continued to the Golden Gate Bridge, squeezed our way through some confused tourists, and started to enter the dubiously small bridge underpass. A 28 was coming the other way, though, and almost immediately our driver was window-to-window with the other driver saying things like "It won't work!" What definitely would not work was either bus continuing forward. Now the underpass is a very popular route for Muni, tourbuses, cyclists, pedestrians, and of course disoriented tourists in rental cars. Immediately vehicles stacked up behind both buses. It took two cops (who fortunately are easy to find there) and about 10 minutes to get our bus backed up and out of the way and then back into the tunnel, without the 28 in the way this time. At this point it was probably about 1:40, not good, but not panic mode, because Chrissy field was less than 5 minutes away.

Our driver was one of the most cheerful and good-humored drivers I've ever encountered on Muni, which was great up until this point, but I began to lose confidence when he started to say repeatedly, "I don't know my way around here. I've never driven this route all the way up here. I'm not supposed to be here." (Dude, step outside and look at the letters above your windshield.) Just out of the tunnel he stops next to an outbound 29 and asks "Have you got the lefts and rights for this route?"

Yes, we had a driver who had never driven the route and was asking another driver for his route sheet.

Good humor, it turns out, won't actually steer a bus. But the driver, cheat sheet in hand, did manage to find Chrissy Field by about 10 till. Hoping to get a little farther east to get a slightly better vantage point (I wanted to be farther from the bridge so I could get a larger variety of photos), I stayed on.

Unfortunately, after that, we proceeded to take a route that no 29 had ever taken before, and probably never will again - wandering aimlessly through the Presidio until somehow we wound up on California, then on Geary around 4th, and then of course he drove all the way to 25th and Geary and let us off. By then it was about 2:30 and a once-in-a-lifetime photo had already sailed away, so to speak. Clearly, my gambit to save a little less than a mile of walking with my gear had been a foolish one.

So, fuming at this point, I rode a 38 to Park Presidio and waited for a 28, along with about 50 other people (!!) who had apparently been there as long as an hour. Three or four 28s came by in a row and I got on the last one and around 3:00, ta-da!, I was back at the bridge. I wondered, could I get a photo of the yacht? Could it somehow be late? I hurried to the railing at the overlook, to see three huge sails disappearing behind Angel Island at least 5 miles away. The sight lasted maybe 10 seconds. Oh well. I sat at the inbound 29 stop and out of boredom took photos of tourists with a 300mm lens. Tourists are boring subjects, though, so I got back on an inbound 29 (you're thinking, do I have a hole in my head?). Figuring I would wind up taking some photos of sailboats or something I did get off at Chrissy Field this time, then hoofed it to the beach and set up a tripod. (I really dislike carrying tripods and I was determined to get at least a little use out of it.) Turns out, most of the sailboats had left the Golden Gate for parts more interesting. The alternative of taking telephoto photos of couples walking in wind jackets on the icy beach was even more boring than just standing around being bored.

A group of people in their 20s came by and asked, as groups of carefree happy people in their 20s often do upon seeing a tired looking 40 year old guy set up with a tripod and an impressively large white lens, "Would you take our picture with the bridge in the background?" Sure, no problem, I took three okay photos with their point and shoot, and then one of them asked was I there photographing the big ship? No, I missed it, grumble, my bus driver got lost, grumble, et cetera. "Well I think it's still out there; it sailed around Angel Island and then came back."

I really couldn't see a thing - Belvedere (where the yacht was to be moored) was 4-5 miles away, and although it was a reasonably clear day there was still some haze. Even an immense ship with sails over 190 feet high looks pretty small at that distance. Not obvious to the naked eye unless you know what you're looking for. But after some searching ... I thought I saw something ... and even though they look like photos from a beached spy satellite, I did get a few snaps of the Maltese Falcon.

But wait ... that's not the end ...