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 ...

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