The Story So Far
If you're one of the few folks who have kept in regular contact with this reporter, you may remember that Plan A for my big summer vacation had been a northern Rockies tour the last week of July, centered around a DX con in Boise. Well, in the meantime I caught wind of a potential job opening at a transit agency, so was unsure if I should be planning a vacation trip when I might not have the time off for it? In a roundabout way it was just as well...there were many delays, but the funding was finally approved and the job was posted, right in the middle of the time I would have been up in Idaho and Montana. Now another round of waiting, to see if my application is worthy of an interview call.
[Update - All this waiting and plan-shifting for nothing, aargh!!!]
Plan B, a county and baseball tour of Texas during the 3rd week of June, was scratched while the gas prices were at their peak, put off in favor of a car-free week in and around a former homeland. The deciding factor was getting a ticket to a Giants home game. How that you’re up to date with this soap opera, it's on with this week’s episode….
Very unlike me not to hit the road right after the end of the last work-day, but my Angels ticket package included one of the, well, I don't recall hearing any sickningly-cutsey title like "I-5 series". La Dodgers made the long ride down from Los Angeles for a weekend series. Pretty much a full house in Anaheim, including many Korean fans in to see Chan Ho Park. He didn't have the great stuff I saw last year up in Los Angeles, but it was enough to baffle the Angel hitters. I'd stopped at the McDoof's at Katella and State College for dinner, as they had a Johnsonville bratwurst poster in the window. Yep, they were the authentic Sheboyan item, so I got one to eat at the ballpark. The preparation, however, was hardly authentic...the brat was fried rather than grilled, and covered with a gloppy mess of catsup and yellow mustard, tsk tsk.
The vacation trip started routinely enough, on the same first-train-to-LA I often take on Southern California Transit Advocates meeting Saturdays. I checked the two heavier bags through to Oakland, figuring this would make the train-bus-train transferring easy, and in case I wound up doing something in Los Angeles with my layover time. I would decide to take the complete loop of the downtown "Dash" bus, to check out the damage around the basketball arena area from last night's championship celebrations, but methinks route DD does not start up until 10am, as it was a no-show after a half-hour's wait. Instead, I took a rare stroll down the tourist-oriented Olvera street, dropped off a couple letters at the post office, picked up a Subway sandwich for lunch, then over to the already-crowded Thruway bus area.
There is no direct train service possible between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin valley, so Amtrak runs buses to and from the Bakersfield rail-head. These coaches are relatively comfortable, and the air conditioning comes in very handy especially at the north end of the run. With so many people, they started loading early...I was on the first bus, which left 5 minutes before the scheduled 10:25 departure. We made a brief stop in Glendale, where one passenger was carrying her pet cello, then straight up to Bakersfield. Just past the Kern County line, for some reason there were a bunch of Foothill Transit buses parked at what looked like a campground. Would be nice if they had regular service up there from the San Gabriel Valley :). The ride downhill was somewhat hairy, my napping frequently interrupted by the jerking of sharp turns.
Bakersfield was baking as expected, running a temperature of 97. Had a few minutes to kill before the San Joaquin train boarding, so I checked out the new train station. Looked like it could be a nifty multi-modal transit center, but there was no sign of local bus service around, either in the form of bus stops or route info inside. Wanted to record some of Buck Owens' country station, but the normally strong 107.9 was being chewed up by the 107.1, whose transmitter was just next door. Fortunately, Buck's station on 550 was in well enough to record that until we were far enough away for interference-free 107.9. FM trouble like this was fairly common en route, as if their towers were close to the tracks, or way too far away up in the Sierra foothills. Speaking of towers, the massive shortwave arrays for Voice of America is still up, near Delano. Would they still be using those? I have heard how some long-time overseas shortwave services have given up broadcasting, either to go on the Web or just calling it quits.
Scenery en route included Castle Airport, formerly an air force base, with lots of jet fighters scattered on a field at the entrance, and a slow ride along the marshes and then narrow cliffs between Stockton and Richmond, then slowing down even more down to Oakland.
Got into Oakland only slightly late. The neat old (though earthquake-ravaged) Oakland train station has been replaced by two facilities, one at Emeryville and one in the Jack London Square area just south of downtown Oaktown. The latter has really boomed as a tourist and residential zone since I moved away in 1988. The still-newish train station is basic, but several steps above the "AmShed" glorified bus-shelter stations. It has baggage service, when the luggage gets there anyway. Mine seemed to have missed a connection somewhere, or were mis-routed to the "Coast Starlight" which runs direct (yet slower) from Los Angeles to Oakland. I had to fill out a lost-bag report, and the clerk told me they would call me, and the bags would then be delivered to my motel, as soon as they arrived.
For sake of variety and budget, my lodging would be split up over the 7 nights. The first two snoozes would be at the same Oakland "Airport" Motel 6 used back in September. I already knew the radio reception would suck, and was not even the nearest one to Jack London Square, but it IS the most convenient thanks to the fabled AC Transit "A" bus.
That is, when one can catch the "A". The stop-list in the schedule said 2nd & Alice Sts., very close to the station, but the only buses on the sign there are the #72 and #73. I was able to flag down a San Francisco-bound A, and the driver pointed towards a small sign at the far end of the station platform, 2 city blocks away (roughly Embarcadero and Harrison). I got there in time to see an eastbound A...speeding straight down 2nd St., aargh! The stop list also mentioned Embarcadero and Broadway, and I had only 30 minutes to walk those 4 blocks. That stop was goofy too, as under the "A" is said "Midnight-6am only". I distracted myself from worry by watching the mayhem at the intersection, many a car and pedestrian dodging each other with only stop signs for protection, broken up by the occasional bus, or even a train or two on one of the tracks running down the middle of Embarcadero. Got my bus at last, and this one did pull into the Amtrak bus zone. Seems that drivers hate this one, as the narrow driveway out has a tight turn, with heavy metal pipes planted in the concrete acting as guardrails. The bus itself was very nice, a wide, tall, interstate-worthy MCI coach. I got to see why transit-oriented travelers I know love this line so...and I also got to see a notice inside, for a hearing the next Thursday evening, to eliminate all but "owl" service on the A. I would spend the quick drive down to Hegenberger Rd. writing a first draft of my public hearing presentation.
No call from Amtrak by 10:15, and no local number found, so I had to jump through the hoops at (800) USA-RAIL, where I did find out the Seattle-bound "Coast Starlight" had come and gone almost on time, and that the station was to be open only until 10:30, but was not answering their phone. I called mysel and got an nswer, just not the one I was supposed to get...sure the bags were there, but they would not deliver then before the next day, nor would they stay open for me to get them myself..."We open at 5:30am". Will of course be calling them on their trip-satisfaction guarantee, soon as I find all the appropriate ticket stubs.
Up first friggin' thing, for the "A" bus to reach the Amtrak station right when they opened. Only positive note, this gave me the chance to ride official "owl" service for the first time since about 1998. Arrived with 5 minutes to spare...no, make that 35, as the station really did not open until 6:00, aargh! Mr. Up-and-Atom counter clerk seemed to time his service so I would just miss the next "A" south, so with 30 minutes to kill I headed for the Oakland Grill for some small breakfast-like sustenance. They were still sensibly not open yet, but I did find the Nation's Giant Burger on Braodway and 3rd, where I got some wheat toast and a large soda.
Might have tried to get another hour or two snooze-time, but instead I read the East Bay Express and Sunday Examiner-Chronicle, then took the "A" all the way into San Francisco to check on the state of Mission and Market streets. Phew! Except for the convention center and new-ish shopping area between 3rd and 4th, Mission St. had somehow gotten even worse than during my frequent lunchtime walk from 1st to check my PO Box on 7th. (I generally walked south for the exercise, then took a Mission or Market bus back north to work.) Many conventioneers in the Moscone and Metreon areas, almost all with American Library Association tags chained to their necks. 7th Street had a large hole where the Greyhound station used to be, and my old post office was now a courthouse. The Civic Center area was OK, if only because the Sunday Farmer's Market was in session. North of there it was predictably sucko until after the Powell St. cable car turntable. I found the Blondie's pizza stand still in business on Powell and Ellis, but the old stuff-your-face-cheap aspect had been replaced with a slightly cleaner, more upscale (well, at least more expensive) style...roasted chicken pizza?!? I got some for old time's sake, also guessing (rightly) that it wouldn't be any cheaper at the ballpark.
And a nice ballpark it is, even if "PacBell" gets a little bit too cramped when full. Instead of taking and tearing tickets, the gatekeepers pointed in the genetral direction of a place where one sticks their ticket for its barcode to be scanned. If there was an indicator light of some sort, I did not see it...they waved me through, and also handed me a "Father's Day" gift, a one-use camera with 12 pictures, compliments of a newspaper and a department store. I used most of the shots at the ballpark, and later in my transit touring. Decent upperdeck seats, though more expensive and more cramped than my similar location at Edison Field. Also, a lot more seats in each row, and here I was in the very middle of the section. Good that I did not need to get up, or anything the vendors were offering, during the Giants-A's game. The A's pitched around Barry Bonds, and the Giants returned the favor vs. Jason Giambi, but the Giants had too many other hitters.
Waited out most of the post-game crowd by checking the racks at the Tower Records clearance/used CD store, and a bit of other neighborhood exploration. The neat little pasty shop on Third St. was gone, as was the former Muni #42 line (ironically, just after Douglas Adams moved to the Frog Star). Long line of Giants fans at the Caltrain station, but the N/Judah streetcar platform was quiet, so I got on there for a ride out to Ocean Beach. After many years of squabbling, the old Beach Chalet at the far west end of Golden Gate Park was now open enough for one to go inside and view its many WPA-era murals.
I wanted to take the 31/Balboa back downtown, a route I used to live next to and was now using electric trolley buses. However, after about 20 minutes' wait with none even on break in the terminal, I instead caught the 38/Geary. We would pass two 31's 35th Ave. Caught the AC Transit "F" at Transbay Terminal. The route had been altered some since the 80s, and many places along the old route had been altered as well. For instance, a few blocks of industrial wasteland in east Emeryville had been converted into the land of big-box chain stores. A major route alteration was good for my plans...instead of staying on Shattuck up to Albany, the north end is now a loop around the UC campus. I stayed on to Bowditch St., still mostly familiar though it looks like the KALX studios either moved from 2311 or were made very inconspicuous.
Top Dog was still on Durant, and as good as ever even if the prices had gone up a lot. I managed to remember not to ask for what they called a "bratwurst", too similar to a Polish with extra garlic. I was also aiming for the Amoeba Records on Telegraph, but I found the Rasputin first. Rasputin had moved to a different, larger location since 1988. Their used section had the largest selection of Negativland I've ever seen (no surprise), though did not have the one I really needed (the ultra-rare "U2"), and I was able to back-fill my Man...or Astroman? collection. Amoeba was just down the street, but was already closed for the night by the time I passed by, so I walked to Berkeley BART. Good News/Bad News, the southbound BART train was just late enough for me to catch it, but then it just missed the connection to the #58 (so what else is new?) at Coliseum BART. Rather than wait the 29+ minutes, it was yet another dark stroll along the narrow sidewalk on Hegenberger Rd. back to the motel.
My Jack in the Box breakfast featured live entertainment. At first, I could swear the guy was talking to someone who was merely hidden from my view, as there sounded like responses in a different vioce, but no it was just the one guy.
San Francisco radio was no better or worse than during the quickie September weekend, so was still a major disappointment compared to the past. I did manage to catch Tom Benner's weekly overnight shift on KFRC, a double disappointment as he was only allowed to speak about ever 5-6 records, hardly often enough for his dry sense of humor to show, and the burnout oldies in no way did justice to the heritage of either the former "Big 610" or what used to by 99.7 KYUU. Another downer was Alex Bennett, who I enjoyed so much on KQAK and KITS (plus on WIOD during the 1990 South Florida trip), but was found as just another techie-geek yapper on "C|Net 910", KNEW in call-sign only.
For variety, and for slightly cheaper lodging, I'd booked the Motel 6 in Petaluma for Monday and Tuesday. Petaluma is in southern Sonoma county, the northern fringes of the "Bay Area". While a long way away, cities up the Santa Rosa are easily (if slowly) accessible even late at night thanks to Golden Gate Transit. GGT also now operates the service connecting El Cerrito and Richmond to San Rafael, which used to be covered by a small, clunky jitney that "marketed" inself more as a way for folks in and near those cities to get to and from San Quentin.
Plan A was to stash my baggage in a San Francisco locker and use this as my big exploration day, but if there is any storage lockers anymore I don't know where they are. A couple guidebooks from 2000 were still suggesting the Greyhound station on 7th St., which you already know is now gone. Instead, I aimed directly for Petaluma first. Despite all the baggage, this all went relatively smoothly, even if the Golden Gate #80 driver did not know quite where the last Petaluma stop was. In theory, the stop and the Motel 6 are at the same intersection, except the stop is at least a block to the south and west, and the motel more like 3 or 4 blocks to the north and east. Also quite a haul north of the bulk of the city, a shame as there are quite a few interesting looking restaurants and other businesses in town. Also nice to see there was still a little bit of open space between the populated zones of Marin and Sonoma counties, enough where for a few miles US101 was still not a freeway, instead an old-fashioned four-lane divided highway.
After checking in, I decided to head up to Santa Rosa for an abbreviated tour. Sonoma County #44 stops right next door to the motel, but was delayed by a nasty accident on US101 that occurred just minutes after the #80 had exited. Missed connections to either of the Santa Rosa CityBuses I needed, so instead I would walk everywhere, even somehow finding a direct route I'd never walked before between the library and the AAA office. This auto club office had a couple of after-hours map vending machines, with a membership card-reader.
I would up hoofing it all the way down to Rohnert Park. This would give me a chance to check the radio dial much nearer to the Sonoma county transmitters that I was at the motel. Befitting the population growth up there, and the fungus that now grows on commercial radio in general, the formerly entertaining and/or funky Santa Rosa market has become as safe and bland as any other place. The wacky old country station on 1150 was gone, the signal permanently silenced; KSRO had devolved from a full-service, information heavy adult contemporary outlet into just another third-rate, mostly right-wing-wacko talkfest, with only the saving grace of local newscasts; Petaluma's KTOB still seemed relatively local, but had switched from English to Espanol; 97.7 had lost its weird, unfocused, undescribable local sound by the mid-80s already, but it had deteriorated further since, now burnout-oldies KMGG; KXFX had gone from being semi-progressive to being just another faceless album rocker on 101.7. Still of interest were 1460, which had shifted from decent standards to fun ranchero (now KRRS), and 89.1, still listener-sponsored, mostly Mexican KBBF (though also had the local minor league play-by-play en ingles). The other established stations, well I'll only mention by special request.
Several new stations had come on the air since my last check (in 1987). 93.7 had KJZY, with smooth so-called jazz (I don't mind it but it's NOT jazz, folks!) and promos by Mr. Uncola, ha-aah; 98.7 had somewhat eclectic, light album rock as KRSH; there was automated (or satellite?) sounding 80s-heavy oldies on 100.9, calls apparently KGRP; 104.9 was KHMX, more or less playing the hits. One newbie I had hoped to hear, especially after finding blocks of blues, folk, country, and even lounge on their website schedule, was public KRCB. Either they were off for technically difficulties, or they have no signal to speak of south of downtown Santa Rosa, as when I was getting anything on 91.1 it was KCSM from San Mateo.
I expected to have dinner at one of the several spots near the motel, but by 10pm all were closed but Applebee's, so all I had was some juice and ice cream from 7-11.
This became my San Francisco day, though alas just as abbreviated as Sunday. Golden Gate #74 is an express bus from Petaluma to the Civic Center, so the rides in and back were relatively painless. With the shortage of time, money, and refreshing ocean breezes, I accomplished almost nothing on this day. Well, I did mail a bunch of maps, books, tapes, and schedules to myself at work, rode an old PCC streetcar from the AAA office up to my lunch stop (a giant burrito at El Faro, 1st and Mission, just around the corner from the dull skyscraper workplace from 1981-84), and a too-brief stop in a Japantown market.
I then headed back north on one of the early #74 afternoon runs, which happily got me back into Petaluma early enough to find their local bus system in action. They use a non-union contractor and small van-buses (very much like what Long Beach has for its downtown shuttles), and they really should post their route and schedule information in the bus shelters, especially at the main transfer points...I only caught the right bus as enough of one destination sign was legible to recognize it was the street Motel 6 was on. Grabbed a quick shower, then another ride north on Sonoma County #44, this time for the Fresh Choice salad & soup bar in Rohnert Park, with enough time for a 3-mile walk before the return trip. On this walk, found 3 or 4 less expensive motels for possible future use, clustered around the Rohnert Part Expressway interchange of US101.
Another shift in venue, this time to the Motel 6 in Walnut Creek. The route was a reverse of Monday, up to MacArthur BART station anyway, where I would transfer to the Pittsburg line. Also, the transfers were much less smooth, as the Golden Gate #80 was just late enough to mean a 29-minute wait for the #40, and both BART trains were very crowded. At Walnut Creek BART, no County Connection driver had a clue if there was any bus up to the Motel 6 on north Main, even the driver of the free shuttle that would in fact stop closest!
Plenty of hills between there and the transmitter sites, but most of the major stations have some sort of signal booster on one of the hills, so reception was actually cleaner than it was in Oakland. Plus, I could get many of the Sacramento stations. From the maps at the BART stations, the Walnut Creek and Concord areas had more walking and biking trails than before, however it would be too hot (100 or so inland most days) to try all but a couple small pieces. On one of those, I was able to get a regional park district map that showed still more trails, so next time up there (sometime between September and April, I'd say), will do more explorations on foot.
Armed with the free pass to a 2001 weeknight A's game I was given at the game last year, I then headed for Oakland. Was still somewhat early, so I first went down to Hayward for a bit of walking, and to see/hear what Chabot College's KCRH was up to. In the mid-80s, this was a school-hour-only station, strange as all they ran was 2nd-rate easy listening records, with lousy audio and signal. 89.9 was now on past 4:30pm, and had a beat you could dance to, but the signal was still crummy...KFJC was chewing on them from way across the bay until I was less than a mile from KCRH.
By the time I got back up to the Coliseum area, the BART station was mobbed. My guess was it would have taken up to 15 minutes just to exit the station, then there was still the walk to the ballpark and who-knows how lng a line at the ticket window. Did not help that the opponent was the high-flying Mariners, and that the A's seem to be the only team in the division that could beat them more than once a series. I went back up to the BART platform and headed south to Fremont, figuring to at least get in more walking and to take a small bite out of the long list of South Bay radio station IDs. Between Union City and Fremont, the train took on an odor such as if it had run over a large skunk. At the Fremont station, some guy from another car was at the attendant booth, warning that it smelled either like bad brakes or "someone smoking weed". The scent wasn't metallic, rubbery, or weedy :), though, so I'm still going with ex-skunk.
The BART station side of the old "Hub" shopping center was more of a ghost-town than ever, but there were many open stores and restaurants on the west edge, including a "Sweet Tomatoes" salad and soup bar. They are co-owned with the Souplantations down here, very similar in every way except that they don't have the Auto Club discount. Walked around for a bit after, picked up some useful bus schedules, and headed back north a little sooner than I had to, in order to avoid any post-game crowds.
Relatively speaking, a take-it-easy morning, laundry mostly. Was surprised to find no such facilities at the Motel 6 (some, like Oakland, do), so had to drag my stuff up the street about a mile. Not exactly in the middle of a residential area, so was thankfully quiet most of the time.
For the afternoon, I decided on a change-of-pace route over to Berkeley and Oakland. The only time I had taken the WestCat route 30Z through the pass between Richmond and Martinez, it was a cool, foggy New Year's Eve 1986. I'd have to get to it via Central Contra Costa's County Connection, but the system maps I had were a bit too convoluted. Looking at some individual schedules, it was much clearer...their #116, which runs right past the Motel 6, goes up to Martinez. By amazing luck, the best transfer point from the #116 to the #30Z was on Alhambra at G St., right across from the infamous "Safemuffins", and with the right amount of time between buses. 180 is large for the neighborhood, but not totally out of place.
[Folks not into "Negativland" dunno what the heck I'm talking about, never mind the towers or the Big Chairs near the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge.]
Was a long, hot ride, so I nodded off several times on the way west to El Cerrito. To help wake up, and to save a few cents in BART fares, I used up my free time walking from El Cerrito de Norte to North Berkeley. The trail until the BART tracks was more formalized (mostly paved) than I remember it being. Ironically though, it also attracted a lot more dog walking, with the associated mess and smell. There was a LOT of shopping now around the del Norte station, while the old little mall that gave the El Cerrito Plaza its name was half-empty and in the middle of serious renovation on the rest. I did a lot of my grocery shopping at the Lucky's here in my Berkeley days, via the convenient #43 line. Well, the Lucky's chain has been assimilated by the Mormon Borg (aka Albertson's), and the 43 now avoids Contra Costa County.
Was nice to hear El Cerrito High School's KECG on the air, a rare thing in the past but more common now thanks to their association with Long Beach's KLON. Most of the time, 88.1 just rebroadcasts KLON's jazz, blues and such. Better still, they sometimes break away for their own programs, such as the classic jazz & vocals program heard this afternoon. Being a very low-powered station, their signal was a bit messy even just a mile from the high school, but I did tape a side. Later in my walk, was amazed to also hear KPFB doing something other than simply simulcasting KPFA! Alas, was too far away to get a clean tape of their urban mix show, and was needing to get down to Oakland.
Also nice to see the "Toot Sweets" bakery still in business, just inside the Berkeley line. As the neighborhood around it was a bit more upscale, they had compromised with flavored coffees, fancier pastries, and smaller/more expensive brownies. No "blond brownies", either! Had my mouth set for butterscotch, but had to make do with coconut, darn. 1290 Hopkins, my first California residence, was in much better shape these days, and a lot of the BART right-of-way between there and the North Berkeley BART station was now accessible as a walking trail, shaving a few minutes off the walk. Almost all of BART's run through Berkeley is via subway, by the way.
On to 1600 Franklin St., AC Transit headquarters. A pretty typical hearing I guess, just a legally-mandated public venting session before the board does what it wants to do anyway. AC Transit board members opened with an explanation of how they had set up the route primarily to feed San Francisco people and West Oakland workers to Oakland airport. Most of the attendees were Jack London Square residents who used the A to get to San Francisco or to OAK. The board said they had spent a lot of money on advertising the line, however all of the speakers (myself included) pointed out that they had not seen any of the ads, but had either heard about the line through someone else or had stumbled upon it accidentally. The board noted a lack of riders, but speakers noted certain service problems (I noted how the stop-list on the schedule was inaccurate, especially for the Amtrak stop, and how often I'd witnessed busses missing said stop), that they had noticed a recent increase in ridership (which an agency flunkie reluctantly acknowledged), and that more housing units were going up in the Jack London Square area (NONE of which existed when I was living nearby in 1985-88). The board took all this in, but appear set to cancel the route in August after all. They did mention wanting to hold off on their final answer for a couple weeks, while going over a last-second (and token) funding proposal from Caltrans, and some too-little/too-late support from a normally disruptive Port of Oakland (which also hurt the A line by not allowing bus stops in convenient places, and limiting layover times and zones at OAK). However, the scheduling guy said that any delay beyond July 5th means the line would have to appear on the driver sign-up for August-December. Will try to keep a watch on this one, and I know 2 or 3 SO.CA.TA members will be up that way next month anyway.
Took a quick tour of the last "old neighborhood" afterward. The restaurants along 17th St. were a bit more boutiquish. 1426 Alice St., my last Oakland address, had been beautifully remodeled, and instead of a tiny convenience store at street level, there was a café and coffee shop. The housing north on Alice, while never bad, was obviously in better shape. I found out why when getting up to Lake Merritt, with its narrow sidewalk now very popular with joggers and walkers.
There was supposed to be a chicken & waffles restaurant on Grand Ave. I found where it USED to be, so I had to seek out another dinner stop. There was a fish & chips place nearby, but only after I placed my order was I told they were out of fish. Another sign of an upscale nieghborhood...the burger, pizza, and Mexican joints were mostly replaced by various Asian cuisines. The only old-line affordable places found were Col. Mustard's hot dogs (closed for the evening already), KFC (heavily remodeled exterior, but no doubt still the same scuzzy food), and the Kwik Way burger stand (I don't think they'd washed the windows since I was last near it?). I wound up at the Subway on Lake Shore.
My searching was made bearable by the radio. I'd stopped in front of the shuttered chicken place long enough to dig my Walkbeing recorder out of the backpack, and for the heck of it I tuned to 103.3. Wouldn't you know, there was jazz at that dial position...the "KRKD" pirate was on! It had a reasonably decent signal while I was walking around and having dinner, only getting trashy when I had to hop on a bus over to MacArthur BART station to run back to the motel. Had it not been for a prior recording commitment, I would have stuck around, and in fact would have tried to track it down.
[The operator is a friend of a former friend, and I'd been to the studio location twice, but both times it was at night and via a convoluted route...the way the streets are laid out in the hills, nothing's direct anyway.]
Got back to Walnut Creek about 11:00. It was a struggle, but I managed to stay awake until about 11:30, in order to tape an entire show and as much of the one following it as possible...
KPFA's "Over the Edge" was a roundtable "discussion" on Death Metal and Black Metal music, including Weatherman, Pastor Dick, "Harold Camping" (a dead-on impersonation of the goof who runs the religious "Family Radio" network), and an unfamiliar-to-me character "Santo Gold". Thanks to a couple C-150s and my little auto-reverse recorder, I taped the entire show and most of the "Puzzling Evidence" that followed while losing only about 10 minutes sleep (well-timed alarm clock, too). There was a plug for some show some of the Negativland guys will be part of next month, if I ever find either my notes or that part of the tape again. I think they said they be under the name "Chopping Channel"?
San Jose Day...met up with some bus and rail-car fanboy for a tour of the entire Valley Transportation Authority light-rail system. In 1987, I had been down there for the Grand Opening of what was then Santa Clara County Transit's streetcar system, at first running just from Great America amusement park down to Younger Ave. A 2 miles addition by late 1988 meant I could take it to downtown San Jose during my Thanksgiving week return visit. This line now runs down to Santa Teresa, but the northern end got cut off...this is now part of a crosstown line from Mountain View to I-880. Eventually, the east end will continue east and then south along the Capital Expressway. The 3 or 4 easternmost miles goes past almost nothing but Cisco Systems offices. There is also an odd little shuttle down in the Almaden area, just 3 stops along a mostly single-track right-of-way, and on the downtown tracks they also run some old streetcars. At Mountain View, we took a side-trip so the fanboy could check on some new model railroad cars. If I ever had the desire (and the room) to set up a layout, I would go with a streetcar system. They had a few European cars, but the only American rail transit model they had was a BART car. Someone at Fullerton Rail Days had a couple PCC cars on their railroad tracks. I did find a magazine of interest, whose name (Pacific Transit??) I forget right this minute but it covers general transit news for the western US.
Was not able to do any taping during the VTA tour, as I could not monitor what I was recording. Well, did try to record KCEA from Menlo-Atherton HS, with what sounded like good old big band and swing, but the signal was a major mess on most of the resulting tape. So, "South Bay" is underrepresented in the batch I brought back. Having dinner in Union City only helped a little...while still near San Jose, it was already too close to the messy San Francisco transmitter farm on Mt. San Bruno, and the 104.9/Fremont tower hovers over Union City like a vulture. Never mind that the dinner site I found, Hometown Buffet, was the worst meal I've had at any place in either of their chains (this even beats out three or four bad ones I had at the Old Country Buffets).
There was still a wee bit of daylight when I got back to Walnut Creek, so I walked back to the motel via a couple of the walking trails just east and north of downtown. The trail system is a bit larger than it was when I took occasional BART rides east for a day's walking. There was a system map in one of the information holders, so I'll be prepared for a future visit...sometime between October and April, to avoid the nasty summer heat east of the Oakland hills.
Up bright (ha!) and early for the final packing, and the baggage-lug to Oakland. Helped to know that the Coast Starliner was running even later than I was, about 40 minutes behind as of Sacramento. Just missed the BART I was wanting to catch...it might have even been a minute early, though I doubt I could have made it even on-time. As Murphy often says, if you're running late, your bus/train leaves on schedule, and the one after is then always late and crowded. I thought I would have to decide if I was going to walk to the Amtrak station, or catch a bus, but since the BART I'd be catching was running late, I would be missing the connection for the (closer for walking) Lake Merritt stop anyway...got off at 12th and Broadway and caught whatever came first of the #72 or #73.
The train had lost even more time, now expected in at 10:00am, so I had time to check the biggest bag (after getting assurance that it would be on the same trains I was taking south), and run over to Nation's Giant for a big breakfast, the better to avoid an expensive train lunch. Glad I asked for it to go, as it turns out the two people ahead of me had large and unusually detailed orders. Did not get out until 10:10, which was cutting it very close for the train's departure...had it gotten there at 10am anyway. Finally got in at 10:30.
Found a seat to myself, but good that I didn't sit back, relax and start on my breakfast before the conductor came around. Every so often you run into one that insists on packing everyone together, "in case" they needed open 2- and 4-seat areas for families. Now, if it came down to there being a definite need for this, instead of a maybe, fine. Being forced to move in advance, and into a seat they chose for me, now that's a problem. At least they didn't pull the extra stupidity of sticking everyone going to the same destination together in one part of a car. This guy was a chatter-box, and not on topics I found remotely interesting either, but I only got the "Are there cows on the tracks?", "These trains don't run through the best parts of town, huh?", and such until San Luis Obispo. I occasionally muttered to myself and looked at all the empty seats behind me. Got a little taping done to SLO, and a lot more done in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Lots of odd buildings noted while we were passing through Vandenburg Air Force Base.
The train got in a couple hours late, but they did hold up the last Pacific Surfliner to Fullerton, San Diego, and all points in between. This sort of thing is a common annoyance, as often one leaves a Los Angeles event at the last second and race to Union Station to catch the last, 9:50 southbound train, only to then more than occasionally have to sit at the platform up to 90 extra minutes if the connecting Starlight is still on its way. Sometimes when it looks like it's to be really late, the Surfliner will get to leave on-time and Amtrak instead runs buses for the late arrivals.
The End Times
I almost had a return visit to San Francisco in mid-September, representing a couple southern California transit groups at the Rail~Volution conference. Just one of the thousands of events screwed up by the terrorist weasels. As of "post time" (9/18/01), the conference people are still only guessing if/when it would be held this year. None of the proposed weekends announced so far work for me, so looks like it's wait-til-some future year. While I had little vacation time to waste, I took the 3 days off anyway, to get some needed sleep, investigate more OCTA routes in south county, and do some snooping around for a bus study tour we'll be hosting for SO.CA.TA at the end of September. (See you there?)