Buses and trains

November 30th, 2013, 3pm

It was 15°C. The breeze was light.

Not the most glamorous shot of today’s commute. Then again, commuting in San Francisco = not glamorous at all. Unless you’re hanging on to the side of a cable car going up Powell…

Actually, nope, still not glamorous.

The daily commute. An annoying, necessary evil for some (most?). Dirty buses, occasional creepy strangers, all the pushing and shoving. For me though, it’s somewhat a treat.

I grew up in Manila, land of crazy buses and psycho pedestrians and hour-long traffic jams. I grew up with a dad with road rage, a mom with crazy driving skills (…safe to say I inherited both—I’m a crazy and angry super defensive driver. But always safe! I’ve never hit anything on the road. While parking, though, is a different story), two older brothers, and, thankfully, a friendly family driver.

For most of my life, when I needed to go somewhere, I always had to rely on someone else to get me there. Can you please pick me up? Can I hitch a ride when you go to work? No ride? No fun. My days were so dependent on adults with driving superpowers. Most of the time, it was my mom, but sometimes, it was either of my brothers, bound by no one else is going to pick her up and it’s on your way home. I’d almost always be greeted with a frustrated hurry and get in—as if they had better things to do than drive me around, like I was cramping their style. Hello! What about my style?!

The minute I graduated high school, my brothers gave up all driving favors. So began the exciting process of learning how to drive. I had to start with a stick shift, like everyone else. Aaaand with an angry brother yelling in my ear the first few times. “Did you not see that car?! What are you doing? Stop going so fast! Look where you’re going!” (Screaming at a panicked student driver does not make it safe for anyone, FYI!)

Ten years of driving (has it been that long?!) in crazy Manila. Ten years of getting stuck in traffic jams for hours, speeding to get to school on time, and leisure driving on Sunday mornings. I was finally independent—no need to rely on parents or brothers or friends to go places. I was free to hop in my car and go anywhere. Shopping. The movies. Drinks. The spa. Free for an impromptu merienda or study session. (And now “free” to be the new driver who has to pick up my niece from school, bound by no one else is going to pick her up. Good thing she’s six and super cute.)

As much as I love driving though, it’s ironically the hop-on-a-bus or catch-the-next-train type of commute that makes me feel the most free.

Free to daydream—I don’t have to constantly be on my toes and watch out for speeding buses. Free to people-watch—not just car-watch (zzz!). Free to pass out. I’m even free enough to write my morning pages. Getting on buses and trains with set destinations and a reliable schedule is a little luxury I’m not used to.1

Of course, in San Francisco, there’s never a dull day on the Muni or BART. I was on the 49 the other day, thanking my lucky stars that the cute guy who just got on decided to sit in front of me, up until a loud drunk guy holding a beer (!) gets in at the next stop and sits right next to me, screaming basketball commentary to himself for the next 15 minutes.

He fakes! Aaaaand he goes in for a shot!! I’m more worried that his beer is going to spill on my shoes.

Even the homeless guy across us is smiling at me sympathetically. I have to smile back to assure him that I’m okay.

It’s never boring on a bus or a train. I’m constantly on my toes (but in a different way). Nothing’s too everyday that it gets taken for granted. I think I actually look forward to long commutes and the quiet time.

Although, come to think of it—I do miss driving sometimes. And sometimes, I think, it misses me back. The last time I flew home, guess who picked me up from the airport at 4am?

Both my brothers. With big smiles on their faces.

  1. Public transportation in Manila is not for the faint of heart. Buses, although they have set “stops”, can actually stop almost anywhere. As a passenger, you just tell them where. (What?!) They only installed a nice light rail system when I was in college. Pretty good, just not at rush hour.

    If you have a few minutes to spare, watch part of this entertaining BBC documentary of a London bus driver trying to drive a jeepney in Manila. It’s hilarious and so real. “I thought I was going to lose my life, it was so bad!” he says after driving down a main highway I used to pass everyday. (Well, he was driving an old jeep, can’t blame him!) 

Mona, Theresa, Cassie, David Wade and 3 others said thanks.

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Christine Herrin

Designer. History major. Memory keeper, paper hoarder, frequent flyer.

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