A Quickie Tour of San Francisco

Two weeks after returning from the honeymoon, I flew to San Francisco for a work-related conference, the annual Association for Commuter Transportation conference. Lucky us that is was in San Fran this year!

Being so close to home, I squeezed in a few hours with family and friends in Sacramento.

 

Because of the conference, I didn’t get to see much of San Francisco, but I hit some highlights.

After hours of discussing transportation demand management, marketing and outreach, behavior change and community-based social marketing, I snuck out at lunch to run to Britex Fabrics, a few blocks from the hotel. Despite a long list of projects, I only found fabric for one. I did buy some silver reflective fabric, and some fun trims, too. But the best part was meeting up with Melissa of Bike Pretty! It was so fun to meet her in person, and chat fashion and bikes, and see her current project. I am disappointed I didn’t get to spend more time with her, so I look forward to the next trip to the Bay Area!

When the conference was over, some friends and I did the tourist thing, and took a vintage streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf. One friend wanted to go to Alcatraz, but the tours were all sold out, so we settled for a bay cruise. Although I’ve spent years in SF, I’ve never done that, and really enjoyed it. The weather was just as I like – somewhat foggy.

 

My brother and sister-in-law flew in from Texas, not just to see me, but because my brother was headed to a conference in Sacramento. It was nice to see them, and hear about their trip to Indonesia, which had prevented them from attending our wedding. (Yes, I was disappointed they weren’t there, but what a great opportunity for them!) And with that, the trip was over!

Eno Wine Bar

Eno Wine Bar

 

I counted 15 hotels and 7 flights in the last 6 weeks – no wonder I’m tired of travel! (And that doesn’t include trains). It will be nice to just be at home for a while, get some sewing done, and catch up on the wedding and honeymoon stuff I still haven’t organized. Still, a whirlwind tour through Europe, then northern California, are not bad ways to spend a summer!

#edgar at Pier 39 (If you don't know Edgar yet, check out my Instagram account. He's taken it over. @earlettef)

#edgar at Pier 39 (If you don’t know Edgar yet, check out my Instagram account. He’s taken it over. @earlettef)

Whirlwind Tour Through Northern CA

The Mechanic and I just returned from northern California, a whirlwind tour of my favorite childhood places. Ranging from Sacramento, to San Francisco, to Mendocino and Napa Valley, we covered a lot of territory in about ten days.

The first few days I was on my own in Sacramento at the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change conference. The keynote speaker was Dr. George Lakoff, whose book Don’t Think of an Elephant, I finished rereading on the plane. Panels on making behavior stick, social marketing, and even behavioral economics were all very inspiring. I attended last year, so I had a better idea of what to expect, but nevertheless, I came away energized (as it were) – as illustrated by me at the end of a conference workshop. IMG_7488

Before The Mechanic arrived after the conference was over, my mom and aunt and I went wedding dress shopping. Although we joked about having a “Say Yes to the Dress” argument, we had too much fun to even pretend to fight over something, and yes, I ended up getting a dress. But you’ll have to wait with The Mechanic until June 14 to see it!

I think this amazing sunset the day I bought my wedding dress was a mark of approval by the universe. (okay, probably not, but it's nice to think about!)

I think this amazing sunset the day I bought my wedding dress was a mark of approval by the universe. (okay, probably not, but it’s nice to think about!)

I dragged The Mechanic around Old Sacramento, where we had a tasty lunch at Rio City Cafe, toured the California State Railroad Museum, admired the new green lanes, and struck up conversations with the owners of Practical Cycle, a bike shop that specializes in electric bicycles and transportation bicycling. Their mission is “to make cycling more practical for everyday people,” people just like me, and I applaud them. More on them in a later blog post.

Practical Cycle, in Old Sacramento

Practical Cycle, in Old Sacramento

Then we spent Sunday night in San Francisco, where I was able to meet up with some friends, and geek out on the vintage streetcars, which I haven’t seen before. I haven’t spent any time in San Francisco in ages, so I was happily surprised at how bike-friendly the city has become. I’m sure any local will tell me it’s not perfect, but trust me, it’s an improvement!

We didn’t bike in SF but we rode the buses and streetcars everywhere. We were amazed at the fact that we never needed a bus schedule to figure out how long we needed to wait – they seemed to appear within 5-10 minutes! I really loved the streetcars, and the fact that they cost the same $2.00 as the buses did. We made use of our transfers, too. The Mechanic was super excited about the fact the electric buses are amazingly quiet.

After visiting Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, three friends, Golden Gate Park and the museums (although we didn’t go in any of them), Huckleberry Bikes, and watching the San Francisco Ballet “Nutcracker” projection in the mall dome, we drove up the coast to Mendocino, my most favorite place in the world, where we met up with my parents, aunt and cousin. We had a rental house just outside of Mendocino village for four nights, over Thanksgiving, allowing us time to really enjoy the area.

We vacationed here for a week every summer and the week of Thanksgiving for years, while I was in high school and college, and we used to consider ourselves locals of sorts. Local tourists? It’s been years since I was able to spend more than one night, and the weather gifted us with perfect warm temperatures and clear blue skies. I could go on and on about this area, but there just isn’t enough space! Pictures will have to do.

The Mechanic and my cousin and I drove back to Sacramento through Anderson Valley, where we did a wine tasting (and buying!) at Navarro Winery, plus a beer tasting at Anderson Valley Brewing Company (well, they did), and had a picnic lunch at Sattui Winery, the most crowded I have ever seen that place. Well, it was a perfect day, so who can blame the other tourists?!

My goodness we did a lot! I think the only reason why we weren’t exhausted at the end of this trip was because Mendocino was so relaxing. Wandering the Mendocino Headlands State Park, sitting watching the waves crash on the rocky shoreline, and just soaking up sunshine was almost all we did. It’s hard to relax and experience everything at the same time, but I think we did a pretty good job this trip! CAM00285

 

 

Death by Public Transportation

A weekend in Baltimore almost killed this public transportation girl.

No, really. The Mechanic and I had planned on spending a cheap weekend in Baltimore – ride his motorcycle, hotel booked with frequent flier miles, walk all over the city to see all the ships in town for Sailabration…  Except at the last minute, the motorcycle had engine problems and we had to find another mode of transportation.

I love tall ships!

Amtrak was prohibitively expensive (almost $200 round trip per person!), the MARC train doesn’t run on weekends, since it’s a commuter-only service, the Bolt Bus doesn’t go there…. Instead of renting a car, we decided we would take public transportation all the way! After all, there are buses, subways, and light rail all the way between here and there. We guessed it would take about 2 hours from door to harbor. Boy were we wrong!

Here was our plan:

  • 2 bus from my apartment to Ballston Metro station
  • Orange line train to L’Enfant Metro station
  • Transfer to the Green line and head all the way to Greenbelt.
  • Get on the B30 express bus to BWI.
  • Jump on the Baltimore light rail the rest of the way to the Inner Harbor.

It actually worked that way on the way up, fairly smoothly too. But it took closer to 3 hours, because the 2 buses in my neighborhood don’t run very often on the weekends, so we had to leave earlier than maybe necessary. Then we padded our Metro time, just in case the trains were all screwed (as they so often are on the weekends). In addition, the B30 bus was scheduled to arrive at basically the same time that the light rail was scheduled to leave – and it only ran every 30 minutes. So we had to wait for the next light rail, which did give us time to figure out the ticketing system (sort of).

The Baltimore Light Rail train at BWI

On the way home, however…. the light rail train we were on sat for close to an hour because the train in front of us had technical problems. We got to BWI starving, so decided to eat there, but since that bus only runs every 30 minutes, we basically had to give up an hour or more there (but we ate at the DuClaw pub and it was tasty! I love the Mysterium beer; I’d tried it at the Brew at the Zoo). Then, as we crammed onto the crowded bus, the bus driver yelled at the people still waiting, “There is another bus 5 minutes behind this one!” Really? You tell us that now that we have paid the “special fare” of $6 each?!  So we stood the entire 35-40 minutes to Greenbelt. Luckily both Metro trains were just arriving when we got to each platform, but I did almost have a breakdown when we got to Ballston and there were NO taxis at the taxi stand!

Takeaways from this weekend:

  1. We tried to by the Charm Card, the Baltimore version of DC’s SmarTripcard, and asked at a few tourist information places if they knew where we could get them. Blank stares and rudeness greeted our queries. Time for some education and outreach, Baltimore!
  2. The light rail driver and the B30 bus driver need some customer service training – the light rail driver bad-mouthed the driver of the stalled train over the intercom. Not cool.
  3. Amtrak needs to be an affordable option for everyone, all the time, even last minute. $200 round trip for a 45 minute ride is not reasonable at all.
  4. The MARC trains need to run more often. The infrastructure exists for this service to benefit everyone, not just commuters on weekday mornings and evenings. I’m sure we aren’t the only people who want to take a train to Baltimore for an overnight trip.
  5. The total costs of our public transportation, not including the cab, were about $20 for each of us. The last time we rented a car, we got an SUV for $25 a day. If public transportation is to be a serious, efficient, affordable option, it needs to be easier than renting a car.

    Trying to figure out how to pre-pay our light rail tickets wasn’t as easy as it should have been. Or we are really clueless.

There is so much talk about moving away from car dependency, and the positive impact of public transportation, and yet, as we have proved, it just isn’t there yet. If neither of us had traveled, and been in other countries where we have experienced reliable, efficient, affordable transit, we could beg that whole “ignorance is bliss” thing – but we know better. It’s something I hope the authors of “Road to Nowhere: Federal Transportation Infrastructure Policy” take into account, and something I’d like Congress to remember when they are debating yet another extension on the transportation bill. People demand better transit options – how quickly can we get them?

Tall Ships and Crowds in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor