Meditating on Mass Transit, Literally
Snicker and snark all you like, but I have found that when the weather's nice and I have a rare Saturday or Sunday afternoon where I don't have anywhere to be or anything (fun) to do, a long ride on a train can actually be quite relaxing. Now, granted, you're not going to get many moments of Zen on some lines (and we all know which ones those are), but there are several lines that an "end to end" ride can be quite nice. Trains also have the benefit of a smoother ride, and often times some sort of air conditioning, which you never get on a bus.
This all started a few years ago, when I was visiting family on the Peninsula and it was an unusually hot, 100 degree day and I wanted to cool off, but I didn't feel like going to a movie theater. So I got on BART at Millbrae station with a Sunday paper, sat in the last train car, and rode it all the way to the end at Pittsburgh/Bay Point. Now, to be sure, once you get off the train there's not a lot in an around Pittsburgh/Bay Point station, but the point wasn't to go there, it was just to have an uninterrupted time with some relative calm, and it worked!
Even though I took the same line to Lafayette to work every day, without the pressure of "omg work teh stresses!" it was actually kind of nice and I noticed a lot of things I ignored previously during my day-to-day use of the line. Plus, I realized just how far away some of those suburban stations are…by the time I got to the end, it felt like I was on Mars or something.
Sometimes I think in all the hullabaloo about "transit" and other obscure ideas, we forget where we live and it's nice to simply take the time to relax, enjoy the ride, and remind ourselves why it is we live chose to move here, or why we stay. I did this again recently on another line and at a time when things have been extremely stressful and not much fun, it was a nice way to relax and it only cost me $5.
Muni offers similar rides, and if you're a Fast Pass Holder, you can ride as much as you like whenever you like. This helps with the Zen factor, for sure, especially on the cable cars, which I ride as often as possible simply because I can, and it's fun to flash the pass and impress the tourists. However, at the right time, Muni too can offer you a calm, pleasant ride.
Now, obviously, I'm partial to an "end to end" ride on the N-Judah when it goes to Caltrain because you really do get a cross section of San Francisco all in one ride. But there are other lines worth checking out on a nice day, They include:
-66 Quintara: I recently took this last Saturday to an event for Assessor Phil Ting. I'd ridden it plenty of times, but never the entire route. Starting at 9th and Judah, the bus takes a neighborhood route that affords you views of the ocean and the Sunset District before dropping you off at 30th and Vicente. It's a little known line as it serves some neighborhoods as a "feeder" line into ones taking you downtown. Definitely worth trying out - last Saturday I was literally the only person on the bus early in the morning and it was like having my own limo take me to where I was going.
-29 Sunset: Although the 29 is often plagued with delays due to the odd nature of this route, I usually start it over on 3rd Street, and take it past McLaren Park, through the Mission, up into the hills, then past SF State and off through the Sunset, ending up at the Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge. I shot some amazing pictures for a feature (since abandoned) called "Muni Trekker," only to have them ruined when they were developed. (I know, film, right? So Industrial Age!) I really should revive it since these descriptions aren't nearly as fun as photos would be.
-36 Teresita: This one can be one part urban bus ride, and one part Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, depending on what part of the line you're on. It starts in the Outer Mission at St. Luke's Hospital, then winds through town towards the Glen Park BART station, then up into the hills, passing by Forest Hill Station and eventually making its way up the hills near Sutro Tower.
During the day many of the stops aren't used, so the bus blasts through the stops like a Disneyland ride towards the end. That said, it's another cross section of SF, with a detour into the hills most people don't go to unless they live there or know someone there. When I first moved back to SF I used to live in this area, and at the time had a car (!) so I didn't take the bus much. Later, when I house-sat for someone for a week, I relied on the 36 and it gave me a new perspective on this part of town.
These are just a few examples, I have plenty more. Are there lines that you've ridden that afford one views and other amenities people may not be aware of? Share in the comments below!