Day 349 of Project 365: Twelve miles in five hours.

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Here’s how my evening commute went today:

  • 15:15: I decide to stick around past quitting time in order to avoid some of the traffic on snowy roads. This decision has the added benefit of helping out at work a little, too.
  • 16:30: Quitting time comes and goes. Snow continues to fall. I remain unperturbed.
  • 18:00: The library closes early and I leave with two coworkers to walk across the traffic-laden street and get into my car.
  • 18:10: After scraping the windows and warming the car up a bit, I decide to drive around the parking lot a few times to see how the car holds up with the snow. A bit skiddy, but okay.
  • 18:15: I set off on my way home.
  • 18:17: I hit my first patch of ice and experience that fun sliding feeling.
  • 18:18 & 18:19: Two more patches of ice. I get the hint and decide to drive to the transit center and take a bus home instead.
  • 18:50: I finally make it the seven-tenths of a mile to the transit center. I call FunkyPlaid to confirm that I am doing the right thing by leaving my car at the Park & Ride and taking the bus home.
  • 19:00: I approach the bus that appears to be my bus, but it is a driverless, darkened bus, and does nothing to greet me.
  • 19:46: The driver appears and lets us all on the bus. I feel very happy that I am soon going to be home! I am less happy when I watch my phone battery and backup battery drain from 100% and 60% respectively to 0% and 1% without warning. But still pretty happy.
  • 20:21: The bus, unable to make much headway in brutal traffic, gets stuck on a very busy road. Not even a little stuck: properly stuck. And all of the passengers suddenly discover that we have boarded a bus that has no chains. No chains. In a snowstorm.
  • 20:30, 20:40, 20:50: Helpful passengers try to get the bus un-stuck. It is of no use. Other helpful passengers say really encouraging things and share their snacks with people who have said they are hungry. I am reminded that I do like Portland, even when it is a big snow wimp.
  • 21:01: Another bus comes and we all get on it. It is now very full but it has chains and is moving at a proper pace. A fellow passenger strikes up a conversation and we trade commute woes. They are similar; we share solidarity and even bitch about the recent election a little. This takes my mind off the fact that I have not eaten dinner or gone to the restroom in too long. We marvel at the number of cars stranded, apocalypse-style, along the side of the roads.
  • 22:01: The second bus gets stuck, just over a mile from my house. I debate walking and then I watch people attempting to walk down the street and near cars and really falling a lot more than I am comfortable with. The bus driver and another passenger start digging the bus out. My new bus friend is not going to walk; she is going to stick it out. I decide to stick it out with her.
  • 22:50: With all of the passengers crowded toward the back of the bus, crossing fingers and otherwise hoping a lot of hopes right out loud in front of each other (maybe even some bad language, but in a positive way), the bus driver punches it like when I say, "Punch it, Marge!" to myself even though I'm not Marge and have no idea where I got that, "The Simpsons" maybe? He punches it and the bus demurs a whole lot before lurching out into the intersection. We are free! We whoop and holler. It feels a lot like the winning goal in an '80s movie high school sports event.
  • 22:59: My new bus friend waves goodbye and gets off the bus. When I get off the bus, I thank the bus driver and the helpful passenger, and all of my other new bus acquaintances wave goodbye. It is pretty great. I forget that I still have to walk home.
  • 23:00: I remember quickly. The walk sucks. I take a lame photo.
  • 23:15: I walk in the door and Zen yells at me and all is well.

Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: a loud explosion. Uh-oh, power outages are on the way …

Day 285 of Project 365: Brains, compulsions, and public transit.

About ten years ago, my life wasn’t going so well. I had a job and a flat and a car and friends and a relationship, but as with most things, the trappings of a good life are not necessarily a good life.

I dealt with this not-good life involved by letting one of my compulsions, normally kept very closely in check, do whatever the hell it wanted for a while. (At the time I likely justified this to myself by any number of equivocations involving this, at least, not being as “dangerous” as any manner of other self-destructive, expensive, hazardous habits.)

The compulsion? Tracking Muni buses.

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I spied on the buses. I have … let’s just say several notebooks filled with these notes, and when I was in Observation Mode I remember thinking that if I didn’t write all of this down, something bad would happen.

And yet tonight, while rearranging a bookshelf, I opened one of these notebooks and was thoroughly calmed by the presence of these notes. Because I know my brain, I know that I wasn’t really tracking Muni buses. No, instead I was reminding myself in the midst of a horrific relationship that involved significant amounts of gaslighting that there were things that I liked that I could not destroy.

Maybe it should upset me more to write it out like this. It certainly sounds hyperbolic. For my mindset at the time, a dust bowl of reason, it was a reasonable thought. In a way, these notes are tiny reminders I was leaving for my future selves – although all those selves are far in the past now – little breadcrumbs leading me back to a place in my head where it was okay to exist.

Brains are weird. And amazing. And people are resilient, and buses have arbitrary numbers that don’t bolster the spandrels of existence, and you reading this right now proves that things that don’t make sense can make sense.

Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Go Slow” by Tei Shi.

Day 280 of Project 365: Bus daze.

This morning began with a packed bus, unusual for my bus stop and for the time of day. The trip got more exciting as the driver detoured around a crash site but missed a turn. Getting us back to our actual route involved a curb-crunching three-point turn and a particularly exciting chug up a steep grade with a proper bottoming-out at the end.

Tonight I was a bit late leaving work. The later bus had unfamiliar people, an unfamiliar driver, and the light was all wrong. How attuned to routine I am, how easily flummoxed by a shift of forty-five minutes.

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Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: FunkyPlaid packing for his trip down south. 😢

Day 209 of Project 365: Bus gifts.

I think the bus heard me talking smack about it yesterday. This morning it left me hazelnut non-dairy creamer.

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Is this the TriMet equivalent of mints left on a hotel pillow?

(I wasn’t brave enough to take them.)

Writing from: my breezy study. Windows open, trying to get some air in here! Listening to: “Look for the Silver Lining” by Leslie Odom Jr.

Day 208 of Project 365: TriMet madness.

I spend a lot of time on the TriMet bus. So much time, in fact, that I’m a little smug about how much reading I get done these days. Books, not internet. At first, I read news on the way to work, but that was just too bleak. (That said, I recently enjoyed reading George Lakoff’s “Understanding Trump” … but not while commuting.)

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Today’s photo is of the upholstery on my bus, which reminds me of the beloved PDX carpet, only with 99% more paramecia. Which is fitting, because sometimes I share a bus with humans who behave more like single-celled organisms. On my ride home on Sunday a gent sat next to me and attempted to roll around on me, citing “arm pain”. I refrained from channeling my inner Liam Neeson. My inner Liam Neeson really wanted to tell this guy what kind of pain he was about to experience if he didn’t stop rolling around on me.

Instead I excused myself, stood up, and moved to the back of the bus. Mr. Arm Pain proceeded to grumble at me – all the way across the bus – for moving my seat.

And that’s TriMet life. Most of the time it’s peachy-keen, three hours a day of free reading time. Plus one of my coworkers takes the same bus, and so for half of my commute, I have an awesome seat-mate who doesn’t even mind if I doze off.

Writing from: my stifling study. Sticky temps here. Listening to: the hum of the fan and the faint rush of cars a block away.

Day 173 of Project 365: You spin me.

Tonight I took the WES commuter rail to the MAX light rail home. And then FunkyPlaid and I went out for some driving practice because I need to get my Oregon driver’s license ASAP. As much as I love public transit, 3 hours of commuting each weekday is draining.

Zen does not need to concern herself with such things. She spends her days lounging in the backyard, as happy as I’ve ever seen her.

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Writing from: my study. Listening to: the tumble-dryer, because as soon as the laundry is done, I get to go to sleep.

Day 166 of Project 365: Handbag of Holding.

Despite this being a Deluxe Handbag of Holding, I pushed it past capacity today. I’m still unsure what I’ll need for a full day of work plus public transit commutes, so I am definitely over-packing.

Note to self: you’ll fall asleep on the bus for at least the first couple of weeks, so stop bringing multiple books to read on the way home. Also, you work in a library.

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Writing from: my study. Listening to: “Es Tut Mir Leid” by Stefano Guzzetti.…

Day 30 of Project 365: Waiting for the N.

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“It’s getting real” is a phrase I unabashedly love. I love it because it’s fun to say and because it indicates a transition from unreality. This unreality is exactly what I have been experiencing in the beautiful enclave of Marin County, reinforced by the fact that I am dependent on others to get in and out of it.

It got real tonight when I took the bus over the bridge, then another bus, and ended up at 19th and Judah, waiting for the N. I snapped a pic on the wheelchair ramp and paused to admire the view. A passerby cheerfully reminded me that I was not in the right place to board the N.

True to form, three inbound Ns came in quick succession while I had to wait over twenty minutes for one outbound. When it arrived, it was packed, but I boarded anyway.

I came face to face with the N-Judah Greeter.

Nothing was different. Everything was different. My belly felt warm, like it was full of hot cocoa.

I took the N to my usual stop and walked to our former home. It was too dark to see if it had been painted a different color. The living-room was bathed in television glow, and different plants were crowded into the meager patch of dirt near the front sidewalk.

Without thinking, I walked to where I would meet my former coworkers for dinner. (The body remembers where it once was situated in physical space.) I sat down at a table set for twelve. (A week ago, I was laughing over lamps in an empty flat.) I am alone in a restaurant full of people. (Text messages ping inside my handbag.)

How has it been four years already? How has it only been four years?

Writing from: Zen’s room in this beautiful enclave. Listening to: laptop fans singing to each other.

HIDWTS: Scottish Chivalry.

This holiday version of How I Decide Where to Sit was prompted by my brand new commute! Actually, a few different commutes, because I work at different campuses sometimes, and none of them are particularly near each other, bus-route-wise.…

Deciding where to sit has been a snap, really. The buses I take are rarely crowded, and unless it is a single-decker bus, my usual spot is the front seat on the top right. It used to be the front seat on the top left, but then I was on a bus that drove past some untrimmed trees just as I was dozing off.

So yes, dozing off: I am up to my old falling-asleep-on-public-transport tricks. It’s a side-effect of the lame insomnia I’ve been battling recently. So far, I have managed to pop awake just before I need to hop off the bus, so basically I am using up all of my luck and tomorrow a grand piano is going to fall on my head.

Today I was walking to the bus stop on my way to a holiday luncheon for work (for those of you keeping track, this is the second of three parties I have been invited to, an unexpected yet pleasant result of working with four different teams) and I decided to take a shortcut across the edge of a park. As soon as I stepped off the sidewalk, I knew I was in trouble. The heels of my boots slid and then squelched in the muddy grass as I wobbled my way across, only to find a small iron railing I would have to step over on the other side. On a drier day, this wouldn’t have been daunting at all. I was mumbling something about how this wasn’t such a great idea when I looked up to see a young man in front of me reaching his hand out to steady me as I stepped over the railing. I thanked him for his trouble and got a diffident “nae bother” in response. And then, in keeping with the spirit of the moment, we genially avoided making conversation or even eye contact as we waited for the bus.

I used to ride a shuttle to work. It was a really nice shuttle and the first time I had ever had that luxury, causing me to overthink pretty much every aspect of it, especially where to sit. And now I overthink where I decide to sit in every open-seating situation, so I’m writing about it in a series called How I Decide Where to Sit.

The City of Stolen Time

If you don’t live in San Francisco or care about city infrastructure, skip this post. I am compelled by my own impotent rage to document the abject absurdity of commuting in this city. This is anecdotal and subjective in nature; for statistics, please see Joe Eskenazi and Greg Dewar’s excellent SF Weekly article, “The Muni Death Spiral”.

Today the N-Judah train I was riding during rush hour stopped at Church and Duboce due to “train control problems”. (For those of you who do not commute in San Francisco, that stop is the last above-ground stop for the N, meaning that all the commuters trying to get downtown and to the Caltrain station are out of luck.) Above-ground, all the F-Market trains and shuttle buses were packed. I did not even bother walking into the Church Street station to see what the K, L, and M were like. I walked the mile and change to Civic Center, which, in and of itself, did not bother me; I enjoy walking, and I rarely see that part of town on foot.

What bothered me is that I left my house early specifically to get to work early and instead I was a half-hour late.

To review: I am a city employee. I take the city’s public transit in order to get to work. My job, like many jobs, is dependent on me being on time. On days like today, public transit fails in such a way that I am late for work.

And because I am a city employee, I do not have a flexible schedule – regardless of what comments state – so either I end up taking a shorter lunch break or I stay late to make up the time. In the former case, I have less time to decompress during the day; in the latter, I have less time to decompress at the end of it.

This city is stealing my time, half-hour by half-hour.

Since August of 2006, I have paid a flat monthly fee for the idea of a train or bus taking me 5 miles one way in a reasonable amount of time. I say “the idea” because this unicorn of transit has only appeared with any regularity when I worked the evening shift for several months. On a Tuesday morning, I would leave the Outer Sunset at 10:15 to get to Civic Center by 10:45. The trains rarely filled up by the time they hit the underground, and I would have 15 minutes to make a cup of tea before my day began.

But that was not rush hour, and most commuting happens during rush hour, when Muni often fails. I have seen nearly-empty N-Judah trains ramble outbound through the Outer Sunset during rush hour with no inbound counterparts in sight. That means the trains are stacking up at Ocean Beach and squatting there during rush hour when people are trying to get to work. In my case, it means I am trying to get to work for the same city that thwarts my commute multiple times a week.

My only options are:

  1. Commute by alternate means. I no longer own a car, so I would need to walk (a Google-estimated trip of 100 minutes) or bike to work. Before you tell me all about the health benefits of walking and bicycle-riding, let me tell you about my will to live. My trust in San Franciscan drivers was soundly smacked from me in 2005 when I was hit by a truck while crossing an intersection on foot. I had the right of way. The truck didn’t stop, and neither did any other commuting human after I stumbled across the rest of the road and collapsed on the sidewalk. Although my injuries were minor, I now live with chronic pain in my right forearm. The accident gave me some serious perspective, especially on what I am willing to do in regards to my personal safety.
  2. Leave 90 minutes before I am scheduled to work, leaving a cushion three times the length of a normal commute. The only pro to this option is that I will theoretically create such a large cushion that no Muni failure could impact my start time. (Although I know better, because I have experienced one-way commutes of 2 hours.) The cons to this are significant: not only do I have to change my sleep schedule, but due to the aforementioned rigidity of my schedule, I still “start work” at the same time, even if I am sitting in my office, ready to go an hour earlier.

So #2 it is, as I join the ranks of people who are forced into long commutes, sacrificing quality of life on the altar of crumbling civic infrastructure.

What can we do to fix this? I would again direct you to the SF Weekly article. A city that claims to be so dedicated to environmental causes must see the value in a functional transit system, or it is not what it claims to be. But the blatant hypocrisy of this place is a topic for another day.

bits of tid

People who dispense with niceties used to catch me off-guard. Before my current job, I expected a minimal exchange of greetings before a request for help. I wonder if, as a result, I have done away with my own greeting patter when I am out in the world. It does seem a bit superfluous at times, especially when we are all so furiously busy, scuttling between inputs like crazed crabs.

Because of this intensified pace, I become more conscious of how to phrase answers to questions without being condescending or curt. A dyslexic patron today obviously felt quite embarrassed for mixing up the microfilm for 1906 and 1960, and I wonder if my bland “no problem” response was sufficient, or made her feel lessened. I can’t imagine being dyslexic; so much of my daily life revolves around the written word.

Students who come up to the reference desk look as if they expect violence. Their eyes are wary, one hand neatly wrapped around the ubiquitous mobile, library card in the other gripped like a makeshift shiv. During reference interviews, sometimes they shift away from me to text someone: five minutes is too long to be in contact with only one person.

My new home is a palace, an oasis, a haven. I have an office all to myself with a door that opens onto a small patio. Soon I will break that in properly with a cup of tea and my writing notebook. The cats have not yet met formally, but there was an awkward moment with an accidental bathroom door opening and growls in two-part harmony. Neither one had flattened ears or fluffed tails, so I remain hopeful for their future status as Tugboat and Hambone, urban adventurers and best of friends.

Despite my bizarre affection for public transit, the N-Judah has already lost its shine for me, what with its random hiatuses and lame malfunctions and general chicanery. At least I always get a seat, and can doze off to podcasts for 30 (to 60) minutes. Whatever the case, each N trip is bookended by a library job and a home with my best friend, so I have no real complaints.

Namiki Vanishing Point RadenEven at 20% off, I could not afford the expense, but I tested this beauty for free during Flax’s pen fair today. The Namiki Vanishing Point fountain pen excels in form as well as function, especially in the Raden finish, and I cheerfully anticipate the momentous occasion that its purchase will punctuate.

These are the only tidbits I can sift out from my addled brain this evening. Happy Mother’s [sic] Day, mothers, especially to my own, who will meet FunkyPlaid for the very first time when she hits town in five days!

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.