Life on the Line

I feel like I have lived my entire life on the 38 Geary bus.

The 38 line runs the length of the City, nearly 7 miles in a straight line. Commuting its distance takes as long as going to Concord on BART or to Petaluma or Sunnyvale by car. It is an intermidable ride.

Throughout the many years I have ridden the 38 I have seen so many sights and changes along the boulevard. With a long ride you can only gaze out the window, if only to distract yourself from the boredom and the many peculiar people that take MUNI. To pass the time you memorize the cross streets and chant them in order: Spruce, Parker, Commonwealth, Jordan… You remark on the change of climate: socked-in fog so thick it is like being inside a cotton ball to the sweltering heat or swirling winds of downtown. Watching the stores come and go is like watching a flip book of change.

Almost every day you say to yourself, “Oh, Park Walker Liquors is gone…” and recall how you used to buy beer and clove cigarettes there underage because the owner liked your long legs. All of the movie theaters I used to wait in line for hours to see all the blockbuster movies are all closed except one. The Coliceum is razed for a new building, the Alexandria is a derelict. The dates I had in those theaters, holding hands in the dark with cute boys and snagging a furtive Red Vine flavored kiss, are only echoes now. Grocery stores and favorite bars and hangouts have all come and gone. The hospitals are still there but some are now merged into the same administration. I think of all the anxious hours I spent inside those buildings and thank all the gods, faux and otherwise, for my current good health. I count up the number of places I have lived along the way.

I have carted many things on the bus: groceries, surfboards, bouquets of flowers, Christmas presents, loads of shoes, clothing and makeup from Union Square. I have even moved apartments on the bus with stuffed black plastic garbage bags full of my belongings.

I have met three boyfriends on the 38; oh wait, four, but who keeps track anyway. I have spent almost as much time waiting for the bus as I have riding it. Before these newfangled contraptions like NextBus and Google Directions there was only the familiar bus rider’s stance of peering down the street, squinting, while dodging cars in the right lane, looking for a sign of a bus in the distance. Everyone at the stop would ask, “Did you see anything?” and collectively sigh when the response was a dejected , “NO….”

If you are not waiting for the bus, you are running to catch it. The drivers fancy themselves as Mario Andrettis, covering one long block in 1.37 seconds flat. I have perfected my sprinting by scampering for the bus, high heels, parcels and all. Most often you arrive just as the doors close, and once that happens you are out of luck. The rarity of a driver reopening the doors is likened to winning the megajackpot, but with more cursing.

I have fallen asleep on the bus, to and from work, missing my stop or being jolted awake by a sudden screech of the brakes for some random reason. I have been in accidents, gotten robbed, seen fights and acts of extreme kindness, witnessed crimes, both felonies and crimes of fashion, observed breakups and hookups and gross instances of self love. I have been propositioned and seen and heard more things I could never tell my mother about.

The neighborhoods transversed by the 38 span every ethnicity. The canyons of yupsters (now hipsters) of downtown give way to hordes of confused and cold tourists at Union Square. Homeless and hookers interspersed with Vietnamese and Thai fade to Japanese, Korean and Black from the Tenderloin to the Western addition. Chinese heavily pack the 38 and exit for the parallel Little Chinatown on Clement street, just to ride a block. Russian shops jostle next to funky Irish bars, Jewish bakeries and the random tiki bar. And, the end of the line, is our own Siberia: chilly, wild and rough Ocean Beach. It’s an entire city represented on one street.

I have eaten and drank my way up and down the line. Truffles fries at the Sheraton Palace; pho and pad Thai at Osha Thai washed down by a tottie at Rye; fish and chips and ale at Edinburgh Castle; burgers at Mels; buffalo stew at Tommy’s Joynt; ramen, soba and sushi at Japantown; HoneyBaked hams; hotdogs at the Cable Car stand; spring rolls with fiery green sauce at Ton Kiang and nachoes and margaritas at Pancho Villas. I could go on and on, not even having reached Arguello yet, but I can’t forget Gaspari’s pizza, Frank’s ice cream and my work towards a diploma in tequila at Tommy’s!

Even though I have lived all over town, it seems like I ride the 38 the most, for better or for worse. It is a major artery for the city and a common thread in my life. It is time to go to work now, on – you guessed it – the 38!


8 responses to “Life on the Line

  1. Fab post Heather! I have as many stories about buses missed than buses caught. But yours are better.

    • Thank you Amy! One of these days I will have to write about my Mom’s stories of the New York subways. Chihuahuas are involved.

  2. Great tale! Can’t imagine all that goes on! 😉


  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Life on the Line « Heather in SF --

  4. Mom in the Mountains

    Late at night, but time for one more e-mail and it is the best of the week! What an education, this riding of the Muni and so many things left to learn. Thanks for opening the door again.

    • Aren’t you sorry you missed this? There is something to be said for having a car and driver, “Oh, Bunter, bring round the Lagonda…”

  5. Nice post, Heather! I feel like I’m on the bus now.

  6. Wow Heather! Just WOW!!! That was brilliant! Well done.

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