Riding the Train

Santa Clara, from Caltrain

My first rides with CalTrain were from San Jose/Diridon to Palo Alto, about 20 minutes. I was on a year break from college due to financial issues, and attending San Jose State and Stanford night classes. I had a scam- I’d board at San Jose, and slowly travel up the train, walking, until I reached my stop, so I never stopped and thus never paid a ticket. Strangely this worked 100% of the time, but if you’ve ever ridden CalTrain you know just how slowly those conductors ticket.

The next commute was from Sunnyvale up to The City on random weekends, when I was escaping my torturous post-college residence at my parents I’d bike across Cupertino to Sunyvale- wooded streets and sleepy lanes. Then, with my squishiest (but unwrinkled) outfit and kitbag in my backpack, board with the bike and ride up to King Street. Then, arrive and bike up Townsend to Division, up to Webster then up Page (ouch, can feel the burn now) to my college friend’s on Page where would stash my bike and join for real the playland that is SF on the weekend. Sunday rolls around and I drunken stumble/bike back to sleepyville. The real challenge was not dozing through my Sunnyvale stop.

Ah, then the final chapter: my grinding commute- when I finally got a place to live with some friends in the city but still had my Palo Alto job- where I was exploited for $8/hour doing office managment, bookkeeping, animation (they made animation software), tech support, anything you could name. I woke up in Lower Haight, ran like the wind to Duboce & Church to get the N or J, took it to 3rd, ran up the escalators to the street, jumped on the next 30 from Chinatown, took it a nailbiting 15 minutes to King St. Ran to the train, and, if I had 5 minutes get a donut and coffee. I barely made it most days, and if I missed it, that meant a (routine) phone call (at a pay phone) and a wait an hour until the next train left.

Oh the improvements!
- cell phones
- connecting underground lines!
- more frequent morning trains
- bullet trains!

The bright side toa 4-hour commute: I had my posse of friends that I met on the first non-bike car, with a free 4-seater (those were the agreed meeting rules) Bobo, a geek who worked at Maxis, Jared who was doing a reverse commute. He was a gay teenager who loved to come up and work at Sparky’s in the Castro, and lived with his wealthy parents in Burlingame. Dinah, she was also reverse commute and had really horrible health care stories, owing like $10,000 or so for some catastrophic car accident while uninsured.

We’d balance our huge coffee cups and crumbly donuts. Coffees inevitably spilled and the conductor would give us the evil eye. I miss those guys, on Fridays and after work we’d figure out some place to hang out or share a beer on the train.

I finally got a job in the city and didn’t have to commute. Bobo and I stayed in touch, but otherwise lost touch with my commuter friends. I never really took Caltrain that much aftewrards- got a car, and evolved into that SF behavior where you never leave your 7 mile cube.

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