I had 4 days off on the weekend so I decided to take a trip to San Francisco's famous Pier 39. I would then stay in a hotel over night downtown, then head back home the next day. It would be sort of like a mini vacation. I wanted to act like a regular tourist even though I'd been to San Francisco many times while working. I checked Google maps for my route. Leaving from Campbell, CA, I would take the light rail to my connection at the Diridon Station, hop on the Caltrain to downtown San Francisco at 4th and King, then jump on 2 buses ending up at the pier. It all sounded so simple and fun. I would start out at around 5am in the morning on that Friday morning to make sure that I had the whole day in which to explore.
At the station in Campbell while waiting for the light rail, I noticed two squirrels playing right up on the platform. It was sort of an omen for me telling me that my day would be fun and adventurous. When I got to the Diridon station, I had to figure out the machine in order to get my ticket to San Francisco. I knew that if I spent enough, I'd be able to pay for not only the Caltrain, but also the bus rides to the pier including connections. It took me a long time to figure out that I couldn't figure it out, so I asked a station employee for help. She walked me through it step by step and with her help, I was all set. I love it when customer service is at it's best. I thanked her profusely and went to the platform to wait for the train.
It took only 10 minutes to arrive and it was different because I'd never been in a double decker train car before. I took the circle stairs to the upper deck and headed down the narrow aisle to the middle of the car to sit down. The upper deck seats were lined up single file next to the windows in a loft type configuration. On the other side of the narrow aisle was a rail which wrapped around both sides of the car. In the middle of the rails was an open space where you could look down into the bottom deck where the seating was also different. There were 8 sets of 4 seats which were grouped together like a restaurant booth facing each other, only without the table in the middle. Then there was one single aisle down the middle of the car. Leaning over the rail, you could even talk to someone on the lower deck if you wanted to, it was very cool.
I rode this train to downtown San Francisco and as we went, each stop filled up with more passengers until the car was overflowing and there were no seats left. I was glad at that point to be sitting in my single seat because I wasn't crowded like the passengers down below. Just before we reached the 4th street station at King, like every other station before it, I heard the announcement of the stop coming up, so before the train stopped I got up to start making my way to the exit. It had been a wise move to do this because it took some time. I pushed through the crowd as I edged my way forward. If I'd stayed in my seat until getting to the actual stop, I might have missed it still trying to make my way to the exit. I arrived just in time before the doors closed, stepping off quickly. That was a close one. I then walked to the corner of King and 4th where I was to catch my first bus.
I noticed a huge crowd standing and waiting just as I did. There were several busses which converged on this stop so I figured only a few of them were taking the same bus as I was; I was wrong. When the bus arrived, almost everyone began to line up. Even though I wasn't aware of it, I'd managed to get in at the front of the crowd where the doors to the bus would open. It was sheer luck believe me. Not only did the doors open at the front of the bus, but the rear doors opened also. When I looked inside, I saw that all the seats were already taken so we had to walk in and crowd the aisle. The driver didn't even ask for fares to be paid, he just scooted everyone back as far as they could go. Remember, there were people getting on at the middle doors as well, so the back and the middle were being filled in just like the front.
I'd never seen so many people in my life piled into a bus. I was towards the front so I was able to lean over towards the driver and ask whether this was normal. He said "Every day." and giggled at me. I smiled back and just sighed and took it all in. We were packed in like sardines but everyone seemed very courteous and nice. What was so crazy was that in other cities, when a bus is packed like this, normally it would skip a stop or two to let some people off before taking on more passengers. I've even seen where the driver would stop before or after a stop to let off passengers just in case there were more waiting at the stop which he could ignore. That's what I thought would happen here. Not.
At the next stop up ahead, there was a crowd of people waiting. I'd assumed that the driver would keep going, but instead, he stopped. And once again everyone began crowding even closer together in the isles to make room for the new group boarding. People were laughing and joking about the situation. Younger folks were giving up their seats for older travelers, men would do the same for women and children. It was hilarious. The driver just smiled and answered questions if asked, and just kept driving on, continuing to stop at every crowded stop.
That's another thing. Because there were so many tourist new to the city, every once in a while someone would just step onto the bus to ask the driver if they were on the right bus. The driver would take the time, knowing he had a bus full of passengers waiting for him to drive, and just answer the questions or give the directions to the one asking. But once again, everyone already on the bus would just laugh and joke or just sit quietly and wait patiently for the bus to continue on its way. I was extremely surprised by the peaceful behavior of my fellow passengers.
When I finally arrived at my stop, someone had already pulled the string to let the driver know to stop and when he did, half the bus emptied out. I knew that I was a part of a huge crowd all going to Pier 39, and somehow it made me feel like I was some kind of a world traveler or something. Why; because there were people from Asia, Africa, Australia, England, small towns in the US, Canada etc., etc. I could hear their languages and accents and sometimes even their conversations. I was just as fascinated with the crowd as I was with my surroundings at the heart of the city.
The next bus pulled up saying Pier 39 at the top, and of course everyone crowded around waiting to get on. When the doors opened, I saw that the bus was already packed. We all piled in and this time the driver was a woman. She stood up and beckoned everyone to squeeze in making room for the elderly to sit down and so forth. It took 5 minutes just for the crowd to get on board. Everyone was in such a good mood and light hearted even though it was so hot that we were all sweating. The AC of the bus was on, but there was so much body heat that you couldn't tell. Plus, the hand holds for those standing up were up above so everyone standing had to hold on with their arms up. I hate to say it but in some countries, deodorant is not a requirement. Let me tell you, it was somewhat of a difficult ride.
This bus did the same as the last one. It would stop at every crowded stop and pile even more passengers on. It was madness. I heard in one of the conversations by some German folks that there was actually a bus every ten minutes, but it didn't matter. Each bus was packed to way beyond capacity. That said a lot about the tourism if the city by the bay. I really was enjoying myself with this unexpected turn of events. I managed to hold conversations with a couple from Ireland, a family from Nigeria, some local Chinese folks just trying to get across town for a grand opening of a new restaurant at the pier, and so many others. I was even given a seat at one time by a young girl seeing the gray in my hair, which I then promptly turned around and gave back up to an elderly gentlemen a couple of stops later.
When we finally arrived at the pier, everyone disembarked and the bus actually emptied out. I'd had so much fun on the busses that actually getting there was kind of a let down. But, I followed the crowd down to the front entrance to the pier and looked for my next adventure.
Allison C Whitfield, author of "The Shelter of the Shade Tree", is a Freelance writer who creates articles describing the unconventional for those who wish to explore new ideas and new challenges. She has had 30 + years of experience in Office Administration and Customer Service. She is also a [...]