When I originally came to the Bay Area from the land of parking garages and four-lane residential streets known as Southern California, I brought with me my green, 1998 Honda Accord and my understanding of cities built-upon comprehensible grids. Living here would challenge both of these and change my entire concept of transportation.
Growing up in the Los Angeles area taught me to rely on my car. It was both my golden calf promising future prosperity and my fleshy calf providing sustenance in the meantime. The city I learned to drive in had a handful of bus lines, each covering only a few blocks of the main streets with their peculiar urine smells and two hour intervals. In an environment like that, driving a car was encouraged and expected, and the cities were planned accordingly with parking lots and SUVs in mind.
I used to assume this was the norm throughout California until my poorly researched and quickly implimented move to San Francisco. What once had been my tool for prosperity and sustenance now felt like concrete shoes. Compared to Los Angeles, parking in The City was rare or prohibitively expensive. Once one wandered off the main streets, the roads seem to disappear and reappear without good cause and at least a few trips were made assuming that 19th Ave and 19th St were the same thing. At some point, the choice was made to remain in my apartment for periods of several days or escape to cities that were friendlier to cars down south.
In August, a few weeks before my year anniversary of living in the Bay Area, fate decided it was time I gave up my calf. My car was stolen, ironically from the Daly City BART parking lot. As I chased after it like Dafoe did that helicopter, I realized my life had fundamentally changed. Carbon footprint diminished and BART police report filed, I boarded the 28 Inbound and held tight the railing of my new wheels.
Months after the incident I’ve become an unofficial cheerleader for public transit and MUNI. No longer hindered by cement shoes, I’ve explored San Francisco in every direction. I’ve developed a strong enough knowledge of the city to help tourists find their way around the town and I send concerned letters to my Supervisor.
Beyond the democratic impact that I feel decent public transit brings, there’s something inherently San Francisco about MUNI that you can’t experience until you actually rely on the system. When I visit Southern California for holidays, I find myself pontificating to my friends and family about the glories of no longer owning a car and how wonderful MUNI is. And when the 28 skips my stop or I spend 40 minutes at West Portal Station waiting for the M, I try to remind myself of how miserable I was just a over a year ago with my car that didn’t take me to any of these places.
Michael Harper is a twenty something writer/activist/geek based out of San Francisco. He likes reading books, writing about obscene, practical & practically obscene things, and listening to the rudest of musics. He dislikes fascism and dairy products. He aspires to one day live in a gutter with a bottle of whiskey or his best friends.