The Social Strata of Commuters
Over the years it has become painfully obvious that there is a social strata in all walks of life but especially in the life of the Bay Area commuter. While this does not apply to everyone, as some commuting options are driven by convienience and availability, the over all implications appear to hold water.
Starting at the lowest rung of the social ladder is the bus rider. Buses in the Bay Area in general and San Francisco in particular are dirty, not known for punctuality and dangerous. The Muni Bus routinely kills and mains pedestrians as I have already said but all bus lines seem to be full of criminals, drug addicts and the mentally ill. This makes sense since the main lure for bus service is the low cost and availability to those without a car, who for the most part are unable to afford one. Students, younger people and others on restricted income tend to use the bus as the most affordable option open to them. I have only ridden a Muni bus once in my life and I will never do it again if there were another choice available. Thugs have recently started robbing passengers for their ipods or phones. The police presence that was promised never materialized. The cops don’t want that duty anymore than the people without options want to ride the bus.
The next step up is BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and it far from Rapid but does transit MOST of the Bay Area except for Marin. Why? Well when BART tracks were first installed, Marin refused to pay for a tunnel under the bay (like the one connecting the East Bay with the City) due to the cost. Well guess what the cost is NOW and here are stranded Marin commuters without a quick way into San Francisco, the airports and points South. Riders on BART tend to be lower to middle class working stiffs, who are either unable to pay for more expensive transport, don’t have more expensive transport close to them or don’t want to sit in traffic so they are willing to deal with standing in a car with a bunch of smelly strangers. There were times when I lived in Oakland that I took BART regularly. I had to commute into The City, slogging along with other faceless, black suit clad, sad-eyed people. I felt like Melanie Griffith in that 80’s moving Working Girl. There she was with her big hair and big dreams, taking the Staten Island ferry from Jersey to Manhattan, praying for a way out of her life. Unfortunatly, I have YET to be whisked away to a life of glamour and leisure by a handsome, powerful but sensitive, executive that looks like Harrison Ford. No, BART is just crowded, the seats are old & smelly, rush hours reminds you of a Saturday in Tokyo or Mumbai and you just pray that one day you will have a better job that doesn’t include this commute.
There is an informal “ride share” system in the Bay Area called Casual Carpool. This is mainly utilized by lower middle class professionals and the socially conscious. I found it alien and odd and still have not tried it to this day because I find it too weird. Here in the Bay Area, the toll per car is $4 BUT if you are a car pool of 3 or more people you could cross for free (now I believe you pay a reduced toll). So if I want to avoid the hell of bringing my car into The City, I would go to some street corner or gas station where other people gather, cars would pull up, you would get in, you are now a car pool. They get to use the car pool lane, get to San Francisco a little faster and for free. I believe there is a central drop off point (I think The Embarcadero) and then riders take BART back home.
Personally I am not getting into a strangers car. Period. Sure there are some normal people but there are a lot of weirdos as well. A gal here at my temp job said she took casual car pool and the car reeked! At first she thought maybe a dog piddled in the back seat but as she looked around she noticed that the driver was barefoot! Yeah, rank hippie feet. joy. I won’t do it. It’s too scary. What if it was Ted Bundy driving that car? What if it was some creepy guy that blasted metal on the CD player. I know, there are “unwritten rules” like no one eats or drinks in the car or the driver either plays easy listening or the news on the radio but rules are made to be broken. See no shoes hippie lady.
You can drive. Most people drive especially when commuting options are not plentiful or attractive. Sure you are spending 1-2 hours in stop and go traffic but you can listen to your own music or a book or talk on your cell (with your Bluetooth) since it is illegal otherwise and I personally want to run into many brainless twits I see jabbering away while trying to juggle the phone, the wheel, a tube of mascara or God Forbid, a pocket dog. Perhaps she is on her way to Walnut Creek…. never mind. This is what the majority of us across the social strata do. The only reason for you not to take your car is if you don’t have one, can’t afford one, are way too crunchy to want to drive it more than 20 miles a day or you live by public transit that is more convenient.
The next level in commuting is the Ferry. The ferries are the most expensive local option but have the up side of you being able to relax, read, work on your PC, sleep, etc. and let someone else do the driving. There is also a bar (snacks and booze) for your commuting enjoyment. Prices are high but if you are one of the middle – upper middle class business professionals that ride the ferry, you can afford it. Get that microbrew or a Jack & soda, you’ve earned it, you mini-corporate butt weasel you! I like the ferry AND if you get their “frequent flyer card” the cost is near half so for me that makes the ferry (with the $4 bridge toll) only $5 more expensive than smelly, crowded BART. If I didn’t have to cross a bridge, it would be near par with BART. It makes me feel less like a cookie cutter corporate hack when I am on the ferry. Right now I am waiting for my frequent flyer card so I am still paying full price. That is a little painful but I’ll skip meals, it’s worth it.
At the top of the ladder is… the car service. This is reserved for VERY rich people because even the regular rich drive their cars into The City. However if you are so super rich that you have domestics (which you call “the help”), a nanny who is pretty much your indentured servant, a bored trophy wife with a plastic surgery addiction, souless grasping kids in private school and a fluffy pocket dog named “Boofi”, you have a driver or you use a car service and pay someone to be your bitch, driving your ass around so you don’t have to be bothered.
Ahhhh, the joys of commuting to work! In my way of thinking, at least it makes life interesting.