Sunday, April 30, 2006

x-bay transit

For the last week or so -- ever since I came back from New York -- the most inane of Simon and Garfunkel's musical offerings has been flitting through my mind. Delicately flitting, but flitting nonetheless. At the Zoo, I think it's called, and it starts something like this: "It's a light and tumble journey from the East Side to the Park, just a fine and fancy ramble to the zoo." There's more about the lyricist's transit adventure, which inexplicably involves no crazy people or auto-conversationalists. Then in an unbearable burst of poetic liberty, Paul Simon goes on a tear about the insincerity of giraffes, the reactionary nature of zebras, pigeons plotting in secrecy, and hamsters turning on frequently.

Frankly I think he must've been smoking too much pot. Those are some goofy lyrics.

But I have no such excuse. Why can I not banish this song from my mind? Why do I find myself humming it on my way to Berkeley? I'm temporarily blaming the recurring melody on the cement lion that I see when I'm in transit from here to there. In honor of Easter, it's been festooned with a bunny headdress. The ears are made of a translucent pink material that catches the light just so. Even under the best of circumstances, the lion can't look very dignified. Look at it -- always issuing that stream of drool from its agape mouth. Then you put bunny ears on it: no wonder I'm mumbling the lyrics of At the Zoo. "The zookeeper is very fond of rum." Paul Simon's a fine one to talk.

But it is a light and tumble journey from our house to Berkeley. What makes it a light and tumble journey, while my walk down the hill to the most expensive bad grocery store in the known universe most certainly isn't? Likewise my drive down the peninsula to my double-secret office in Mountain View is neither a light nor a tumble journey.

I've decided that what sets my weekly commute to Berkeley apart from my other infrequent excursions away from the house is that my ears pop on the way to Berkeley.

That's right: It's a light and tumble journey because my ears pop. It happens when BART enters the tunnel that takes the train under the bay. It's not unlike the pressure change you feel when your flight takes off -- if you're lucky, your ears pop, as do the ears of the baby across the aisle from you. It's easy to tell if either or both of these things don't happen. It's important that they do.

The Transbay Tube is the tunnel's official name. I'm given to understand that most people spend the entire time that the train is under the San Francisco Bay thinking about earthquakes and now terrorism. I know I do. So in addition to my ears popping, I also sweat a terrible, sick, nervous sweat, the kind that comes from abject fear. It was worse this last Friday, since just before the BART train was about to enter the transbay tube on the way home, it came to a halt. Over the PA system, we passengers could hear a muffled explanation, "police... blab... blab... system closed... bleb... bleb... Embarcadero... blob... blob... we'll be underway as soon as... blub... blub..."

I thought to myself, "Maybe I should ask to be let off the train here, on the wrong side of the bay. Just like those unnerved airplane passengers that make the plane taxi back to the gate so they can get off. Then I'd be off BART and I could walk home. But there's the bridge. That wouldn't be safe either, because surely whatever's closing the subway would have some bearing on what's going on above it. Yeah. I could walk home... by going around the end of the bay! I'd get home by tomorrow morning if I didn't dawdle." By the time I was through ruminating about how I'd get home if I didn't take BART and, for safety's sake, didn't take the bridge either, I'd almost missed the 24th Street station, where I'm supposed to de-BART. The long escalator was out of service, but besides that, everything appeared to be normal top-side.

I walked my zig-zag route to 22nd Street, intercepting 22nd in time to check out The Green Cross. Sure enough, it was gone. Just an empty storefront. It's sad. I'm not sure whether the neighbors' hysteria ("The Children(TM)!") was real or a disingenuous attempt to keep their rising property values high. The children didn't walk by The Green Cross so much as they were chauffered past it in Mommy's Range Rover; I doubt they gave it a second look unless their folks told them not to. We'd gone to several of the Appeals Board hearings, and I was convinced that Kevin, the GC's owner, was sincere in his willingness to work with the neighbors to make his medical cannibus dispensary into a neighborhood business. No such luck. So instead of The Green Cross, I'll probably see another nail salon next time I walk by. Or a bar.

Makes it a little less light and tumble, the departure of The Green Cross.

The cool thing about the remaining light and tumbleness of the journey is that it gives me an opportunity to check up on my flowers. I've planted wildflowers in other peoples' gardens all along my usual route to BART. Mostly they've been pulled up: when garden space is as cramped as it is in San Francisco, gardening's all about control of the territory. If you don't recognize a plant, you pluck the offending flora from the ground.

Mom has commented on the uptight (her word) attitude of San Franciscans. This would be evidence. Can't even let a few flowers be. And these are by the street, mingling with their plantings of South African grasses and lavender.

But there are a few survivors and they've grown in the recent rains. They're a foot tall and their serrate leaves are vibrant green. I'll take a photo for you if and when any of them bloom. If there are any left.

Stray flowers blooming will make it the most light and tumble journey of all.


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