Thursday, November 19, 2009

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

From the bean of Green Bean.

We make our home on the crowded San Francisco Peninsula. Our houses and shops press together like clothes in a too-full closet. Our streets are a flurry of trucks, cars, bicycles, and buses. Farmers markets abound and a pristine, double decker train, CalTrain, totes us up to the City or down to San Jose. When I worked in San Francisco, years ago, I took the train regularly. On the ride, I'd prepare for work, read a book, or close my eyes and listen to the rails click gently past. More recently, I've turned to the train for regeneration as another year ticked by or loaded my boys on it bound for adventure and ball games.

CalTrain is tame. It is less empty than it once was but the seats are spacious, the upper decks peer over the Bay, green fields and scrap yards as the train lumbers toward San Francisco. In Disney-speak, CalTrain is the Monorail. It is clean, considerate, conciliatory.

If CalTrain is the Monorail, then BART is surely the Matterhorn. At least, that is what my boys dubbed it when we boarded BART for the first time last weekend. BART is dark and jerky. It screams and hollers - like the Abominable Snowman - as it rockets through black tunnels. Riders are stuffed together, packed in like thrill-seekers on a roller coaster ride, jolted at each stop and corner. Stations are dimly lit and hint at the dark, mysterious trip ahead. The tunnels stretch further and further until you are thundering under the opaque waters of the Bay and then, mystically, emerge into daylight. Your ears pop and your children wonder when we can ride the BART train again.

It is difficult, after such adventures, to usher everyone back into the car, the strapped seats, the smooth rolling ride where only other cars, not legendary monsters, lurk out of sight. Here, we are shielded from one another with closed windows and separate lanes. There is no people watching, no shared smiles as a boy on the opposite side of the train waves his Thomas toy in your direction, no reading books with two boys snuggled in your lap. You simply move from destination to destination. The journey is not worthy of mention.

Our trips by CalTrain and BART take only moments longer than by car. They yield much more though: gas saved, carbon emissions curbed, a sense of peace that cannot be located behind the wheel, and days of discussion about planes, trains and automobiles.


Danger Kitten said...

What an adorable photo...and so true!

Daisy said...

Oh, to have train service in my community! We traveled by Amtrak last summer and loved the trip. We'll definitely do it again.

Karen Moser-Booth said...

Every day on the T here in Boston, I see how happy the kids are riding along, talking and pointing excitedly. And every day on the bus, I pass by their peers strapped into car seats or peering at DVD screens in their minivans or SUVs. You can see a lot from the vantage point of a bus, and a lot of it is sad, silent, and isolating experiences that I watch. When we think about building community, we often forget about commuting with each other. It's an integral part. Thanks for the reminder.


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