My new life as a public transportation rider in training: a guide to making a smooth TRANSITition.

While some might curse the city, I was cursing myself for my inability to make it to Kaiser in under three hours. Let’s just say my San Francisco transit transition hasn’t been as fluid

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Cute old man I spotted reading a newspaper in Russian on the Muni.

as I had hoped. And my current grade in the class of life, for moving from point A to point B, gets a big fat D. Minus.

One of the things I love the most about the City is the efficient-ness of the Bart and Muni bus systems. Ditching my car was something I looked forward to, not having to worry about constantly being stuck in traffic or giving others rides. I felt free taking the bus on my own for the first time like I was finally a lone traveler, experiencing the world in a whole new way-even if I was close to home.

Yesterday, however, I felt less like a traveler and more like a trainee for a pathetic marathon as I raced up and down the hilly streets after fleeing buses, only to find out I was going in the opposite direction of my destination for a solid 20 minutes. Twice. By the time I reached Kaiser, my hair was windblown and matted, I was sweating like a pig, and I ended up in the Emergency room panicking at the sight of surgeons and wounded people on gurneys. All I wanted was to get a TB test so I could start my new job working at a preschool downtown. Rushing back down the hall of the emergency room, I knew I had to get out of there before I over-pondered my mortality. Naturally, the clinic was closed when I arrived, but some nice doctor ladies took pity on me and sent me over to get the injection. This whole fiasco could have been avoided if I hadn’t become so flustered after my 3 hour Muni trip failure. Since I have to go back again to get the test read, I figured I needed to shape up quickly, so I could steer clear of future marathons.

If you are new to San Francisco like I am and don’t have a car, I suggest you go out prepared unlike me who had to flail around to figure out these common rules. Here are a few uber basic things I learned:

1) Get a “Clipper Card” 

Don’t be that guy who carries around a bag of heavy quarters to pay the bus fare in exact change. It’s annoying and you block the door. Clipper cards are reloadable or you can buy a monthly pass. See https://www.clippercard.com/ClipperWeb/muni/fares.do for more information.

2) Get a backpack and wear comfy shoes.

Forget about your favorite heels or cute purses. I was deeply attached to heeled shoes and fashionable bags when I got here, but as a bus rider, you are bound to do a lot of walking, bumping into people, and quick moves from Muni to Muni, so its just best to say you goodbyes now. Your feet will thank you and a solid pack is just easier by the end of the day.

3) Make sure you are going on bus 28 and NOT 28R. 

Some of the buses are only differentiated by a single letter, so be very careful as to not mistake 28 for 28R because they will take you to different locations.

4) Keep your phone charged.

Apps like “Metro San Francisco- Muni Bart” are great for figuring out when the next bus will arrive and are far more accurate than google maps. Or the bus stops have numbers you can dial to hear the schedules. “Citymapper” also has some great reviews and works well for navigating.

5) Don’t rely solely on your GPS.

GPS is great and wonderful and I don’t think I could survive without it, but it doesn’t always supply the most effective route options. Do your research before heading out and figure out which stops will take you where in your area.

6) Don’t be afraid to ask directions-from the DRIVER.

Asking for directions is OKAY, buy pedestrians will lead you astray. The bus drivers are more than willing to answer your questions and are actually pretty friendly, despite any road rage they might have. Avoid relying on the word of random people on the street because they may not know the streets as well as they think they do.Just ask the bus driver. Or at least old people who are native San Franciscans. You are new to the city. Don’t stress yourself out more than necessary.

7) The bus numbers run on BOTH sides of the street. 

Something I didn’t catch right away that I probably should have, is the fact that a bus 57 toward Lakeshore Plaza is not the same as a bus 57 toward West Portal Station. Pay attention to the bus number and the in/outbound location displayed on it. Sometimes, you have to cross the street to a more discretely marked stop of the same number to get to the destination you want.

8) People on the bus can be super inspiring!

If you are a writer, public transportation rides can be a great way to find new experiences and characters to write about. Being on the bus gives me time to do my homework before my next creative writing lecture and I am never without a story. There is a constant flow of travelers and families speaking various languages. Eaves drop on a few conversations here and there. Strike up a conversation. You never know who might have an interesting story.

I know there is much left to learn before I can call myself a Muni/Bart pro, but hopefully in another month, I’ll be able to get somewhere 45 minutes away in less than three hours…

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