Saturday, July 02, 2011

How to accompany friend to San Francisco using public transportation

"She did well."

How I did it: My friend and co-worker Lena had never taken BART.  She said she'd like to try it one day, taking it into San Francisco, having lunch, then turning around and going back.  She said eventually once she was in San Francisco she'd like to take a bus to Golden Gate Park to visit the DeYoung Museum.  But she was nervous about it.  What if she caught the wrong bus?  What if she got off at the wrong BART station?  I use public transportation in big cities all the time, and I said if she would like someone to come along for moral support, I'd be happy to go with her.  She would make all the plans, figure out the itinerary, etc.  I'd be there just to make sure she didn't make any major mistakes like get on the wrong bus.

She decided that if I were going to come along, she'd just as soon go all the way to the park.  We decided to go to the Picasso exhibition and chose Friday June 17th to go.

Lena learned all she could about BART and Muni.  She figured out which bus to take, where to catch it, and where to get off.  When she struggled with parking details at BART, I let her know that it was $1, and that she needed to write down her parking stall number because you couldn't pay for parking until you had gone through the turnstile.

A couple of days before we left I mentioned to Lena that there were no bathrooms on the BART trains.  She was surprised.  Since the ride to San Francisco was 45 minutes, it was a consideration.  Although there were bathrooms at the BART station, they were gross and I never used them again after the first time. I let her think that over for a while to come up with a solution. Finally she asked what to do. I mentioned that I always stop at a Safeway near Pleasanton BART. They're clean and parking is easy.  How about a bathroom break after we get off at Powell BART?  It's connected to a mall, and I go to the Food Court where there is a nice bathroom.

The day of the trip Lena and I drove to Pleasanton, stopped at Safeway, then headed to BART.  We were walking away when I stopped.  I had forgotten about writing down the parking stall number, and I reminded Lena.  She wrote the number on her hand, and we walked to the station.

The next task was to buy a ticket.  I bought my ticket while Lena tried to figure out the machine.  I showed her where to put the money and how to adjust the amount of the ticket.  Next we headed for the turnstiles.  I went through.  Lena was a little behind me.  She put the ticket in, tried to go through and ran into the gates because they didn't open.  It was the wrong one.  Another passenger went through where she should have, then she followed.  We both laughed.  Next was to pay for parking.  I talked her through that, and up we went to catch the train, which was loading.  I quickly pointed out the black areas on the ground next to the train.  That's where the doors are supposed to land, which will be significant later.

We had a pleasant ride.  Lena had her printout of the BART system.  I told her if in the future she didn't have it, there are maps on the wall in the train car.  Just park yourself in front of one, listen to the announcer to know where you are, or read the signs at the station.

I talked about how you could go to Oakland Coliseum on BART.  When we got to that station, I had her stand up and look behind us to see what it looked like.  You could also get off at that station and catch a special bus to Oakland Airport.

Later we were in a tunnel and I realized we were under the Bay.  I knew Lena was a little apprehensive about being underwater, and I decided not to tell her. I figured it would only make her nervous.  We arrived at Embarcadero station, the first of the San Francisco stops. I told Lena to get out her BART map and watch carefully. I knew Powell would come quickly and I wanted her to be prepared to get off very soon. She glanced at the BART map, then started studying the bus system.  I thought to my self No! Don't look at the bus system. Watch the BART map! Montgomery Street station. Then we arrived at Powell. Lena was still studying the bus system. I said out loud, "Is this us?" Oh!  We jumped up and got off. That was a close one.  We got out of the station without any problems.

Before we went to catch a bus we tried to find a bathroom.  We had a difficult time getting into the mall because it wasn't open yet.  We ended up going outside, then coming in one of the main doors.  We made our way to the food court to find that those bathrooms weren't open yet.  I assured Lena I would be alright, so we went ahead to catch the bus.

We found the bus easily.  I verified that we were in the right spot to catch #5 and it wasn't long before the bus arrived.  I double-checked the heading to make sure we had the right bus and we got on.  As we rode along, Lena looked at her map.  It showed only main roads, and didn't show much detail where we were to get off.  Later Lena mentioned that next time she would have a more detailed map.  I agreed that that was a good idea.

The bus picked up lots of passengers and eventually it was standing room only.  We got off at the right stop along with many other people, crossed the street and headed to the Japanese Tea Garden, next door to the DeYoung Museum.  Lena consulted her map and thought that we needed to cross the park to the other side.  I knew that we didn't need to do that, but I tried to let Lena figure that out without doing a lot of extra walking.  She kept insisting, and I said I didn't think so.  Fortunately the Tea Garden appeared before us like I knew it would.

The Japanese Tea Garden has free admission before 10:00, but we got there a little later so we paid the $7 fee.  We headed to the bathrooms first thing, then went out to explore the garden.  Neither of us had been there in many, many years.  Lena thought that the garden was smaller now.  We walked around quite a while, finally finding the moon bridge that we both remembered.  We stopped at the tea house and ordered some lunch.  It was nice to sit outside and enjoy the garden while we ate.  After lunch we wandered a little bit more, then headed next door to the DeYoung Museum.

Lena had bought tickets for the Picasso exhibition online, so we saved some time getting in.  We spent quite some time admiring the art of Picasso.  It's not really my cup of tea, but I am glad I got to see works of such a legendary artist.  After Picasso, we wandered through other parts of the museum which we had free entry to after paying for $26 ticket for Picasso.  As recommended by a fellow co-worker, we went up in the tower and saw some spectacular views of San Francisco.

Eventually it was time to head back home.  We walked to the bus stop, and as I feared, it was standing room only.  I had to hold on to a strap way above my head, which made me quite wobbly.  I bumped into many people as we went along and I apologized dozens of times.  Lena was at the front of the bus next to the driver and was having a great time talking to him and other passengers.  I could hear her laughing and joking.  Good for her!  After a bit I looked around and found a couple of empty seats and I grabbed one.  I hadn't been feeling well all day and I really needed to sit.  I still knocked into people next to me, but at least I didn't worry about falling down.

With so many people on the bus I couldn't see where we were.  I got out my phone and followed on GPS so I would know when we got close to Powell BART.  As we got close to our stop, I heard people talking about getting off at Civic Center and catching BART there.  I considered it, but I was too far away from Lena to talk it over.  As I found out later, she had the same idea, but also the same problem of not being able to talk to me.  Funny!

We got off at Powell, used the restroom at the mall, then went to BART.  Again, I pointed out the black areas on the ground.  Those are where the doors are supposed to land, and you can position yourself there.  I told her to be very careful about catching a train.  Many lines travel through the station so make sure we catch the right one.  I pointed out the signs overhead.  When a train is pulling in the sign will be steady with the train's destination.  We want Dublin/Pleasanton BART.  We caught the right train, rode back to Pleasanton and checked out without a problem.

Lena did well.  I asked if she felt she could do it alone next time.  She said it's more fun to go with someone, but she felt like she could do it by herself.  I'm proud of her.

Lessons & tips: If this is your first time taking public transportation, study the transportation systems well before you leave.  Take printouts with you.  Have detailed maps of the areas around the bus stops. Find out how often the buses depart to give you an idea of how long it will be to wait if you miss a bus.

If you're acting as a coach, as I was, try to let your friend make the decisions, even if they're small mistakes.  Your friend will learn.  Of course, speak up when necessary to avoid big mistakes like getting on the wrong bus, forgetting to pay for parking, etc.

Resources: Prior experience on BART and Muni.

It took me 1 day.

It made me Proud of my friend

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