On a recent trip to San Francisco, I decided not to rent a car and instead to rely on public transportation. I did this partly because I think the world is coming to an end due to global warming, and partly because I'm not all that into cars. I like trains and subways.
I took the BART system from SFO to the city, and then took the toy-like MUNI tram to the Sunset area of the city, where I was staying.
As soon as I rolled my bag over to the airport BART station, I felt a spring in my step. My mind felt engaged. I had to figure out the ticket machines, analyze the route map, contemplate my next moves. I noticed the people around me. I wondered where they were from, and where they were going.
Since instant mobility was not possible, I spent the afternoon hanging out in my host's neighborhood, which is largely Chinese. I had dumplings and bubble tea. Both were delicious.
That evening, I took the toy MUNI train again for a mile or so to Cole Valley to have dinner with a friend. He doesn't have a car, either, and takes the Googlemobile to work every day.
The next three mornings, I took the toy MUNI train to Embarcadero Center. In previous visits, going to the Embarcadero had always been a hell-on-wheels experience for me as I attempted to navigate the counterintutively triangulated streets of downtown San Francisco and find parking. This time is was easy and fun.
The morning rush consisted of lots of folks in their twenties doing their early-career-experience thing. They were sipping coffee, listening to iPods and reading books like "David Copperfield." It was refreshing to be with fresh people.
A couple days into the trip, I realized that I was loving San Francisco. This is a big deal for me, because previously I never--confession here--liked San Francisco all that much. I think this is because I had certain semi-traumatic experiences in the area over the years that were difficult to dislodge from my system, even years after the fact. I appreciated what San Francisco represented, I just couldn't get into it.
Freed from automobile imprisonment, however, I was able to easily construct a new reality. I rewired my San Francisco brain. Without a car to tempt to hop around the city (to places where I would never be able to park), I focused on where I was, and I connected to the people around me.