Bending the map - I


A friend I haven't seen in years gets in touch and we arrange to meet downtown at the MoMa. I arrive flushed and breathless having underestimated the time it would take me to get home from work, leave my car there, get on a rush-hour BART train, and walk from the station to the museum. I am quite invested in my Experienced Local persona and this rookie mistake rankles. My friend is gracious and unflappable, while I am exactly the opposite: flapping gracelessly around like an ill tempered pigeon, making frantic unnecessary apologies while blaming everything except myself: the train, the traffic, the gazillion other people who have had the temerity to move here and get in my way.  Kindly, he proposes that we begin with a drink in the museum café. Over a glass of overpriced (but museum-underwriting) rosé I eventually regain enough composure to first converse normally and then appreciate art.

Some hours later, replete with Diane Arbus and tomato soup, we go for a walk. We westward ho ourselves homeward down Market Street, continuing farther than I expect through the unsavory bits, but without incident. When we reach the Van Ness station, we part ways; I descend to the subway and he continues home on foot.

I head down to the platform, disappointed to see that there is a 15-minute wait for my train and that there is an skittish-looking man walking around with a big stick (is it a mop handle without a mop?  Is it a shuffleboard stick without a game in sight?) with whom I'd rather not spend 15 minutes.

On my line, there are only ever one-car trains, which means you have to go all the way to the end of the platform to be able to board.  The good news is, this will put considerable distance between me and the stick man.  When I get to my usual spot, I am briefly disoriented because the bench where I had planned to spend my 15 minutes has vanished entirely.  It was one of those big concrete circles, which seems to be a popular design, though I don't know why since it's very likely that you'll end up on a part of the curve that keeps you from seeing either approaching train, which seems like exactly what you don't want in a a subway station bench, but no one asked me. In any case, it's gone now.  I assume it has been removed because homeless people were lying down on it. Certainly other benches have been redesigned with gaps or armrests to dissuade anyone from lying down, so it was probably only a matter of time before the circle bench came face-to-face with our homeless problem. Why anyone would want to lie down on a thing exactly as (un)comfortable as the bare floor, only far more public than any number of corners, is a mystery, but there it is.  Additionally, though the missing bench was an enormous slab of concrete balanced on another concrete post of considerable size, the empty floor I'm looking at, briefly slack-jawed with confusion, shows no marks of recent demolition, nor any particularly pristine new tile. No matter. Mystery solved by application of unassailable logic.

I walk back to the middle of the platform to some seats (with gaps between them. See?) where I can keep an eye on the guy with the stick in a large mirror, angled so train drivers can see if anyone is running for the train (and then either wait for them or hastily close the doors, depending on their mood).  At last the train arrives.  I notice that it doesn't pull as far into the station as it used to.  I decide that this is a new security measure, possibly only in place late at night, allowing people to stay closer to the middle of the station and, thus, the agent and the exit.  I smile at the driver and gratefully board the train.

The recorded announcement informs me that I am on an inbound J Church. I am headed outbound to home and shake my head at the sorry state of our public transportation, where the benches are gone, the maps are incomprehensible, and even the recorded information is unreliable.

We reach the next station. Civic Center.  The same station my friend and I had bypassed on foot about 25 minutes earlier. That is, the next station, inbound. I disembark and wait on the outbound platform for another 15 minutes (where there is a guy way creepier than the stick guy having an argument with a battered suitcase) until the very same train comes back around. I recognize the driver, but this time, I avoid making eye contact with him. When we pull into the Van Ness station--all the way to the end of the platform--we were positioned directly across from a big, round concrete bench. 

Whenever I use the Van Ness station, I enter it from the other side of the street, so it is not so shocking that I got turned around or even that with San Francisco transport's notably lousy signage and weirdly subjective inbound/outbound system, that I might not have realized it. However, the fact that no amount of evidence convinced me that I was wrong, or spurred that thought to even enter my mind suggests that I have a great deal more self confidence than I realized. I really ought to be putting it to better use.