Sunday, March 30, 2014

BUS STORY # 386 (San Diego, Part Five: Coulda, Woulda, Didn't)

Options! by busboy4
Options! Downloaded from the North County Transit District website.

You can read Parts One, Two, Three, and Four here, here, here, and here.

Day Two.

We could have taken the 8 to the Old Town Transit Center, then the 10 to La Jolla, to the stop on Gilman Drive and Eucalyptis Lane where we would have caught the 101, the route number a signifier for state highway 101.

We could have ridden the 101 to the stop at State Beach and gotten off the bus to a glorious view of the Pacific Ocean rolling into a long sandy beach, and behind us, across the road and only half a mile away, the entrance to the Torrey Pines State Reserve, one of our shared top priorities of the trip.

And afterwards, we could have walked back to this same spot and caught the 101 to Del Mar, further north, and just two short blocks from an excellent meal at Cafe Secret.

And we could have taken the 101 back to either the 150 or the much-closer-to-home 30, depending on what Google Maps told us was the closest to the current time.

By taking the 101, we could have managed to use regional transportation -- the North Coast Travel District, or NCTD -- as well as the SDMTS. We saw the 101 a few times: we could have ridden the “Breeze.”

We could have, but we didn’t.

We didn’t because late the evening before, as I was plotting out the trip on Google Maps and looking at the way we were directed to return to the stop after a day of hiking, I had a sense that this might be pushing it where Mrs. Busboy was concerned. Plus, the 101 ran every 30 minutes, and I would have little control over what time we reached the stop. A tired Mrs. B would not be happy to see the 101 rolling by before we got to the stop and knowing we now had another 30 minute wait.

I had been on a roll ever since San Francisco, and I didn’t want to give her a bad bus day.

As it turned out, it was the right call for a couple of reasons.

One is that, once you enter the park, it is a steep two-mile climb up the road to the visitors’ center. Mrs. B would have been done before we could have begun. (Yes, we both were acutely aware of all the young folks running, biking, power walking up that road. We didn’t so much envy them as feel a little wistful that we were now beyond even the opportunity to get into that kind of shape.)

The other is that we had time to go to breakfast in La Jolla, on the way to the park, at The Cottage. Our two shared priorities were Torrey Park and good food, and this was the only day both our meals ended up in our “best” category. (We drove up to the well-named, nondescript looking Cafe Secret after we’d finished at Torrey Pines.)

Torrey Pines State Reserve was also a “best.” We spent the afternoon covering all the trails, from the panoramic view at the end of Razor Point Trail, to walking on the beach in a little cove at the end of Beach Trail. We read about the rare Torrey Pine and about Guy Fleming, the man who saved the pines and was the driving force behind the reserve. And I did a little birding.

If I’d have been on my own, I would have taken the bus. If nothing else, I would have saved myself the parking fee which turned out to be equal to the cost of one of our four-day bus passes. But I think the bus gods must have been watching over me when I decided to pass and use the car this trip. As it was, Mrs. Busboy got all the exercise she could handle. We both slept well that night.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

BUS STORY # 385 (San Diego, Part Four: Red Trolley)

Red Trolley Ale (downloaded from The Global Playbook) by busboy4
Red Trolley Ale (downloaded from The Global Playbook).

You can read Parts One, Two, and Three here, here, and here.

We had a breakfast place called Snooze on our list, and Google Maps gave us the now-familiar take-the-8-and-transfer-to-the-10 route. I was fine with not breaking new ground before breakfast.

Snooze was young, hip, noisy, and very busy. The menu was inventive, the coffee was excellent, the waitstaff welcoming and helpful. Mrs. Busboy noticed that everywhere she looked, the men were uncommonly good-looking. I didn’t mind the competition; I simply flexed my Compass Card whenever she looked my way.

After breakfast, we caught the eastbound 10 for Park Blvd where we would disembark, cross the intersection from the southwest corner to the northeast, then catch the 7 for a trip to the San Diego Zoo.

Bad news: This is where I failed to interpret the driver’s “frzzerclaken” as “University and Park Boulevard.”

Good news: I saw the street sign and pulled the cord for the next stop.

Bad News: The next stop was five-and-a-half blocks away, with an underpass and a steep uphill climb between it and the intersection we missed.

Good news: There was a bus stop across the street. We’d walk over and catch the next bus back to the intersection.

More good news: I saw the next bus coming was a 7 -- the route we were supposed to catch!

Bad news: The traffic was too heavy for us to cross the street in time to catch it. I knew that was the bus we would have been catching to the zoo.

Good news: The next 7 came by 15 minutes later.

More good news: Incredibly, we passed the 7 we would have caught if I hadn’t missed my stop. It was pulled over with its hazard lights blinking.

Even more good news: Even though the driver’s announcements might as well have been in Swahili, I watched as a large number of students boarded with several teachers. I knew exactly where they were going! We would get off with them.

Still even more good news: I was correct; the kids were on a zoo outing. As we were following behind them, one of the teachers invited us to go past them. We said we were following them. That meant we were from out of town, of course, so when she asked us where we were from, and we told her Albuquerque, she said she and her husband had just been there last week for the first time ever. They’d just decided to get out of town and randomly picked Albuquerque. What are the odds?

And now, back to bad news: While standing in line waiting to purchase tickets, I pointed to a sign explaining the aerial tram was down for “annual maintenance.” Mrs. B opted to bag the zoo and head over to Balboa Park where we were amply consoled by an excellent docent tour in the Timken Museum of Art, the Botanic Garden, two splendid cactus gardens, and lunch at the elegant Prado  where, to go with my tortilla soup, I asked the waiter if they served any local beers. I heard some kind of IPA, but I only had ears for "Red Trolley Ale." C'mon now, what else was Busboy possibly gonna be having?

Later in the afternoon, after we’d wandered around a large part of the park, we crossed the footbridge over to the other side of Park Blvd to catch the 7 back the way we came. While we were waiting, we got into a conversation with a local waiting for the bus. After a while, he asked us where we were staying. When we told him, he said we were on the wrong side of the street.

But that’s the side we got off on, I explained to Mrs. B. We should be going back the way we came. Mrs. B argued for listening to the local.

We went to the other side of the street.

Good news: he and she were right.

We caught the 150 downtown which took us back to the Old Town Transit Center where our 8 was waiting. A few minutes later, we were on our way back to our hotel and our last night in San Diego. Mrs. Busboy gave me a heartfelt five stars for all my planning and the mostly smooth execution. I said aw shucks, and flexed my Compass Card.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

BUS STORY # 384 (San Diego, Part Three: Tap & Ride)

Compass Card Tap & Ride (Downloaded from Shimona Carvalho’s “Tap to Play with NFC.”) by busboy4
Compass Card Tap & Ride (Downloaded from Shimona Carvalho’s “Tap to Play with NFC.”).

You can read Parts One and Two here and here.

Day One.

We headed for our bus stop with our new Compass Cards. Our destination was the San Diego Duck Tour -- or, rather, Seal Tour, as it is called here.

Our bus arrived right on the minute. I boarded first, holding my card out, not sure what to do with it.

“Tap it here,” said the driver, pointing to the area just below the fare box (as illustrated in the photo above). Yeah, I know. It’s pretty obvious once someone shows you.

We took the 8 to the end of the line, where we caught the Green Line trolley (also dead on time) to Seaport Center, where the seal tour began. Like the Dallas light rail, the San Diego light rail is saweet. And utilized.

We were puzzled no one had asked for our card on that first ride. Later, heading back from the duck tour, we realized we were supposed to have tapped our cards on the “tap and ride” stands near the ticket vending machines. Oops.

SDMTS Tap & Ride for the Trolley (Downloaded from the SDMTS via the blog Travel 4 the Soul) by busboy4
SDMTS Tap & Ride for the Trolley (Downloaded from the SDMTS via the blog Travel 4 the Soul).

We got off at the Seaport Village Station, then found ourselves unsure where to go next. This is where I learned the importance of taking notes -- in this case, “Head northwest on Martin Luther King Promenade toward Kettner Blvd,” then “Sharp left onto Kettner. Destination will be on the left.”

Unfortunately, we ended up on Harbor Blvd, less than half a block away from Kettner. We saw a visitors service desk and went in to ask directions. And we had an adventure.

There was a very nice young woman behind the desk who quickly got us oriented. While she was pointing us in the right direction, another older woman emerged from somewhere to the right of the desk and took over. She presented herself as a tourist assistant, but we soon realized she was trying to sell us time shares for the Wyndham Vacation Resorts. She was very high pressure, and didn’t want us to leave without signing up for a presentation, promising us all kinds of perks. We told her we needed to be at the tour by ten thirty. She told us “Those tours leave every thirty minutes.” In fact, they did not. We quickly extricated ourselves and headed toward Kettner.

Initially, we were of the opinion that the visitors service desk was not a front for a Wyndham sales trap. But we couldn’t account for the tolerance and passivity of the young woman behind the desk. We thought she might be naive enough to have been persuaded to allow the saleswoman to use her space for her own ends. We also thought she was young enough to possibly have been intimidated into the arrangement. Unless it really is a front and our sweet and naive young woman is really an apprentice...

Mrs. Busboy loved the duck tour. Lots of emphasis on the local presence of the Navy and the sea lions. Afterwards, we took the Green Line to the 10 (This is where the driver saved me from taking the 10 the wrong direction.), and the 10 to lunch at Brooklyn Girl where we both had one of the best meals of the trip.

After lunch, we took the 10 back to Old Town (like our Old Town: the original town) where we spent a couple of hours strolling and shopping and marveling at the masses of bougainvillea before taking the 8 back to our hotel.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

BUS STORY # 383 (San Diego, Part Two: “Frzzerclaken”)

You can read Part One here.

Just as in San Francisco, the routes and frequencies of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System combined with Google Maps made getting to where we wanted to go pretty easy. However, I learned quickly that I needed to make notes about which way to walk to some of those connections.

Sometimes we had two connections, sometimes three, to any given location. The longest we waited for a connection was 15 minutes, and one of those two times was because of a missed connection. (That story turned out to have a happy ending. Yes, it is part of this series.)

Most of our connections came in a couple of minutes. And every time we pulled into the Old Town Transit Center, our connecting bus was there waiting. It was impressive.

In fact, the punctuality of all the buses was impressive. Several times, our bus was right on the minute. There was only one time we experienced a late bus, the 7 from Balboa Park. It was ten minutes behind schedule when we boarded.

One of the big surprises is that none of the SDMTS buses we rode had an automatic voice annunciation system. This is the system that will clearly announce, for example, “Next stop, Lomas and Louisiana. Near side, far side. Transfer.  Routes 157,  766.” Or  "Lomas and Walker.  Los Altos Park.  Albuquerque Rose Garden." ABQ RIDE had recently upgraded to be ADA compliant. And I have to say, even for someone familiar with the city but not necessarily with the route or the location of stops not at major intersections, this system is enormously helpful.

But the San Diego buses have the driver announce destinations and stops into a microphone. So on the morning I missed my connection, I heard the driver announce “frzzerclaken.” Or maybe “frxxrquacken.” It was hard to tell. I did not hear “University and Park.” And the only reason I knew I’d missed my stop is because I was concentrating on the street signs because I couldn't make out any of the announcements. Had the streets not been well marked, we could have been riding forever on the streets of San Diego, the tourists who never returned... (This is not the case on the trolleys. The automatic voice articulates clearly.)

This is the only complaint I have about the SDMTS.

The drivers were friendly and helpful. No one got grumpy when I asked “Is this the bus to ______?” In fact, one of them saved my bacon when he explained I wanted the bus going the other way, which I would catch “over there.” Thank you, driver. Thank you very much.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

BUS STORY # 382 (San Diego, Part One: The Compass Card)

We decided to celebrate our anniversary with a trip to San Diego. Neither of us have been, and Mrs. Busboy was anxious to go somewhere warmer.

We read guidebooks and consulted with friends. We settled on a hotel on Mission Bay, then prioritized what we wanted to do over our three days there.

Good food and hiking the Torrey Pines State Reserve were shared priorities. Mrs. B wanted to see the zoo, and to add San Diego to her collection of “duck tours.” I wanted to use the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System at least once.

Back in Bus Story # 203, I told the story of a co-worker from San Deigo who told me how wonderful the SDMTS really is. He was bummed ABQ RIDE wasn’t at the same level of service.

Also, we had friends who’d recommended taking the trolley. The trolley was part of the SDMTS.

I started doing my homework

As luck would have it, our hotel is close to a bus stop for the # 8 (Old Town via Mission Beach) running every 30 minutes, and every spot we’d picked to visit was accessible by a combination of bus and trolley.

Fortunately, because we’d had such a good experience with MUNI in San Francisco last summer, Mrs. Busboy was open to using the San Diego system whenever possible.

The SDMTS has a good website. I quickly discovered I could get a four day pass including the bus, the trolley, and regional transportation as well, for $15.00. Two passes would likely cost us less than parking.

The good news is I could purchase the pass online.

The bad news is first-time users need to have a Compass Card ($2.00) to purchase a pass, and the Compass Card cannot be purchased online. I would have to make that purchase in San Diego, in person, at the MTS Transit Store, or at one of the regional transit centers, or at select “community centers,” or at any Albertson’s in San Diego County.


I used the “Contact Us” function on the SDMTS website to verify my understanding of the Compass Card business. We had two exchanges, and, yes, unfortunately, I understood correctly. (I have to add the responses were quick, clear, and to the point.)

At least I was familiar with using Albertson’s to buy passes here in Albuquerque.

So: our first vacation adventure upon arriving in San Diego was locating the Albertson’s closest to our hotel and purchasing two Compass Cards loaded with a four day regional pass.