My San Francisco Commute to Work


This post is an experiment-- To talk about what I love to see every morning, on my way to office. It is something only few can relate (hopefully everyone!)

I can see the bay, a small expanse of calm water, from where I am--the seat in my office bus. It is the reason why I always choose a seat on the left side of the bus. Every morning at 6:37am, I wait in a small line, (30 meters walk from my apartment), backpack on my back and ID-badge hung from the belt of my fit-and-flare dress. “GBUS TO MTV” , is displayed in bright LED across the arriving double-decker black bus, and I follow the stream of passengers to enter the gentle monster, scanning my badge before I take the steps to the top of the bus, and find a seat to make my home -- all this to see the daily sunrise loud and clear, from behind the generously wide, interrupt free window panes, of the big black bus.

The commute is long--60 kilometers one way, consuming an hour on a good day, or two hours on a bad day. The full view of the bay is available only along a short patch of road, that comes 10 minutes into the drive. Depending on the time in the morning, and season of winter or summer, the colours of the sky above the water are varied. Shades of blue, a flood here and there of yellow, and dashes of pink, are colours that no camera can correctly capture in a photograph. Nature mocks technology, daring it to digitize the scene and any camera would give up-- as it is an experience, not a scene! It makes me paralyzed, so much, that I cannot take my eyes off this painting of nature for those few minutes.

If this is a movie. The hills are the set. The clouds, a lead actor. The sun, the director. Everyday is a different movie. On some days, you see different types of clouds. The Cirrus clouds-- tiny, thin strokes of tick marks. Cirrostratus--aggregations of small lumps of cotton. On other days you see Columbus clouds, the lower altitude clouds, that cover the expanse of the water from their mildly threatening height. The sun plays director, by shining through one small opening in the columbus cloud, and creates a spotlight on the surface of the calm water. As if in search for someone, this spotlight moves slowly, an even race with the pace of the clouds and then disappears because the cloud closed up, teasing the sun--the sun unperturbed and unaffected, smiles a few miles away, burning through the atmosphere, declaring a no-cloud zone in another part of south bay.

The sun, when it is not hugged by clouds, pours a golden drop, in a straight line, onto the water, making its way to me, interrupted only by the road on my side and the hills on the other side of the bay. In the air (windy or not, i wouldn’t know) there is always a bird, or many, and sometimes a plane. The water itself has no ducks to play with, and a small boat is a rare right. The water occasionally carries a layer of misty fog on it and on windy days, you can see the hidden energy in the water-- the waves hitting angrily against the deliberately placed rocks-- a man-made shore close to the road.

This scene lasts for a minute and a half, to three, depending on how loaded the traffic is. Maybe everyone is slowing down to look? But i know from the days i’ve driven myself, that it is impossible and dangerous to place the eyes on the scene, when there are fast moving cars around you. So I feel incredibly lucky, looking from the top compartment of my bus, that i am gifted with this view. I stop anything i am doing, reading, replying, or resting, to absorb this scene, and mouth a prayer of praise to the sun god. The prayer is short and quick, but I want for the sun god, in all his golden power, to know that i appreciate his brightness and heat, the director of the beautiful scenery play, who brings (sometimes the only) smile in my day and makes single handedly worth every trouble I have to shoulder and battle, to live in the downtown of the city.

At night time, this stretch of water, is hidden by darkness, and the twinkling lights of Berkeley shine from far away cross the water. The best is yet to come in my moving bus, because in a few miles, 10 minutes of worth, the bay bridge comes into view. It is a wire bridge, giving it the shape of just one inverted sine curve, stitched to a few other inverted sine curves. The wires holding this sine curve up, are lined with tiny lights, aweing anyone it comes into view of, and leaving no doubt that this bright shiny show piece, propped against the dark surroundings, needs your attention and accolades not just for its aura, but also for the functional use it has -- transporting people from san francisco to the hippy city of free people -- Berkeley.

My bus drops me off on the main road, which runs parallel to the bay waters, and perpendicular-ish to the decorated bay bridge. My walk often has to pause, as i look in wonder at the tiny bridge lights, collectively programmed to look like fish swimming, or clouds moving, or rain falling. And every time i am proud. Not for the bridge, no. Not for san francisco, no. Proud that i live so close to this happiness inducing monument, an international tourist attraction-- a feeling that i hope (and wonder if), is shared by those around the world, who live near famed natural or manmade structures.

Last night, the moon was full, placing itself just over the bridge, like it was dotting the letter i. As i walked home on the main road, the full moon played hide and seek behind the steel of the bridge, but its reflection in the water below, a dead giveaway for its position. Today, i saw the moon in the morning too, and she was looking very different. Though she had a magnificent presence, towering over the tiny matchbox size san francisco houses, she was white faced and pale-- she dare not shine bright like last night, for who can outdo the sun?

I take this route everyday. As my bus moves towards south-bay (sunnyvale, mountain view), the landscape changes. No water, and more buildings. The hills are closer, if not hidden, and look bored against the backdrop of the spare car parts dump yard, or the swamp damped with water and dull green unkempt grass. There is a brief relief in the scene when one drives past a golf course, pretty in its manicured green grass and trees, fairytale like when it is foggy and misty, but that scene is hardy ten seconds, and doesn’t give enough time for the feelings of awe or happiness to fully mature.

I had lived in south of bay for 4 years, and the commute to work was either 7 minutes or 25, depending on how congested a single traffic signal was. There is no beauty to awe at. Only faces, like my own, single homed in a car, or the road, or the car in front of you. I am not sure i would want to live there again. In the bus to the city, one is given the pleasure to observe all sorts of people from that high seat of the bus. Someone messaging with their phone, someone talking, someone picking their nose. Back seat passengers are rare but when they are, they range from kids, to reluctant co-workers going to a happy hour they would rather not attend. I usually fall asleep on my return journey, tired from the days work. I wake up right before we enter the city. Before we reach my favourite stretch of land, I close my laptop, or the book I was reading, and smile, thanking the god for the long commute in a my monster bus.


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