Charles E. Richardson

A Bay Area commute with thousands of our newest friends

Actually, I’m not in “The City” as locals call it, I’m on the East Bay side of the Bay Bridge with — no exaggeration — thousands and thousands of my newest best friends. It’s 6:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, and we’re all waiting to pay our six bucks to cross the span that will lead us into what looks more like Dorothy’s Emerald City from “The Wizard of Oz” than any other city I’ve seen.

And people go through this everyday. And this is just one inlet into the peninsula. Other commuters are arriving by ferries from Sausalito, Oakland and Vallejo. Bay Area Rapid Transit is moving thousands from as far away as Pleasanton to the southeast, Fremont in the South, Milbrae, south on the peninsula, Richmond to the north and Pittsburgh to the northeast. If we had wanted to, we could have jumped on a BART train in Vallejo and traveled all the way to San Francisco International Airport for our flight back to Georgia. That’s almost equivalent to hopping on a train in Forsyth and getting off at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Many jobs in the Bay Area have flexible schedules, meaning workers can miss the morning rush hours and report, basically when they want to. Some work from home. Others only go into the office once or twice a week.

Remember 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics and many businesses put their workers on an Olympic schedule? Some telecommuted, others worked from home or reported to satellite offices outside the ring of venues. I had never seen Interstate 75 so desolated. But after the Olympics, from looking at the traffic in and around Atlanta today, I would have to say the efforts to lessen traffic gridlock went the way of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium that met a wrecker’s ball in 1997. If I had my guess, more Olympic type scheduling is in Atlanta’s future. Traffic can drive you bonkers.

But what about those folks who have to be at their jobs? I talked to a brakeman on one of the city’s world famous cable cars. I won’t go into the beauty of the 139 year-old technology which pulls these street cars up the mountains that are the streets of San Francisco, but a brakeman’s work is physical and demanding. You can’t mail it in. This brakeman told me he has to live in Fremont (about 40 miles away) and he has to leave for work before the sun peeks over the Oakland hills.

That’s not unlike many Atlanta commuters who plan their entire day around their commutes. They know that if they don’t leave home by a certain time they’ll spend a good part of their morning looking at a sea of tail lights. What a way to start the day.

And we wonder why millennials enjoy urban living but have no desire to own cars. And they are the ones shaping the new neighborhoods that are compact and walkable.

There is another factor dealing with a commute by vehicle in California that has to put an additional strain on families, not counting the astronomical home prices (a one bedroom apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood can easily run $2,000 a month) is the price of gasoline. Try $2.93 on for size and it’s not just the gasoline that’s pricey. Everything costs more. But they do care for their environment. If we saw one Tesla, we saw 100 and the Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt were common. Was it the environment or the price of gas — or both?

There is one aspect of California I appreciated over the Peach State. We received a heat advisory on our iPhones in Benicia, just outside of Vallejo. The expected high temperature was going to be whopping 77 degrees. My wife and I had a big laugh about that — and oh, the humidity, there really wasn’t any. Such “Dog Days.”

That’s not to say that our little part of the world was indicative of California weather. Eighty miles inland in Stockton it was a hot 95 degrees. We didn’t worry, though, it was dry heat. We were fried rather than baked. Baked is better and it’s good to be home.