Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hiking California: Angel Island

As with most parents, it's obvious that I Need to Get Out More. Just meeting up with our friend Doug at a tapas bar Friday night took two weeks and numerous emails to arrange, plus a very good friend offering to take Benny for a few hours.

The tapas bar was, of course, worth all the trouble. I found myself surrounded by teeny plates of meatballs, tomatoes on bread, corn and mushrooms, and a pile of chard and it was all amazing. San Francisco will not stop trying to make me a foodie. (Ten years from now I'll be debating sauces with waiters. Shudder.)

This post, however, is not about food (sorry) but about the geology hiking group I joined. I'm not one of those people who happily dives into new things, especially if said things are full of total strangers. But San Francisco's geology is really interesting and yes, I Need to Get Out More.

Now I've taken those online personality tests and they keep giving me labels like "Lively Center of Attention", but that doesn't mean I can march up to a group of 20 total strangers and start jamming about rocks -- even metamorphosed Franciscan rocks. So I was a little nervous, which either makes me very quiet or neurotically chatty. Fortunately for the group I chose the former and ended up near the back of the pack, scribbling in my notebook and trying not to look winded on the steeper slopes.

Angel Island rocks are kind of neat. They're Franciscan rocks, like most of the rest of the Bay Area. The Franciscan complex is a group of basalts, granites and serpentine along with cherts, sandstones and shales. The whole bunch is cracked up with faults and looks pretty much like a mess.

Angel Island's Franciscan rocks are different because they're metamorphosed. That means they've been exposed to enough heat and pressure to change their chemical makeup. So they look different, and in some sandstones the dark spots that are usually round are elongated.

The reason Angel Island's rocks were metamorphosed is because they ended up in what's called a subduction zone. In a subduction zone, one plate of the earth's crust is shoved under another plate. After Angel Island's rocks were pushed down and cooked up, another crack in the earth arrived. Called a thrust fault, it shoved the metamorphosed rocks over a big sandstone block called the Alcatraz Terrane. So at Angel Island, you can see the old, weird, metamorphosed rocks on top of the boring sandstone.

And there you have it. So off I went on a week ago Sunday, carrying my lunch and my notebook in a backpack. It was, of course, Fleet Week, which meant the Blue Angels were scheduled to loop-de-loop over the Bay that afternoon.

I took the ferry to the island and met the group. We trudged over to the first stop, which promised metamorphosed sandstone with flattened pebbles in it. Here it is. Yeah, it looked that exciting in person, too.

Our leader passed around little lenses, but we couldn't find any of the fabled flattened pebbles. Oh well. We hiked down to the beach, looking for pillow basalts, but the tide was too high and we found ourselves squabbling about whether a few wet, black, suspiciously round boulders were in fact pillow basalts or just wet sandstone.

Now pillow basalt is one of my favorite rocks. These basalts are formed at a crack in the seafloor when new seafloor is spurting out. Once the molten rock hits the icy seawater, it forms blobby, shiny shells like the chocolate shells on Junior Mints. Blobs pile on blobs until the whole thing looks like a bunch of black pillows. Then the molten rock inside slowly cools. So when you're looking at a pile of pillow basalts, you're looking at rocks from the ocean floor, frozen as they formed. Love that. There are places where you can see pillow basalts far away from any water and it's mind-bending to consider how they got there.

Since the rocks weren't that riveting, I shot a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in fog:

But the real show happened on the ferry ride back to San Francisco. The Blue Angels started cork-screwing all over the Bay. They even buzzed the ferry with an ear-splitting boom.

Here is one of my favorite pictures ever with Alcatraz, a Blue Angel and a masted ship:

And here are some more Blue Angels:

All in all, I consider my hike a success. This Sunday I'm meeting the group to hike Ring Mountain in Tiburon. I'm told we'll see much more dramatic examples of metamorphic rocks associated with subduction zones. But sadly, no acrobatic jet planes are planned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

D is for Dense

(The letter grade for Drake University's new logo)

Sometimes there's nothing I like better than reading about a bunch of government or academic types trying get all creative with marketing. Longtime readers of this blog might remember my post about the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau's weird logo.

The DMCVB (yes, they really do that) gave up on silly slogans ("It's a Great Time in Detroit!") and reduced its gritty, struggling city to a single letter: D. The Detroit Free Press chimed in with a fawning article ("Whatever happens in Vegas can stay there. This is the D.") Then the editors presented a montage of D's through history.

Well, D is the letter that Will Not Die, because the bright folks at Drake University in Iowa decided that their admissions recruitment literature needed a giant D+ on it. Drake officials said they wanted to attract students who would appreciate the irony. And, they'll have you know, “D” stands for Drake, while the “+” represents the opportunities the school offers students. Sounds a bit like that girl on a flying carrot, no?

("It's a rocket! And the orange is the glow of the Jovian clouds. And the green is the path to Earth ...")

Drake tested its D+ logo on 921 high school students, and three-quarters said they loved it. Only 3 percent were turned off by a giant D+ on school stationery. Obviously, they didn't appreciate the irony.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Transit First San Francisco, Part 2

Last month I ran a series of dull errands using my car. I left my apartment at 12:55 on a Friday afternoon and returned at 3:25.

I couldn't help but wonder: How long would it have taken me to do those identical errands using Muni and my own two feet? Lo and behold, on a recent Friday afternoon, I had a list of nearly the exact same errands to do: go to the drug store, drop off dry cleaning, mail bills, get quarters for laundry, visit a bookstore, use the ATM and visit a West Portal business.

So I decided to use public transit rather than drive and leave at the same time, 12:55 p.m. Because San Francisco is, after all, a transit-first city. At least that's what the politicians say when asked why our parking meter rates are some of the highest in the nation.

12:55 p,m.
I leave the apartment sporting a backpack, a bag of dry cleaning, a bag of wire hangers and an iPod loaded with three episodes of "NPR: Marketplace." I give my shiny Honda Fit a wistful look, but walk by to the 37 bus stop. At least I didn't have to haggle with a construction guy to let my car out this time.

1:02 p.m.
I miss the 37 bus by seconds. (I know that driver saw me!) The next one isn't for 17 minutes, so I walk down to Cole Valley.

I arrive at Walgreens, dodging a car backing out of the parking lot. On the day I took the Fit, I was at Walgreens at 1:07. I'm already 17 minutes behind, red-faced and out of breath. I buy an envelope to mail a program from my brother's flight school graduation (It's on its way, Mom!) and a Milky Way Dark.

I'm waiting at the bus stop outside Walgreens, watching three UCSF shuttle buses roar past in a row. Since Muni is so unreliable, UCSF has a big fleet of buses for its personnel. Transit first, San Francisco!

I arrive at the dry cleaners and gratefully surrender my bags. Ron's suit is ready, but I can't pick it up because I don't have a car with me. I am now a half-hour behind.

Like my day with the Fit, I did some walking around: walked to the post office to mail bills, walked to a laundromat to get $10 worth of quarters from the change machine. I check out my favorite used bookstore and buy a biography of Queen Mary I of England, otherwise known as Bloody Mary.

On my day with the Fit, I had 10 minutes left on the parking meter. So I sat in the car, eating my Milky Way and reading.

Today, I'm sitting on a filthy concrete island in the middle of a high-traffic, exhaust-spewing street. N Trains rush by, rattling and squealing their way downtown. I check my phone to see when the next outbound N trains will arrive: 13 minutes, 14 minutes and 16 minutes.

A packed N train arrives, with an empty one right behind it. I board the second train, then transfer to a 28 bus.

I arrive at my credit union. I'm now 41 minutes behind.

The 28 bus dropped me off at 19th St. and Taraval and I'm waiting for an L train to take me to West Portal. The street is pretty dirty and noisy. One of the challenges of taking public transit in San Francisco is that the streets are often dirty and there are few places to sit. So if you're tired (and by now I've taken three buses and a train so I'm starting to flag), the only place to sit on a litter-strewn curb.

I arrive at West Portal. On my day with the Fit, I was here at 2:34. Last time I had an appointment at a salon; I decide to get a pizza instead. My salon appointment took 23 minutes, so that's how long I have to eat a pizza. Which is good, because I'm kinda cranky now and need a beer.

I leave the West Portal pizza place and hop on an L train.

I arrive at Church and Market. Another exciting -- but dirty -- traffic island, but a 37 comes in 2 minutes.

I'm home

So basically, running these errands took an extra hour. And let me tell you, there are other things I'd rather have done with that extra hour than sit around on dirty traffic islands as cars, buses and trains race by. Plus, on the day I used the Fit, I returned full of energy and ready to tackle some household jobs.

Today, I was wiped out, even with the brief pizza interlude in West Portal and ended up playing Civilization for 40 minutes before I could drag myself off the couch and pick up Benny from school.

As I've said before, my little Fit doesn't use much gas, so my daily decisions whether to drive are based on two criteria: amount of time and level of aggravation.

My judgment, therefore, is:
CAR 1, BUS 0.

This result illustrates Muni's biggest obstacles to increased ridership. Muni isn't going to get more riders from the working poor -- they already have no other choice. The system can't get more riders from the destitute, who can't pay anyway. Muni can't get more riders from San Francisco truly affluent; they wouldn't ride a bus if it had gold-plated hand rails and butt-warmers on every seat.

So the only demographic they can target is mine -- people with cars who are willing to take Muni if it's convenient, reasonably priced and somewhat stress-free.

I don't mean it has to be perfect -- a bus will be occasionally late and a driver will sometimes growl. I mean free of the soul-sapping, blood pressure-raising, white hot rage-inducing screwups and delays that riders routinely tolerate.

Transit first, San Francisco? Right now, I don't think so.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Transit First San Francisco: Part I

Now that we have a car, I have a choice when I leave the apartment for any reason -- do I walk, drive, or take the bus? I'm glad to live in a place where I have different transportation options but it means I must walk that fine line between conserving resources and wasting time, between efficiency and outright laziness.

Our need to conserve resources vs. our need to pick up our kid on time is an issue many Americans are grappling with, and often the pocketbook has the last word. Whenever gas prices spike, people watch their driving habits more closely and sometimes that amounts to a permanent change in habits.

My little Fit doesn't use much gas, so my daily decisions whether to walk, ride or drive is based on two criteria: amount of time and level of aggravation. If I can do something quickly and calmly on foot or by bus, I'll probably do so.

Or will I? Am I just being lazy? To help answer that question, I'm conducting an experiment.

A few weeks ago I ran a series of errands on a Friday afternoon. I left the apartment at 12:55 p.m. to do the following things: go to the drug store, drop off dry cleaning, mail bills, get quarters for laundry, visit a bookstore, use the ATM and get my eyebrows waxed (ouch). So I climbed into my new car and sped away.

Well, not really. I couldn't, because there was a big old pickup truck blocking my driveway. I had to cross the street and shout to the guys piling wood into a rusted-out dumpster: "Is that your truck?" No, it wasn't, but they knew who it was, and a man in his sixties with a shock of white hair came dashing out to move it. Actually, he didn't move it right away, he came up to me instead.

MAN: I can move the truck really quickly. You just tell me when you want to get out, and I'll come right over.

ME: Well, I'd rather you didn't block my driveway. I come in and out a lot. (Actually I'm at work most of the time, but I wasn't telling him that.)

MAN: It's no trouble -- I don't mind moving it. So I'll park it here, all right? It's just while we're doing the work. (He points to the scaffolding on the house across the street.)

ME: How long will the work take?

MAN: Two months.

At that point I started chuckling, then saw he was really serious. "No," I said, glaring. "Please don't block my driveway."

The man went off in a huff. Apparently this is what it's like to own a car in San Francisco. Hmmm.

So it's 1:05 before I even back out of the garage, but I'm soon on my way and the Walgreens in Cole Valley has a parking lot. I pick up batteries and saline solution and add a Milky Way Dark to reward myself for not screaming at the Truck Man. I had to drive the car in reverse out of the Walgreens lot and back out into the street, but that was okay.

1:16: I pull into a meter spot right outside my dry cleaners in our former Inner Sunset neighborhood. Even though we've moved, we remain faithful customers. The meter already has 7 minutes on it! Yay! I add enough change to bring it up to 40 minutes. The dry cleaners are devastated that I didn't bring my son — they often make balloon animals for him.

Then I did a little walking: walked half a block to the post office to mail bills, walked another two blocks to a laundromat to get $10 worth of quarters from the change machine. Then I use the quarters to do laundry in my apartment building. The laundromat at 9th and Irving are surprisingly nice about this; they ask only for an extra quarter. Nobody is there; the staff booth is shuttered and locked, so I slide two quarters under the locked office door.

Across the street is my favorite used bookstore, Overland, where I buy another book from the lady who wrote "The Three-Martini Playdate." My kind of person. When I get back, the meter still has 10 minutes left, so I eat my Milky Way in the car and start my book. I pull out of the spot at 1:57.

I need cash and I'm too cheap to use another bank's ATM, so I drive to a Patelco branch in the neighborhood. I've never been to this branch and my scrawled directions are woefully inadequate, so I pull into a empty spot (plenty of parking in this area) and call my husband at work. While he's explaining the location, I see the branch across the street. Oops.

By 2:34 p.m., I've found a meter spot in West Portal, only four blocks from the salon. A man sees me feeding the meter and asks me about the Fit. He just bought his wife a Scion. We jammed happily about small compact cars with wussy engines and then I walked to the salon.

I was pretty early for my 3 p.m. appointment, but they took me anyway. I'm back at the meter spot by 2:57. It's a little bit of a drive from West Portal to our apartment, but I finally pull into my truck-free driveway at 3:25.

All in all, I think it went pretty well. At 12:55 today I will leave the apartment to run the same errands, but I'll walk and ride instead of drive. Let's see how I do.