Actually, it was a light rail train that glides along tracks in the center of the street. Sometimes, depending on the time of day, just one car does the job, but most of the time two, three or more cars are hooked together. When the train goes around corners, gliding and lurching, it resembles a giant centipede, with first one body part moving, then the next and then the next.
The trains are part of the San Francisco Municipal Railway, which was founded in 1912. The Muni boasts that it carries over 200 million customers per year, taking people where they need to go all day, every day, along 80 different routes. The Muni operates historic streetcars, diesel buses, alternative fuel vehicles, electric trolley coaches, cable cars and the light rail trains that run both above and below ground.
I walked seven blocks (all down hill)) to Cole Valley and caught the Outbound N train heading west to 48th Avenue, which is literally across the street from the Pacific Ocean. It takes awhile – 20 minutes or so -- to get from Cole Street to 48th, though the true distance is only about 3.5 miles. That’s okay. The Pacific Ocean does not check Google Calendar to see what time you will arrive. The Pacific Ocean does not care. Why should you?
When I boarded, the N was almost full. By the time we hit 40th Avenue, only six passengers remained. Acting in concert, as though we had rehearsed, we all rummaged in our respective backpacks and pulled out our hats when we reached 45th Avenue. At 48th, we disembarked and walked across the lower and upper sections of the Great Highway.
And there it was! Up a sandy hill, down the other side -- and there the ocean sparkled in the sun. I found a spot on the sand to spread my small towel and sat down, enjoying the sounds of the sea and the cool air. (People who brought bigger backpacks pulled out beach towels. I’ll do that next time.)
Sailboats glided along the horizon. Nine surfers rode the waves. In their wetsuits, off the boards, the surfers resembled curious seals bobbing in the water, sticking their heads up for a look around. On the beach, a young woman sunned in a bikini. A few yards away, an older man lay on his towel dressed in dark green Bermuda shorts, a long-sleeved plaid shirt and calf-high green socks. He had a blue towel draped over his face. Only his knees were displayed to the sun.
A mom played catch with her little boy. Two middle-aged men played catch with one another. One young couple tossed a Frisbee; another couple led a toddler to the edge of the sea, the little girl between them. Two teenage girls dug deep holes in the sand and then climbed in, laughing
Not far behind me on the sand, a man got off his bike, spread a towel, sat down, opened his backpack and began to play a large wooden flute. As the wind carried the sounds across the beach, heads turned, one by one, to look back to see the source of the music. I sat, in my hat, listening to the waves and the flute music, thinking this was a terrific mid-day break.
Then I headed back up the hill, hot sand streaming through my sandals. The Java Beach Café has the great good fortune to be situated at 48th and Judah, right where the N train drops off passengers. I popped in for a sandwich. After lunch, I walked four blocks to visit a shop I’d read about in Sunset magazine and then got on the next train back to Cole Valley. There, I caught the bus that heads up the steep hill and stops right in front of my apartment.
Living in St. Louis, I used to like knowing I was just a 2.5-hour direct flight from Montego Bay. Now I can take a train to the beach -- in 20 minutes.