The Cable Car Museum

Cable Car MuseumSan Francisco is known for it’s museums, but some of them don’t get noticed. San Francisco’s Cable Car Museum is one of these, even for people who were born and raised here.

If you’re from San Francisco you probably don’t ride the Cable Cars very often and just sort of take them for granted, but they have a history that is truly San Franciscan and the Cable Car Museum is the best place to learn about this. Andrew Smith Hallidae conceived of a cable driven transport system in 1869 and brought it to life in 1873 starting on Clay Street. The hills of San Francisco were just too much for the horses to pull the cars loaded with people so he came up with a way around it that has become one of the main symbols of San Francisco ever since.

The Museum itself was built in 1974 and is operated by the Friends of the Cable Car Museum as a nonprofit educational facility.

Located in the historic Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse, the museum deck overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. Downstairs is a viewing area of the large sheaves and cable line entering the building through the channel under the street.

On display are various mechanical devices such as grips, track, cable, brake mechanisms, tools, detailed models, and a large collection of historic photographs. You’ll even get a close up look at how the cables work.

The museum houses three antique cable cars from the 1870s. The Sutter Street Railway No. 46 grip car & No. 54 trailer and the only surviving car from the first cable car company, the Clay Street Hill Railroad No. 8 grip car. The museum store offers a variety of cable car memorabilia, books, clothing, cards and even genuine cable car bells! Hours for the museum are 10 am – 6 pm, April 1 thru September 30. 10 am – 5 pm, October 1 thru March 31. Open every day except New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Admission is Free. Phone: 415-474-1887

Eau De Muni

She's Dead Jim...I had the pleasure [more like displeasure] today of riding MUNI downtown. It had been awhile since I’ve had to make this trip and it was a good reminder of some things you’ll encounter on a trip downtown thanks to SFMTA.

I always new it smelled on muni. You pack a lot of people in very close together like sardines and the body warmth and sweat provides a lubricant you use to slide through the people to get on and off the trains. Today was a bit different. Now I’m used to odd smells. I’m used to some rather repulsive smells and I’m not sure how I earned this talent, but I can identify some of the most disgusting biologically created aromas known to mankind and some not so known.

This could be from a friend that stayed with me many years ago who when I was throwing out some old ground beef asked me for it. He said he’d mix it up with some stuff and feed it to the dog. By mixing it up with some stuff that meant boiling it in water and then letting it sit on the stove for a few days. Now to be honest at this point in my life I was living on my own for the first time and had lots of extra cash so aside from breakfast in the morning what was usually a bowl of cereal and an English muffin I ate out quite a bit and only noticed this odd pot on the stove one weekend.

Upon seeing this pot and pulling the top off I was allowed to experience a smell so bad that it made me gag and run to open up the windows while trying to find a place to get rid of the rotting meat. When my friend came back to the house I asked him in a rather not to polite way why he left a ball of rotting meat on the stove. His answer, It’s for the dog and dogs eat carrion. OK, somewhere this vegetarian mixed up carnivore with carrion, but I set him straight that this was not acceptable in the house and that dogs ate fresh meat, not rotting meat that was being helped along.

Well, that was the aroma that filled the train today. It was horrible and you can add to that the fact that there’s only a few tiny windows way up top that you can open that won’t really ventilate much more than the recirculated air on the trains. What was worse is that it was a warm day on muni which meant that they didn’t have air conditioning on the train, but the heat which just made the smell of rotting flesh even more pleasant when you warmed it up a bit.

Luckily I didn’t have to put up with it for too long and there was only a few people who seemed to even notice it. It was either that or rotting flesh and muni go together so well that no one was bothering to notice. The biggest problem is that the drivers are sectioned off in their front compartments with a large window on the side they can open that brings air in and pushes it out into the train so they don’t have to notice the smell of rotting flesh until it’s time for them to leave the train or get on and you’ll notice how quickly they move then.

To me it seems wrong that SFMTA doesn’t care enough to get the insides of the buses and trains cleaned so they don’t reek of a rotting human intestines [yes, there was a bit of that smell too that I remember from working as an EMT many years ago. People who need to use the muni trains and buses shouldn’t be forced to start their journey having to hold their nose or wondering how bad it’s going to smell today. Granted, I understand that public transportation is there for the public at large and not just for a privileged few. If that were true, the privileged few would take cabs or drive to work, but when you live in SF you have to find less expensive ways to get things done and it is of my opinion that having to deal with muni funk on a daily basis shouldn’t be one of them.

The Metro Tunnel Needs Wi-Fi And More

I had to take a trip downtown the other day and started thinking about some of the jobs I used to have down in the financial district before I had my iPhone. Mobile devices don’t work in the tunnel once the train starts in past West Portal station. They barely even work inside the open air station for some reason, but more importantly it can take you 20-30 minutes to get from West Portal to the Embarcadero and you don’t have access to the outside world from the inside.

You can’t make phone calls which some people appreciate because of the thick concrete and you can barely get 3G/4G service at a couple of stations and that’s only for about a minute. I think it’s time that SFMTA installed Wi-FI or at least allow 3G/4G access while in the tunnel. There are a couple of reasons for this idea that I like.

First, it eliminates the need for big bulky newspapers. I always hated people sitting next to me stretching out their hands reading the morning paper on a crowded streetcar or the occasional elbow as a person flips a page of a book they’re reading. With a mobile device you have a much better confined  reading space that fits with a crowded streetcar better than paper.

The second is that some people like to use social media apps or read their email or stay connected to their place of work in case something comes up on the way in. It’s really sad to me that I am more connected hopping a 48 Quintara to the Mission than I am on a streetcar going to the financial district.

There’s lots of things you can do to occupy yourself with a mobile device to kill the time, especially when the driver tells you there’s a delay and you’ll have to wait. Most of the apps though require a hook up to the internet to get you the information you was to use. Happy passengers aren’t grumpy and crazy. If I’m stuck by a delay and find out that after 45 minutes on the train that my wife was in a car accident or something happened to my daughter that would be bad, very bad.

BART understands this and I wrote about this previously. I hoped BART one day at Embarcadero and happened to notice as I hit the tunnel under the bay, that I could hook up for free to BART’s wi-fi service. The trip was almost an hour and the entire way I was surfing the web, sending emails, made a couple of calls just fine. I even had a cell phone signal under the bay. This leads to more productivity for some people or just happier riders for the less productive who just want to hop on in their trip from one part of town to another and watch a TV show on Hulu or Netflix. It would give them a chance to tune out the crazies or people who talk too loud to the person sitting next to them. Now we just have to figure out who’s job we would have to cut to make that happen. Maybe a marketing director or two since you wouldn’t need them if they made the trip more pleasant.

BART vs. Muni

Last Friday I had to meet up with a friend I’m doing some freelance work for and I had to meet her in Oakland. As you know I have a hatred for the Bay Bridge, so I suggested that if we could meet somewhere near a BART station that would work out best for me. She found a coffee shop right next to the Rockridge BART station so we had a date.

Now it’s been close to 10 years since I’ve taken a trip on BART and it was hard to remember what it was like back then. Well, 10 years ago is a long time these days. I hopped on MUNI and rode it down to Embarcadero and went up and then back down to BART. The first thing I noticed was that there were fewer people waiting for BART. The MUNI had been jammed up all the way down to Embarcadero with people who were more likely to push and shove to get their way around. BART was a whole different story.

First off, MUNI has cold hard seats that encourage you to spend as little time on it as possible. BART had nice cushioned, comfy seats that while being stained a bit and dirty wasn’t so bad. There was also lots of room on BART and less people. I do remember many years ago when I had to use BART during rush hour to travel to a rehearsal space in Oakland that was fairly uncomfortable, but nothing near what it was during rush hour in the city.

So as I’m sitting down in my comfy chair and we speed off into the transbay tunnel the first thing I noticed was that we were going fast. Then I noticed it was kind of loud. I pulled out my iPhone to run my decibel meter to find out that the average noise level was 95db with a peak of 105db. That’s louder than MUNI, but then I noticed something I never noticed on MUNI. I had 5 bars of service underwater and free WiFi access. WTF? Why doesn’t San Francisco have this? There was a guy sitting across from me who was happily surfing the web and going work on his laptop while we were cruising along just like me on my iPhone. I kind of wished I had the iPad with me as it would have been enjoyable to watch a TV show while I was cruising along.

It turns out that to watch a half hour TV show I would have had to travel almost to Pittsburgh to get the whole show in. BART is fast. It also uses the Clipper card now so I didn’t have to buy an extra ticket enroute that I would probably never use within the next 10 years. All in all, it was a nice fast trip. In the BART station the announcements were in a very well spoken, understandable English and the stations overall just seemed cleaner. There were signs that told you which stops to get off at for the various destinations around the Bay which was a nice addition as I didn’t realize how easy it was to get to places outside of San Francisco. Now if they could only find a way to put a station near IKEA and the shopping centers next to it we would travel across the bay far more often. I think I may have found an alternative to the hell of the Bay Bridge, I just need to see what’s around the stations for me to visit.


Sometimes San Francisco get’s it right.

Something I always disliked about going to work was having to get the fastpass at the end of every month. I’d usually forget and all the places around me that would have them would be sold out, or the smaller places would have them, but sell them cash only because they didn’t make anything on them.

Now Muni I mean the SFMTA has changed all that. They’ve come out with the clipper card that you can refill at any Metro station or online. No more having to deal with cash only or being sold out. You just tap your card and the nifty little gates open. If you’re transferring to another bus or streetcar you tap it and it will tell you how much time you have left (90 minutes from the time you first got on). The only thing I don’t like is that this means they won’t have to print as many fast passes every month yet raised the price to $60 for muni only or $70 for muni and BART (SF Only).

The clipper card also works on AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit and Caltrain as well as BART and they’re trying to get all the other transit companies hooked in as well. If your employer has a system where your transit fees are taken out pre-tax, they can work with that as well. If you’re visiting San Francisco they have a temporary card that you can get that lasts for 31 days, but I’d suggest anyone who visits get the regular clipper card that’s free until June 2011, then the price is $5 I believe.