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In Transit: From S.F. to L.A. via Public Transportation 

Wednesday, Jun 22 2011

Page 3 of 4

Asked what locals do when they're not working, a King City security guard pauses before stating, "At 4 p.m., it's gonna get hella windy." Huh. But at the very stroke of four, huge gusts of wind rattle the bus shelter. I am on the cusp of the most critical — and precarious — leg of the journey. A trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on public transit became feasible only in December, when the Army financed bus lines from King City to Fort Hunter Liggett and from the base to Paso Robles. These lines run just twice a day — in the early morning and late afternoon. Only eight minutes separate the scheduled arrival of the bus in Paso Robles and the departure of the last bus out of town. Even a minor delay would blow up the itinerary — and, not insignificantly, leave me stranded in Paso Robles overnight.

The No. 82 Fort Hunter Liggett Express pulls away from the dialysis center at 4:15 p.m. — it was still hella windy — with your humble narrator as its sole passenger. We head through jaw-droppingly beautiful country — massive vineyards; rolling hills; gnarled, moss-draped oaks growing out of gullies. The sky is remarkably blue and the clouds are every bit as magnificent as those in any Albert Bierstadt painting.

Driver Jerome Garza used to teach junior college California history in the early 1970s. He picks up where he left off for my benefit, lecturing his solitary passenger on the local flora and fauna, the histories of the adobe buildings alongside the road, and the ghost towns dotting the region.

He wishes me luck as I'm dropped next to a rusting M-551A1 tank near the mouth of the military base carved out of Hearst's former land. Gargantuan camouflaged trucks driven by shirtless soldiers in helmets rumble past, down a seemingly endless road toward the fort's main drag, five miles off. It's 4:50 p.m., and the No. 83 Paso Robles Express is due in 20 minutes. It's the one bus that just can't be late.

Of course it's late.

A sense of resignation familiar to any lifelong Giants fan grows as the minutes agonizingly tick by. At last a blue and white bus emerges from the horizon, rolls through the base's archway, and grinds to a halt. It is 15 minutes past due. The machine spits back the Monterey-Salinas Transit all-day pass I bought in San Jose, so I ask whether two bucks will suffice. "Sounds good to me," says the young, bespectacled driver. I take an instant liking to this man.

He roars down country roads, past whole valleys of mobile homes, and through infinite vineyards. But he cannot alter time and space, and it soon becomes apparent that we will not make the transfer on time. A single soldier disembarks at the barren downtown of San Miguel at 6:05 p.m. — meaning we have 15 minutes to drive some 11 miles, making multiple in-city stops. Desperate, I lean forward and inform the driver that I need to make that last bus or I'll be marooned in the depot overnight. Is there anything he can do? Amazingly, there is.

Fortune smiles upon me. This was no ordinary driver, but a supervisor filling in for a shift. So when he orders the final No. 9 San Luis Obispo bus of the day to wait, they listen to him. He can authorize a delay of only five minutes, until 6:25. That gives us seven more minutes. The bus heads over a bridge and along a hillside — five minutes to go. We coast to a stop at a mall. Most of the passengers disembark. Slowly. One leaves his iPhone. Three minutes to go. We pull into traffic. Red light. Another red light. Ninety seconds to go. A long overpass. A gentle right. And — mahalo! — a right into the Paso Robles Transit Center. It is 6:24 p.m.

I bound out the door and leap into a small magenta bus, only to be met by somewhat hostile stares from its two passengers. There is no driver in sight. I glance up to notice the Paso Robles Express driver gesticulating frantically my way — I am on the wrong bus. I hurdle into the No. 9 as the door closes behind me. The Paso Robles Express driver, incidentally, has done all this without having any inkling I'll be writing it up in a newspaper article. As far as he's concerned, I'm just some guy who paid two bucks and needs to get to San Luis Obispo.

I never catch his name.

A wave of euphoria washes over me as I decompress aboard the No. 9. And this is definitely a party bus. A spectacularly inebriated mechanic claims his true calling was to be a chef; he once cooked a meal for Burl Ives. He regales the two other passengers on board. One is Robert Tinker, who rides buses just for the hell of it and calls out all the stops in his best radio announcer voice. On his journeys he met our last rider, Jennifer Perry, who touches up the DVD covers of a Paso Robles–based porn studio. "I know there is lots of porn on the internet, but we only have local girls that there is a very good chance you know," the outfit's website reads. Perry's job is essentially to "make the girls all pretty." Only occasionally does this involve Photoshopping in the local girls' missing teeth.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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