We could ride trains




The Muni trains are fun. I rode them for years before I figured that out. 

Muni was always a matter of function, a means of getting around. I was in a rush, a busy person with Places to Be. I was late; the train wasn't there. When one of those historic clankers from Boston showed up on Church Street, I got even more crabby. The thing goes about four miles an hour; don't they know we're on a schedule here?

And then I had a son.

Even before he could talk, Michael loved trains. He'd point at them and start waving his hands up and down and laughing. "Choo-choo" was one of his first words; I think he knew that one even before "dada" and "mama." And when I finally took him for a ride on the J-Church, around his second birthday, he became the happiest boy on the planet.

For the next year or so, every weekend morning, when he woke me up at the crack of dawn, I'd ask him what he wanted to do that day, and he'd say, with a big smile, "We could ride trains!" And almost every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, that's what we'd do, from Church Street to Market Street, down Market, maybe along the waterfront to the end of the line at Fisherman's Wharf. Then we'd get on another train and ride back home.

Sometimes we'd stop for a while at Dolores Park; sometimes we'd have doughnuts and check out the sea lions at the wharf. Sometimes we'd take a walk along the bay and look at boats. But really, as Zen masters and three-year-old boys have always known, the journey was the destination.

It's different seeing the city through a child's eyes.

I remember the amazing sense of wonder I had when I first arrived in San Francisco, a 22-year-old out of the New York suburbs and a Connecticut college town who had never been west of Buffalo. Everything seemed so alive, so special and strange and funny. And after a while, like everyone else, I had to pay the rent, and fight with the bank and the phone company, and the IRS found me, and life in the big city became, well, life in the big city.

But when you walk around with a kid, it all starts to come back. The whole urban world is an adventure. That stuff blowing around on the sidewalks isn't garbage — it's treasure. The graffiti on the walls isn't vandalism (or even art) — it's a clue to some sort of puzzle, maybe a map to where the pirates buried the gold. Even watching the train pull away just before you get to the corner isn't any reason to be mad — because (as Michael always announces with glee) pretty soon there will be another one!

Just walking out the door is an explosion of scientific marvels. The wind is moving air, which is pretty cool when you think about it. The fog is a cloud on the ground. The rain makes puddles, and puddles lead to big splashes and soaking wet feet, and life doesn't get much better than that. I suspect that every day in Michael's life is like the first time I smoked pot and tried to talk about the difference between time and color.

There was a long period (and now it seems like another lifetime) when I could go for weeks without venturing beyond work, the 500 Club, a couple of take-out places, and my apartment. The advantage (and curse) of this city is that you can live quite well in your own neighborhood (particularly when it's a place like the Mission District or Bernal Heights), so you don't need to go anywhere else.

Amazing what I was missing.

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