20th April. I left work early today just before five to beat the rush hour and go meet a friend. I took the bus from the financial district and started heading towards the Sunset. The bus glided through the financial district. The bus had a spirit about it. There were people whistling and laughing. We were all pretty smug about having escaped the office early. I even got a seat.
To my surprise, it was as we had long left the financial district that things became dire. People were crammed so tightly that there was a woman who had to hold her breath so that the doors would automatically close. I gave my seat up for an older lady and I struggled to find a wedge of space to put my left foot. In the end, my feet were at right angles and my back was bent as I squeezed between the masses of people while holding onto the safety bar and trying not to concern the nice lady to my right by brushing her backside which was uncomfortably close. The bus wheezed and coughed and jolted us to the sides as it sluggardly pulled away from the bus stop.
Cars around us were honking and the bus was barely moving. It stopped and started and stopped and started again as if it had forgotten something important and there were times where I wondered if it was going in reverse. There was a strange bunch of people on that bus at that time even for San Francisco. In the corner of my eye, I caught a peculiar scraggly man with long matted gray hair holding a large bag of popcorn wrapped in cellophane as if it was a bouquet of flowers. There were more hoodies and hippies than I was accustomed to, even in these parts. Most peculiar of all was the abundance of kids for this time. Kids with baseball caps and lumberjack shirt dresses. There were so many I could identify the latest teen fashion trend. Apparently, it’s gaping holes in jeans — holes which show more skin than denim on the thighs.
I realized the driver was making a muffled announcement, but I only caught the tail-end — we were experiencing delays.
As we got closer to Golden Gate Park it was clear there was some kind of event happening that day, yet I found this strange as big events tend to happen on Fridays and weekends and this was a Thursday. It was far too early for Independence Day and Easter day was not the kind of event that got people out of nine to five routines, especially a week after Easter had fallen. Even the Hunky Jesus event didn’t bring out people like this.
My friend sent me a screenshot of his status. He was going to be late, there were huge delays with his Uber, even the Uber Pools were surging. Neither of us had ever seen Uber prices that high.
“What’s going on?” he asked me.
I looked at Google Maps and the roads were clogged. The traffic spread from Haight all the way across the Bay Bridge and there were road accidents in almost all the districts in between. I‘d never seen such traffic in the bay. The traffic spread across San Francisco bay as if it was Karl the Fog himself.
At this point, the bus was barely moving so I squeezed through all the bodies on the bus and slid down out of the door until finally, the bus puffed me out into the street. I walked into the Sunset, the bus staggering alongside me. We walked the next three bus stops together. I was happy to breathe.
There was an extra large peanut butter Reese’s Bar in the middle of the road. It had been torn on one side and when I kicked it a little with my foot I could see a small nibble had been taken from the corner. A couple walked past, a beer cooler trolleyed behind them. The police were removing some traffic barriers a few blocks from the Haight and there were people singing and laughing. A helicopter flew overhead.
I glanced at the time and then I looked at the date and then as I did, a whiff of the air took hold of me and in that sniff, everything was exquisitely clear and the mystery unraveled.
Rush hour gets moved an hour earlier when it’s 4.20 in San Francisco.