52-Excelsior: Center of the Universe?
Photo by dannyman
I live in the Excelsior, at the top of the hill near McLaren Park. On days when I commute on BART, I sometimes take the 52 Excelsior for my uphill homeward trip, although the recent service cuts can mean a wait that’s longer than my total walk home.
Monday night, I saw by the Next Muni sign that I would have a very long wait for the bus, so I decided to start walking. I was carrying several heavy bags, my knee hurt, and it was foggy and windy â€“ not a great evening for the 9-block schlep up the steep hill to my house. I was moving slower than usual, so when I got to Silver and Mission, I checked the sign at the bus shelter â€“ 9 minutes for a 52. I decided to sit down and wait for it.
As soon as I did, I realized that I didn’t want to spend the next 9 minutes inhaling second-hand smoke from the kid standing directly upwind â€“ and I didn’t want to move my tired, sore self from the bus shelter seat, either, so I asked him to move downwind. He turned around, and the last thing I was expecting to see was a sunny smile, but that’s what he gave me as he said “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English” (in quite passable English).
I made myself understood, he moved downwind, and I was settling back in to wait when he popped back, saying “excuse me, can you help me?” and brandishing a map. Now, I was not in the best mood, but he seemed very harmless, I had time to kill, and I never mind giving directions. I had a hard time understanding him at first â€“ his accent was odd, though he spoke well â€“ but figured out that he wanted to go to Prague Street. He didn’t know the cross, but Prague is only 5 blocks long, and he said he’d be able to find his way once he got there. As I was wondering why this clearly foreign visitor wanted to go to a random residential block in the Excelsior, he explained that he was an Argentinian on day 1 of a 3-month English language course, and was staying with a family in the neighborhood.
As it happened, the best way for him to get where he was going was the 52, so I told him to get on the bus with me, and showed him the sign that said the next bus was coming in 3 minutes.
Now that he was under my wing, however briefly, he seemed ridiculously grateful & relieved, thanking me several times for the assistance, and telling me he’d been lost for 3 hours!
When the bus pulled up, I got on first and asked the driver to make sure my charge got off at Persia & Prague, as my stop would come before his. The driver, a stone-faced young man, seemed tired and not pleased, but agreed and said “make sure he stays up front.” So the young man and I stood in front aisle and chatted a bit as the bus took off. Within moments, the young woman standing next to him turned and said “You’re not from San Francisco?” in accented English. Turns out she was from Quebec, and was ALSO on day 1 of an English class and Excelsior home stay. If this were a movie, the two pretty young people would have ridden off into the sunset together, but what actually happened was that she got off at the next stop. By now, though, the ice at the front of the bus was pretty well broken, and another passenger, a middle-aged Anglo woman, leaned in to join the conversation. She tried out her Spanish on Diego (we were on a first-name basis by then), and then he diligently switched back to English as we rode through the next few blocks, pointing out local landmarks like Don Chuy’s.
As my stop came up, Diego thanked me again, effusively, and I wished him luck.
The best part for me may have been when I glanced over my shoulder to thank the driver as I got off and saw his big, crooked grin â€“ he had clearly heard the whole conversation. Like me, he was probably not used to thinking of the 52 Excelsior as the crossroads of the world, but that day, it felt like it.