Image by Omar Lee
Ed. note: To read this story with a prettier layout, please visit it on The Bold Italic. BTW, pure coincidence, but this guy, featured a few weeks ago here on Muni Diaries, makes an appearance in this story (his name is Freeman).
I was born and bred in the Bay Area, which means I grew up ignoring San Francisco’s cable cars. I don’t even remember my first and only time on the trolley. Even though riding the carousel at Pier 39 is an indelible childhood memory, the cable car is not. That’s right: Pier 39 trumps the cable car for as long as I can remember. Ouch.
And I’m not the only local who feels this way. We can rattle off bus lines, poppin’ neighborhoods, and new restaurants and bars in the blink of an eye. But ask us where the Powell-Hyde cable car goes, exactly, and you’re likely to get a blank stare and a raised eyebrow in response. We’ll ride the cable cars when friends or family visit, sure. But it doesn’t stop us from dramatically sighing and complaining for weeks about the northeast part of town.
It’s sad, really. But admittedly, there are some very good reasons for this. Cable cars are limited in where they go and also in the diversity of its riders. They’re arguably kitschy, something urban people hate unless it comes with a heaping dose of irony. The cars’ relative slowness could shame even the pokiest crosstown bus line and, to add insult to injury, it’s $5 a pop if you don’t have a pass.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. I took my first memorable ride in 2008, the first year I had my own Fast Pass and therefore got “free” rides on the world’s only operating cable car system. I rode one because, well, why not?
Immediately, I was hooked, but no one else seemed to understand. These charming transit vehicles are too good for tourists’ use only. This story is my attempt to shed some light on the most misunderstood of SF icons, the trolley.