Thursday, January 8, 2015

North County Transit and the Kindness of Strangers

A few nights ago, I came back from Los Angeles by train to Oceanside and discovered that I had left my car keys somewhere else. It was 8:30 at night and I was roughly 20 miles or $90.00 by taxi to get home.

It turns out that I got home by spending $6.00 on local transit and $10.00 for the final 3 miles. It took a few hours, but was otherwise pleasant and educational. But it would not have happened without the help of many of the other people on the poor trail home.

The North San Diego County Transit Authority (NCTA) runs all the buses and trains in the North County. Believe it or else, there is a light rail system that connects Oceanside (pop 180K) to Escondido (150K). How is it possible that these two communities are connected by train when in Los Angeles they can not connect Santa Monica to Los Angeles? Well I am here to tell you that they act that way down here out of fear, fear that they will turn out to be Los Angeles, that hunk of vile stinking shit, if they are not careful.

But even a train does not do people much good if it is not run and the fact is that all good white people in North County are home in bed by 8 PM in order to be able to get up at 5 AM when the rooster crows and they have to start plowing the back forty. And except for Friday night when they run it late for their teenagers, the last train east is at 8:33 PM.

So here I come wandering up at about 8:40 PM and all I see is an empty train station and one black guy hunched over his bike. So I say to him, I think we missed the last train. He looks at me. I say, I think we missed the last train. He says, where you going. I say Escondido. He says so am I. We have to take the 302/303 and then connect to the 305, he says. It takes about two hours.

Now I had been living in this here part of the world for a few years now and I can tell you that I had never been able to figure out the buses. I had not tried all that hard, it is true, but I had tried a few times to figure it out and I could not make heads or tails out of it.

But with some discussion with my new friend and his bicycle these are the things that I have learned which I write here so that the knowledge may not be lost. And to encourage others to use the system when it fits their lifestyle or circumstances.

1. Although the train stops about 8:30 PM, major segments of the bus system continues until about 11 PM or so on weekdays. After that, I think you are either walking, taking your bike, or staying over in a local motel or hotel lobby.

2. All the buses that I saw were new, clean, did not seem to be pumping out diesel or other shit, and were driven by nice people who spoke English, whatever their first language may have been.

3. Every bus I saw that night had room for two bicycles on a rack in the front. I do not know what would happen if a third bicyclist showed up, but that did not happen.

4. It is not self-explanatory, but once you know, you realize that the 302 bus goes from Oceanside to Vista. And that the 305 goes from Escondido to Vista and, although it does not say so, back again. And furthermore, that the 305 arrives at Vista a few minutes after the bus from Oceanside arrives at Vista.

5. Now, armed with that knowledge, and with the knowledge that the buses of the NCTA actually run on time, at most a minute or two late, you can take two buses and arrive at Escondio transit center.

6. But even better than that, I noticed that the bus to Escondido also stopped at Nordahl & Mission, which is several miles closer to my house.

7. Now I have to admit that the 302 in particular seemed to go in circles and that not everything was as speedy as it might be. It took about an hour to go the 7 miles from Oceanside to Vista but it took about 30 minutes to go the 12 or so miles from Vista to Escondido.

8. On top of that was a very nice, young, hip security guard at the Vista station who was extremely helpful.

9. I was also impressed that everyone was looking out for my interests, moneywise. Unlike my experience in Escondido where you are expected to pay like you were living in Manhattan or Beverly Hills, the people of the NCTA and their passengers made no such assumption, and worried whether I would have the 2 * $1.75 fare to get home.

Then as a footnote to all this, when I arrived at Nordahl & Mission expecting to have to walk the 2 plus miles home, I ran into a taxi cab, which never happens, and he took me home for $10 including one stop at the local mini-mall.

So there you have it.  It is not speedy, and the routes seem to be quirky as hell, but it does get you there and the people are very friendly.  Be prepared to walk the last mile or two, of course.

I really have to get over my “I hate buses” thing which I developed living in LA where the buses are dirty, slow, unfriendly and made me sick from the exhaust fumes.

Armed with my spare set of car keys, I am now setting off to walk to the train and see if my car is still there in Oceanside.

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