What fun! Today I buy a day pass for Muni, able to ride all over SF, unlimited rides on bus, streetcar and even the fabled cable cars! So I am a tourist for the day.
When I board the cable car for the first time, a child in me is giddy. I’ve always loved trains, but the cable car is the ultimate train. Pulled up and down the steep grades by underground cables running at 9.5 miles per hour. The cables are invisible, but I am aware of their presence through their constant whirring and clanking.
The cable car operator is an entertainer as much as an engineer. He hoots and whistles to the operators of passing cars, and chats with many regular riders. I’m envious of their familiarity. The long weeks and miles on the road are wearing on me. I’m growing tired of being alone on this tour. But today, I join the other millions of this city of hills, this city by the bay. I am a San Franciscan today.
I ride all over, then settle in to grab a movie at the Embarcadero Center, “Armstrong’s Lie”. Yikes. What a sordid tale, a man who stole the Tour de France seven times. Literally stole. And was banned from pro cycling for life. Medals stripped from him. The documentarian was duped by Armstrong as well, until he finally came out and admitted the doping earlier this year.
Beneath the deceit, before the lies, Armstrong told of getting back on his bicycle for the first time after nearly succumbing to cancer. “It’s like being a child again. The reason kids like their bikes so much, it’s the first time they are really free.” Armstrong’s competitive monster took over, however, and he was willing to break all the rules in order to win. Something about the nature of competition. The drive to be first. To bury your challengers. Does it bring out the best? Or the worst in us?
I’m out of the theater. And it’s raining. Only the second rain I’ve seen on my trip. I’m back on the cable car, my child a bit diminished by the movie’s gravity. Then the car climbs and descends past Lombard, that incredibly steep hill. I’m glad for the sand scattered on the tracks, for the skilled operator, for the hidden cables pulling us up, and slowing our descent. I’m glad to retreat to the warm hostel, rain outside so rare in this place. But I come from the land of rain, and am heading back soon. I’m getting ready for the wet.