As I typed this, in September 2008, destruction from Hurricane Ike was besetting much of Texas and President Bush cried for Congress to pass a bailout scheme for millionaires who are apparently good at making money but poor at keeping it. On worries over this news, the price of oil jumped $25 per barrel. I doubted a gallon of gas from the pump would stay at $3.59. If in the coming months gas leaped to $5 a gallon, my commute of five miles round-trip would run me $117.77. If, let’s say, some doomsday scenario played out and gas doubled from $3.59 to $7.18, the cost of my monthly commute of just five miles per day would jump to $130. If I doubled the miles covered (down to Horton Plaza and back to North Park per day), my commute would cost $170.
A monthly transit pass of unlimited trolley and bus use was then $64.
In terms of donuts, my doomsday scenario of getting to work and back at ludicrous gas prices added up to 300 original glazed donuts. A monthly bus pass costs roughly the same as 108 of the sticky sweet breakfast pastries. Why donuts? Because they’re yummy.
San Diego Transit provides a commute calculator at sdmts.com/MTS/Calculator.asp (does not include donut exchange rate) for you to figure out your own driving costs. You don’t even need a nubby pencil, receipt, nor college kid to help you out.
[Writer’s note: Here’s how stupid I am and why you should never trust me with things mathematical or economic. Since last September, gas prices have dropped considerably. Instead of reaching the loftiness of $7 per gallon, they’ve landed at about $2.50 per gallon. At that price, a five-mile commute each weekday for a month currently puts my monthly expenses for Lucille at around $103.88. Additionally, since writing this article, the monthly San Diego Metro Transit pass has jumped to $68.]
Back to the Number 7. Looking up from my calculations, I saw that I had traveled too far. The bus spit me out at 30th Street. I clopped my Broken Foot Boot of Ninjas and Death Rays back to Grim Avenue, where North Park Hardware, outstanding experts in the keymaking field, occupies its little division of University Avenue.
From North Park Hardware I wobbled out like a peg-leg pirate — a peg-leg pirate with shiny new keys and a sense of accomplishment — onto the grimy, bubblegum-speckled, piss-and-booze-stained sidewalk. This area of University smells like a bum curdling goat’s milk in his belly button. When a bus stopped, I popped onto it (the Number 7 again), relieved by the contrast between the outside street and the glisteningly clean bus. I think this is one of the reasons San Diegans haven’t really embraced public transportation — they think the buses are filthy and reek of bum BO. But the buses are, overlooking patches of graffiti scratched in here and there, spotless and smelling of lemony cleaning supplies.
A girl in a breezy Lane Bryant top and tight stretchy jeans hit me up for a chat while we rode along.
“You know, I gotta stop takin’ the bus, you know. I gotta start drivin’ again. I hate the bus.” She sighed. She snapped her gum, drank her full-sugar, original-recipe Coke, and fiddled with her gold hoop earrings.
“How come you quit driving?” I asked.
“I don’t have a license. And I got restitutions to pay.”
“Shouldn’t be too tough to get a license,” I said. “How come you lost it?”
“I ain’t never had one.”
“And I got restitutions. You know how they won’t let you get a license if you owe money? I owe money.”
“How come you have to pay restitutions? What’d you do?”
“Drivin’ without a license. They caught me. Several times.”
We chat about TV and movies. I press her on her troubles with the DMV and her experiences with public transit, but she declines to elaborate on the bureaucratic difficulties, nimbly switching topics back to Law and Order SVU and House.
When she got off the bus, I waved and said goodbye, then clomped through the coach of downtrodden masses, looking for my next interview. As I approached, every little pocket of humanity seated on the bus fidgeted and turned away. People engaged in conversations with friends and partners or simply turned to look out the window at the whizzing-past cityscape.
To amuse myself, I tried to get my finger pinched in the swiveling floor joint. This bus bent in the middle, and the joint floats in the center of the floor, articulating the front half from the rear, and it turns out to be impossible to get your finger nipped in the rotating sections. I know; I tried for five minutes, past three stops and over several humps and into numerous potholes.
“Park Boulevard,” the driver called.
Where the hell was I going? The wrong way, obviously. Drugs haven’t exactly left me smarter, and I wasn’t clear on my mission directives. I decided to go home, so I jumped out onto Park, in front of the very modern and lovely green Egyptian condominium complex.
Bolting as well as one can with a Broken Foot Boot of Danger and Romance, I busted across Park Boulevard and sat on a horrendously ugly, brown, curvy bench with a yellow real-estate ad pasted to it. The sun dipped low over the Egyptian, bursting overhead with white-orange crepuscular rays into a turquoise, pink, and lavender empyrean.
“What’s going on tonight?” someone said. Skateboard wheels skritched, chain jewelry crinkled, and a girl in a black outfit, wearing the most creative hairdo — actually, if you can imagine it, three different hairstyles and three different shades of red, all falling from the same head — lowered onto the bench beside me. She looked at me expectantly.
“Nothing going on tonight?” she said.
“Uh. What night is it?”
“Must be something happening,” I said.
From one of the three thousand pockets sewn into hidden locations around her too-large pants, she retrieved a green pack of menthol cigarettes and a yellow lighter, lit a cig, and replaced the pack and lighter into its designated fold. She blew out a cloud.