A small travel plan for the year

One of my plans for this year is to ride BART to every stop. I’ve always wanted to do this but have not felt energetic enough to do it! I’ll plan out my excursions beforehand, marking cafes with wifi and nice lunch spots near the stations if they exist. Then I can haul myself out there for an afternoon and work from a cafe, getting to know the entire Bay Area more intimately & scouting for future excursions!

BART map

It would be nice to do this with the ferry, too.

I’ll get VERY ridiculously excited about going to Antioch, or Union City! And I’ll report back with the results of my travels!

Do you examine places on maps and mark down spots you’d like to visit? I had a great virtual tour of Sicily’s north coast near Messina (Villa Terrafranca, Bauso, and Serro) where some of my ancestors lived, walking along the village streets and the waterfront in Street View.

Whenever I’m going to a new part of town just within San Francisco I have a look on the map as well, to mark anything that might be interesting and study the accessible MUNI stops & best routes to go there and back.

Like Des Esseintes’ journey sometimes this map-journey is all I get. The real journey never happens and I am reasonably content with the imaginary one! If it does, then the imaginary journey deepens the enjoyment of the real journey. I learned something about this from how, when I was a little kid in Detroit in the 70s, my dad would write away to parks and chambers of commerce, get back a lot of maps and brochures, and we’d learn stuff about the history and geology of a place before we went.

Along with this knowledge is a sort of errand geography, so that I have buckets of errands to be done and if I’m going to a particular place I’ll know “And while I’m there I should do everything that needs doing in a hardware store since there’s one right next to the BART stop”. Very handy when you don’t drive (much) and have limited energy.

Enjoying all the paths

Took a bus and BART to my sister’s in Oakland last night, then went to a party, then BART home before midnight. Once again I was struck by how easy it was for me, when it was clear it would be 20 minutes before the next late-night bus, to just wheel on home from BART without even noticing the ride, because my new powerchair is so awesome and comfy. Though, an extra mile or two per hour of speed would be so perfect for times like that.

Then this morning I did the journey again. I saw the guy who lives on the street a couple of blocks from my house and we had a chat and then he followed me to the bus, getting on through the back door to flip the seat up for me very sweetly. An older lady on the bus got off at the same stop and told me how she was once stuck in the 24th St. elevator for 5 hours and now is too afraid to use the elevator.

At the 24th St. station (and I think the 16th too) I always marvel at the strangely inconvenient path for (wheeled) elevator users. The elevator lets you off a few steps from a ticket entry point, the midpoint of the concourse. But the only wide ticket entry point suitable for wheelchairs is at the very far end of the station. Then, you have to go all the way to the extreme other end of the concourse to the 2nd elevator to get to the train platform. If they would put a wider entrance at one of the entry points in the middle of the station it would cut 5 minutes out of my navigation of that station. No one cares and I don’t really care since I am motorized but if I were in a manual chair, it would matter since it is a long extra distance to push yourself! Still, seeing it be so non-optimal bugs me every time I’m in there!

On BART I noticed an ad for some bed sheets that promised the sheets are good for more than just sleeping. The picture in the ad showed three people’s feet, with socks on, friskily entwined as if they were having a fabulous, but dorky (naked except for their socks) threesome. Why you would want to be under a sheet in that situation is beyond me but maybe it helps them forget they’re wearing their socks during their strange orgy apparently happening on an ugly beige 70s shag rug. The socks were somewhat masculine coded for one pair, more polka-hearts femmy and with smaller feet in another, and then the 3rd pair of socks seemed more ambiguously gendered (yellow, medium size, non-hairy) so I guess that is a win for bisexual threesomes everywhere, even on a giant ad on the BART. (P.S. to the ad author: no one says “throuple” in real life.)

frisky advertisement

A man sitting under the amazing ad for kink-positive sheets reacted with miming exaggerated shock when I moved my right leg to wiggle my foot and ankle around as if he had just caught me in my extreme naughtiness of faking the need for a wheelchair. Dude! You caught me! I can move my legs! I’m totally not paralyzed! He stared at me, grinned, stuck out his leg, and waggled his foot around while raising his eyebrows. It being 9am after New Years Eve I didn’t really have the energy to engage so I played Threes on my phone and didn’t look up any more till he got off the train at Oakland West.

I varied my trip it a little by going to 19th Street Oakland and taking an AC Transit bus. My sister was saying that downtown would not be “exciting” on New Year’s Day, but it was just because it was so empty, fresh, and sparkly, and also because I am not often there and I like to explore all the pathways to get to a place at my leisure when there’s no time pressure, which comes in handy sometimes in the future when I will appreciate knowing exactly where the elevator and bus are at 19th St.

Downtown Oakland looked so pretty, clean from the rain, everything looking green as well, art deco buildings all shining in the morning light. I was at the bus stop near the Oscar Grant mural, across from a building with coppery green panels, amazing windows with sort of pointy arrow motif, and these black tiled and scuplted columns at either end. It was just gorgeous! I could hug that whole building!

Oakstop Building

I just had a look to see if I could find info about it online. LocalWiki to the rescue! It is the Bowles Building at 1715 Broadway. As always when I come across LocalWiki I think of when I just randomly met one of its creators, Philip Neustrom, in Ritual Roasters in like 2005. I was sitting across from him on some couches near the window, noticed his excellent laptop stickers & asked what localwiki was. From our conversation I ended up inviting him and Arlen to speak at Wiki Wednesday and I think later on in some similar wiki-ish context I met Britta Gustafson and Marina Kusko who both love wikis and hackerspaces and are awesome.

At my sister’s I kibbitzed on a game of Settlers of Cataan, ate steak and some gingerbread with apple butter, showed some details of nethack to my nephew, and demoed Inform7 for my sister who immediately started messing with it. It was fun to see them both jump in. When I left, my nephew was gleefully falling through trapdoors in the Gnomish Mines and I’m about to play some more nethack with him today. At the party at Susie’s house nearby I ran into a lot of people I knew. Polythene Pam was playing when I arrived & people were singing along to a song that was incredibly familiar but that I don’t know the words to. I had one of those pre-crone moments where you see someone dressed in YOUR EXACT OUTFIT FROM 25 YEARS AGO and freak out a little in a happy way because they are SO ADORABLE and ‘my’ cultural aesthetic has not died. Seriously this girl was in my same outfit and even in my haircut and middle-of-the-nose-ring and it made me want to cry and also want to hug her but that would have been weird. Sat with Katherine and Nabil, we petted Nabil’s reversible sequin pants (!!!!) talked with Emily a bit about how strange chronic pain or health issues can be, I met some people who were super nice, then I ended up talking with Asheesh in the kitchen, Yoz showed up, Gina showed up just as I was leaving early for my middle of the night journey home.

On BART a guy started yelling a lot but the woman with him (wife? sister?) was composed and philosophical. She rolled her eyes a little once in a while or patted his knee calmingly and acceptingly. I moved up to be right across from him because I thought he was not dangerous, just agitated, and I figured I could apply my de-escalating presence usefully (or deflect his attention from the teenagers he was yelling at) He had a few themes and varied them from Jesus, the bible, cops who kill people and their families which is tragic, homosexuals (could not tell if positive or negative) and how he loves us all (even if he sounds angry) and wants the best for us. I listened and actually so did a drunk guy nearby though he was more laughing at the yelling man, but he kindly called him brother and agreed with him I think doing the same de-escalation technique as I was. The woman next to him in an elegant headwrap carrying a cane then sort of cajoled him off the train. Mostly I felt worried about him and not the people around him (you could easily see someone taking him the wrong way and calling cops on him) So I wish them luck and hope they got home safe.

Home with quite a lot of motoring around, at 30% battery, wishing for just a bit more hefty of a powerchair battery or even an entire spare battery as insurance. Instead I am going to get an extra charger cord and carry it on the chair at all times in a little pouch. Though I don’t usually name cars and wheelchairs or my own body parts, I have decided to call the chair ‘Mr. Beep’ (borrowed from Ahmet the Blind Captain‘s kayak navigational system, because it’s just such a great name and makes me happy to say it).

Wine tasting

I have a vague memory of once being at a winery tour and maybe seeing some barrels and being in a big room drinking a glass of wine with a group of people but this may be completely imaginary. My sister took me today to Quixote Winery where we had an appointment for a wine tasting. I had no idea what to expect, maybe a tour of a cellar where I would not want to go down a million steps so would sit and read on my phone while a tour guide took other people around?

Instead it was just a very quirky interestingly built house and garden. As we went up the flagstone path to the weird looking house on top of a small hill we noticed & were commenting on the patterns of the paving stones which were set in rivery random looking designs, brick, stones, and I think maybe also tile. The building had a lot of tile mosaic bits – outside and inside – and a gold leaf covered tower like a minaret. I kept muttering “quirky Alhambra” to myself….

We sat in front of a fireplace and this lady explained about 5 or 6 kinds of wine to us as we tasted them. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah. We were there basically because my sister has a book about the architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. I gathered the building has no right angles. Even the bathroom was really beautiful and had a sort of tile path across the walls, over the doorways, hard to describe. And, fat, chunky, bulbous columns in somewhat Minoan colors, orange and turquoise and gold and purple. Tiles or other elements were cracked and re-assembled or seem like they are flowing into one another. I like this guy’s aesthetic. The building fit the hillside, it fit the idea of California, it fit “Quixote” in a particular way, and it made me feel happy, dynamic, sort of mind-explody in a good way, comfortable (the movement and chaos feeling very homey, like how I think). Laura talked about how even when you have a strong vision (like this) of how you want something to be it is very hard to get it across to others and to get them to actually do it or to accept your vision to the degree that it takes to overcome the various tendencies to do it the way you (the other people) want (like the clients) or how it is easiest or most convenient (for you the workers digging holes and laying tiles and cement and so on) and about the ways sexism plays into that dynamic.

hall and column of winery

We sat in the patio for a while for Laura to sketch. I was taking notes for my text adventure game and then just gazing around to appreciate things, looking at the gold and green hillsides and the distant cliffs (Stag’s Leap… part of the terroir or the viticultural district. I had just been reading in my Roadside Geology book about how dark volcanic soils and oceanic crust soil makes for good and complicated red wines. Pretty cool! While I’m not sure I really know one kind of wine from another, everything we had there tasted interesting, complex, and delicious. 15 minutes and Laura had made a super cute sketch. She will probably do more from photos later.

laura sketching

watercolor sketch

Somehow all day she was asking me phrases in Spanish which will help her communicate with her landscape crew (she is a landscape designer/architect) so it was stuff like I’m not ready to plant these yet, Put them over here, No, over there, I’m still thinking about it, The tall ones go here, the short ones in front, How are you, How is your family, I’m sorry, Excuse me, I had a nice weekend how about you, and a lot of variations on Fuck these fucking fucked up plants, because everyone needs to be able to swear to express their personality properly.

liz in front of mosaic wall

Flaneur time

Loafing around. Swimming. More swimming. Scootering around. More writing (notes for the text adventure I’m writing with Milo) and gossiping with Laura. Playing Ingress and Pokémon around the resort.

Mud bath in the spa (a strange sequence: shower, mud bath for 15 minutes, then another soaking bath that was mildly sulfurous, with a little wooden ledge to rest your glass of cucumber water on), then, clutching our faceclothes wrapped around an ice cube (?) into a steam room with the MOST amazing gurgling noises which must be the 1882 steampunk plumbing straight up from the geyser) then we were sort of tucked into bunks like burritos with towels carefully folded around us and cucumbers on our eyes. There should have been a step where we got to scrub ourselves in the mud bath since we were floating in a sludge of almost uncomfortably hot ash and pumice.

In the mud bath I pretended to be gradually waking up from a thousand year sleep, floating peacefully in low gravity in my nutrient slurry stasis chamber, about to step off onto a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. Also, a Roman empress (alternating, though, I should really have combined the two.)

I also bought some boutiquey stuff in “downtown” Calistoga. Now the proud owner of a metallic gold vest with a lot of zippers on it, and a skirt with excellent pockets, printed with books and cats. This has been a nice mini vacation!

Petaluma, petrified forest, Calistoga hot springs

At a hot springs resort !

liz in bathing suit

My sister and I had a good leisurely trip up 101. Lunch in Petaluma – on our way to find a riverside cafe we were accosted suddenly by some really nice people with film equipment who asked if they could interview us about the women’s march. They’re organizing Petaluma’s first women’s march this coming January. I agreed (my sister did not) and they fussed with lighting and screens and sound for a bit, and then said something nice about how I marched with my kids and a disabled women’s contingent with huge banners at the Women’s March in 2017 in Oakland and it was not going to immediately fix anything politically but it is great for feeling solidarity, hope, and love which are all important for giving us strength to keep working to improve the current bad situation.

Somehow, I just thought it was hilarious that we were in a kind of deserted corner of Petaluma downtown and out I pop like a magical funny haired wheelchair gnome to do a reasonably competent off the cuff sound bite. But then I really needed to run off and find a bathroom and some food!

We noticed during lunch that across the river there was a strip mall with a Merle Norman makeup store. “Jesus! That still exists!?!” “Pretty much if you’re wearing that makeup you’re likely to be nearly dead.” I suddenly wondered who Merle Norman was. Wikipedia save me! But no. She’s not in there! The rest of the internets inform me how she started her business in the 1920s, blah blah blah. It was almost interesting… But not quite….Maybe if I read up a little more I could write Merle Norman’s wikipedia entry. But why?

Onward to a 3 story antique store in a giant old bank building complete with vault! It was amazing! I recommend it! I got a nifty chinese medicine chest sort of thing with tiny drawers. I’ve always wanted one! Need to translate the characters. One of the ladies in the bank vault elevator told me they have a ghost in the building. There was other gossip which I’ve forgotten already but I told another lady at the checkout (who told me a little of the history of my medicine cabinet) about a book I read where a girl goes to stay with her stern great aunt and there is a chest with dozens of tiny drawers each holding a different object, and when she opens the drawers and looks at the thing (like a pair of gloves or a locket) she is sucked back in time to different days and then realizes that the old timey girl she makes friends with is really her great aunt. I could be remembering the story wrong and I’ve never found this book again, but the point is it would be so cool to have a card catalog-ish cabinet and put things in the drawers…. Which I will soon do.

I read a little bit out of Roadside Geology of Northern California, about the Cotati Valley and the volcanic ash all over this area.

We stopped again at the Petrified Forest in the hills just west of Calistoga. The giant sequoia and redwood trees were blasted flat by a Mount-St-Helens-like explosion & covered with hundreds of feet of ash (I think several million years ago but am too lazy to look it up to check right now). We went on a loop trail up a steep hill. Model CI took it like a champion and I had a blast just being able to do that at all. We went backwards around the loop since I thought the end of the trail being paved looked easier for going uphill. Robert Louis Stevenson was here! I am his huge fan! Now I have to read his book The Silverado Squatters which is apparently set in this area and maybe mentions “Petrified Charlie” (?) There was a grotesque statue of Petrified Charlie and his burro. Also a lot of fire damage to the trees from last year’s wildfires but everything still very lovely, the buildings were saved (we learned later from the guy at the front desk) by the volunteer fire dept. coming heroically to fight the fire. The petrified trees were truly enormous, some of them half excavated from the hillside of cemented ash flow, with huge live oak trees growing through cracks in their petrified trunks. Satisfyingly, near the top of the hill as we went down, there was a sign (facing the other direction) that said “Suggested Wheelchair Turnaround. Thank you”. You can imagine how I got a huge kick out of this!

liz-turnaround-sign

The hot springs place is super nice, we had some free wine and cheese, unpacked, laid in the hammock out back of our room under some palm trees, then wandered around, had dinner at their restaurant, and went swimming. Perfectly clear night so we got to float around in the hot pool and look at the stars, just as I had hoped.

The people next to us in the restaurant seemed like they were dating. I wasn’t really noticing them much but when they got their food the lady in a fluffy white sweater was having halibut and she said with charming enthusiasm to her date, “Have you ever caught a halibut?” There was a sort of weird pause. “That’s a great question,” he said, in the tone of someone giving a talk who was asked something a bit unexpected and they need time to think of some sensible response. (I am not sure he really thought it was a great question. On the other hand, I enjoyed it.) “I can’t say I have.” “Well, they really put up a fight and then you just sort of spin them out [ed.: or some such fish talk – i’m a little hazy on the details]. Just like a flounder!” she said happily as if we all knew what it was like to catch a flounder even if we hadn’t been lucky enough to catch a halibut. “I’ll have to tell that to the boys,” said her hapless, square, not-knowing-things-about-flounders date. “Is it hot in here?” she later asked me. “Yeah it’s warm.” “I should just take my sweater off!” “Actually I already took mine off.” “Oooh! Well, I mean, I HAVE CLOTHES UNDER IT. THEY’RE CLOTHES! *charming laugh*” (she shimmied out of the fluffy angora sweater giving me a little eyebrow wiggle, which I returned.) I would totally fish with her.

My sister and I wrote lists of the things we did this year so that if we felt despairing and like we hadn’t done anything at some later point we’d be able to look at our retrospective of Things Done and feel comforted. They were good lists! I’ll write mine up soon!

Noisebridge circuit hacking

I’ve been helping out lately at Noisebridge during Circuit Hacking Monday. One week, some people showed up expecting the event and no one was there to run it, so I ran it for someone I knew from She’s Geeky, her friend and teenagers, and a couple of extra adults who were here from Norway and Denmark for Google I/O. I had just been pawing through the soldering supplies, organizing them a bit as I searched for what I needed for my project (messing around with a LilyPad Arduino), and had found a little bag of cheap LED light up badges shaped like teddy bears. So we used those tiny kits to make blinking badges. It was chaotic, but fun.

IMG_1678

I talked with Mitch Altman to find out where his kits for sale were and if it was okay for me to sell them while he’s out of town, and then send him the money. I might, though, just order some kits as cheaply as I can find them, and keep them independently to avoid hassle. As I end up giving tours to lots of new people, many of them from out of town or overseas, I could do them a favor by giving them something geeky to do in the space rather than sit and check their email!

The next week things were back to normal as Miloh and Rolf were at Noisebridge to run the class. Before they showed up, a teenage volunteer helped me set up soldering stations. More and more people kept coming in so the situation got quite chaotic again as we were giving them tours of the space and trying to find room. I realized that next time I would approach things differently — clearing the whole area of people who were working, and setting up 20 or more stations ahead of time, so that we weren’t doing setup and giving tours at the same time.

During the event Miloh and Rolf really took over the teaching aspect. I was somewhat trapped with my scooter in a corner because of the number of people, the table arrangement, the many chairs and the backpacks all over the floor. So I also would like to look at making the central area of Noisebridge less cluttered with tables, chairs, and stuff for the future so that I can participate. In my corner, I again hung with some kids and the teenage volunteer, and a guy who couldn’t hear well. The kid didn’t have a computer to look at the instructions for his kit, and needed a lot of one on one help as he was maybe a bit non neurotypical. The guy who hung out with us could not hear well in a situation with background noise. I’m in the same boat — I’m in my 40s and just can’t hear in a loud, chaotic situation. The kid fixed his Mintyboost and then made a tv-b-gone. The other guy made a blinky badge then was hooked and got one of those big name LED badges, I think. He appreciated the How to Solder comic book print out that I happened to have on me because he missed all of Miloh and Rolf’s explanations. I thought it was interesting that, marked out as somewhat different and disabled, I ended up doing more one on one work with people who had particular access needs.

Our volunteer also was super helpful in that capacity and seemed unusually alert to access issues, like that chairs or cables were in the way of my scooter or that it might be hard for me to get up to get supplies on high shelves. After the event when his dad came to pick him up I saw that his dad had one arm and walked with a cane. So growing up with a parent who has some mobility issues he might be more tuned in than others usually are.

I thought both those things were interesting! And figured it is a pretty good role for me at CHM. If you have particular access needs or are going to bring a bunch of 10 year olds to Circuit Hacking Monday (Mondays at 7:30pm) then feel free to email me with questions and see if I can be there & be helpful: lizhenry@gmail.com.

Basic supplies are running low. We have lots of soldering irons, including a bunch that I think Jake, Lilia, and MC Hawking won in a contest, but they’ve seen very heavy use over the last couple of years. So there are a lot of kind of crappy soldering irons and a few decent ones. We might be able to clean them or swap the tips cheaply. We have lots of snippers and wirestrippers. We need solder, weighted holders with alligator clips and lenses, more of those weighted bases with copper wool for cleaning soldering iron tips, and more de-soldering braid. Plus it would be so nice to have a supply of many kinds of coin cell batteries. After I talked with Miloh about that he shared a giant complicated spreadsheet with me. I haven’t read through it yet! But it would be great to get particular donations for restocking our electronics supplies.

We have shelves and shelves of hardware junk, in bins, and a wall of tiny little parts in tiny drawers meticulously labelled!

IMG_20120702_165339.jpg

Yesterday I spent some nice time in the afternoon doing a Dice Kit with my son. We couldn’t find any decent epoxy or glue, so went to the fabric store on the corner, but ended up getting a big tube of contact cement from the dollar store. I gave a lot of tours and hung out with my friend who came by to fix her headphone wires. We’re both going to help TA at Black Girls Code in San Francisco. She ended up also using the wood shop for another project – modifying wooden artists’ brush handles to make those long tapered sticks so useful for holding up long hair and especially dreadlocks. Claudia aka Geekgirl showed up too and told me about how she is going to Rwanda in September and has a job there teaching IT and computer programming to middle school girls. Nifty! Meanwhile, my son played with MC Hawking and read comic books in the library after he was done with the Dice Kit. Along the way he learned to figure out the values of resistors from the color code chart (and learned it is not hard to just memorize the numbers.) We looked at my LilyPad and he got to the point of comfort with the code to make a scale go up and down again and modify the time of the notes. I gave the world’s worst and briefest explanation of what a function is and what it means to pass it variables, but he caught on with no effort. I’m very spoiled as a teacher when I set out teach him anything! He gets the idea too quickly!

Anyway, I sat up far too long that afternoon, and sadly had to leave before Replicator Wednesday kicked off. It has been nice going out into the world a bit more, this last month, more than just for the grocery store and physical therapy.

One last note: this is what happens if you leave your bike blocking the elevator at Noisebridge!!! It gets put into the E-WASTE bin!

ewaste

Followup to SF Muni bus complaint form post

As a followup to my post about public transportation complaint forms: I filed a couple of complaints to test the system. It is fairly cumbersome, so though I had resolved to report everything that was a problem, I haven’t done it. I did take a few photos of buses that I ride before I get on, and took some notes so that I have the bus numbers, but that is hard to keep up consistently. I am usually focusing on getting on the bus smoothly and I’ve had my son with me a lot so I have him to think about too. This is with riding the bus 2 to 6 times a day.

I feel a little worried about reporting on drivers who are rude or can’t operate the lift well. Those drivers will still be there every day and I will have to still see them. They don’t always have their numbers showing on their uniform sleeves. I am not sure what their reaction will be when they see me photographing the bus number.

I would estimate that about half the time I have a problem getting on the bus. Most of the time that is the driver not asking people to board or exit at the back of the bus and so there is a delay in putting down the lift. That isn’t a big deal to me unless the bus is crowded, and 20 people push on in front of me, which means I have to get past them in the aisle to get to the wheelchair seating area OR that the bus driver doesn’t want to let me on. Three times in the last week bus drivers have been reluctant to let me on, giving excuses about their shift being about to end in 10 minutes, or about the bus being too full (it wasn’t). I had to argue my way on, each time. The driver in both cases tried to convince me that another bus was “right behind them” but I could see on QuickMuni, an Android app, that the next buses were 20-30 minutes away. One time, my son and I were completely passed up, at 10pm on Mission by a #49 bus going outbound.

On the complaints I filed, I got back email responses as attachments in docx format. Here is one of them:

IMG_20120719_115542.jpg

July 19, 2012

Dear Liz Henry:

Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback regarding Muni.

Our goal is to provide timely, convenient and safe service, and your input is very important. Your complaints have been forwarded to Cyndia Chambers, Potrero Division Superintendent for investigation and resolution. We will strive to resolve your concern in an expedient manner. 

If you have a follow-up question regarding your report, please contact us at 415.701.5640 and refer to Passenger Service Report # 413220, 413221.

If you would like to provide additional feedback regarding Muni services, we welcome you to provide comments seven days a week, 24 hours a day via www.sfmta.com or through the 311 Customer Service Center at 311 or 415.701.2311.

Sincerely,

Maria M. Williams
Manager, Muni Customer Services
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

Passenger Service Report #: 413220, 413221
311 Service Request #: 1160424, 1160418

Then I got a paper copy of this letter snail mailed to me. Both letters are the same, but one is dated July 16 and the other July 19th. That seems like a lot of effort on their part to say nothing.
I don’t know what my complaints were. I don’t know what is being done. I don’t have any kind of report on data they collect, whether there are ongoing programs for improvement, and so on. I’ll try following up on one of the complaints to see what happens next in their procedure.

When I go back to the SF Muni 311 feedback page, and click on the link to check the status of a complaint I have already filed, I get an error screen. Try it and see! When I put in the complaint tracking number and my email address, I get yet another error from the Lagan self-service online government app. As with all the other error screens I’ve gotten to with San Francisco’s 311 system, there is nothing to tell me where to report the error.

If the entire procedure is this opaque and difficult to me, a privileged person with incredible access to computers and the net and a fair educational background and a lot of experience dealing with bureaucracies, how does this process look to The Average Citizen? And specifically, will it work at all for other disabled people in San Francisco who want to hold the system accountable, and contribute to improving public transport?

On bus lifts and complaint forms

Now that I am using a mobility scooter and can’t drive, I ride a MUNI bus about 4 times a day in San Francisco. Most of the time I get on the bus and everything’s fine. A non-trivial amount of hte time, there is some hitch to accessible MUNI travel and either I cope with that gracefully or I get quite angry.

Most of the time in the last few months I get too discombobulated to document the incident. But I’m resolving to do so consistently from now on not for my own desire to vent but as a political act that might benefit many people and might help us act together to improve things.

When I talk about, or twitter or blog about access difficulties on the bus, people tell me “well you should report it”. I found that reporting it is quite complicated. Also, while dealing with mobility issues and a lot of pain and all the demands of my daily life, even on medical leave from work, it’s been daunting to consider this.

I would like to describe some of the aspects of MUNI transit with a wheelchair and to take a good look at the process of making an official complaint. The complaint process is fairly clunky and off-putting. I’m thinking about how to improve that process and make it productive and useful. Meanwhile, I’ll make a policy for myself of not only going through the formal complaint process, but also twittering the bus number and situation. For my own data tracking, I will take a photo of each bus I ride, with the bus number, uploading it to Flickr. I’ll then take notes on access in a paper notebook. For each Flickr photo I will type up my access notes, and tag the photo with #accessMUNI, the bus number, approximate time of day, details of the experience, and #fail or #win. That will give me some data to work with personally.

I wonder how many lifts break on MUNI in a day, in a month? How many complaints about bus access are there? Is that or should it be public information? Could I build a work-around, an end run, basically an alternate complaint system that has intake from paper forms (mailed to me personally), text messages, and a phone app? Or a simpler web form for complaints?

Here is how a smooth bus-boarding goes:

* The driver sees me and immediately tells the apparently able bodied people on the bus and the people waiting for the bus to use the back doors. The driver extends the lift.
* I get on the lift and it brings me up onto the bus
* The driver or other passengers flip up some seats to make room for me and the chair
* I settle in and we’re good to go (meanwhile, everyone else has gotten on or off.)

Keep in mind the wheelchair seating areas, two on most buses, are midway back in the bus, so to get on or off, I have to go past three to 5 inward-facing seats which might be full of people, some of them with shopping carts, strollers, walkers, and suitcases.

bus-diagram.jpg

In a bad situation, here is what can happen:

* The driver does not know how to operate the lift.
* The driver tries to extend the lift, but it doesn’t work.
* The driver claims the lift is broken.
* The driver says the bus is too crowded and won’t let me on.
* The driver lets all the other people get on the bus through the front door, filling up the seats, then extends the ramp, but now the bus is so full it is very hard to get to the wheelchair seating. People have to get up or move or stand on the seats to let me pass. The people on the bus sometimes get angry and impatient at the fuss and delay.
* The driver does not stop for me at all.
* There are already two wheelchairs on the bus, so the driver won’t let me on.
* Driver has not pulled up to the curb in a place where I can get on or off, and then has to reposition the bus to extend the lift.
* The lift breaks in such a way that the bus can’t move because the doors won’t close.
* I get on the bus but the lift won’t work again to let me off.
* The lockdown clamps either don’t work at all, or lock in a wheelchair’s wheels and won’t release. (I don’t use the locks anymore so I won’t go into this.)
* There is no button for me to push to indicate I want to get off the bus and need the lift, so I have to shout to the driver or get other passengers to let the driver know. (This doesn’t always work: I can miss the stop, or it can mean the driver yells at me.)
* Many other bugs in the system that I haven’t thought to list.

As a more minor complaint I have noticed that all drivers get me to come onto the lift, then lock the front flap upwards so I can’t get off again. Then the driver will sometimes get up to clear passengers from the wheelchair seating area and flip up the seats to make room. In that situation I am sometimes sitting in the rain waiting. I always wonder why the driver doesn’t move the lift to bring me onto the bus, and out of the cold and rain, first? Don’t they think? But, whatever, at least I’m on the bus eventually.

Another detail that would improve courtesy is that when the drivers (correctly) ask people waiting to get on or off to use the back door, and they begin to extend the lift, they almost always overlook obviously elderly and disabled people using canes or simply very frail. It would be much more in keeping with the spirit of things if the driver would encourage these folks to get on the bus through the front door, then deal with the lift and wheelchairs. I often tell the driver, “I’m sitting down — that lady isn’t! Does she need the bus to kneel, first?” But it usually doesn’t work and the driver continues yelling in some elderly person’s face for them to “use the back door”.

I wonder about the training the drivers go through. Most of them can competently operate a lift and are resigned to helping get wheelchair users on and off the bus. A very few are kind and treat disabled people with human decency as a matter of course. I see them deal with difficult people and situations gracefully. It might improve things in general if the drivers had some basic consciousness raising about people with disabilities. Drivers may assume a wheelchair user is paralyzed (they often assume this for me, yet I can walk ) They shout, or condescend, or pat me, or bring in a lot of assumptions to our interaction, and then I see them repeat that pattern with other disabled people who get on the bus. You can’t make people be nice and I don’t need my ass kissed because I’m disabled, but maybe some of that bad attitude feeds into the access problems that I see happen, especially with drivers who regard us as an inconvenience and want to use any excuse to pass us up and who seem to want to make us feel it.

When a lift is broken and a bus passes me up, I always wonder what happens. Does that driver just continue on for the rest of the shift, passing up an unknown number of people who needed a lift? Do they report the broken lift right away? What happens?

Here is a #49 bus, number 8195, that passed me up yesterday at Van Ness and 26th, claiming a broken lift:

49 bus with broken lift

So, moving onward to the complaint process and the forms online. Basically this is the bug reporting system. San Francisco uses the 311 system. Here is the 311 page that leads to the complaint form. People with compliments or complaints can use the web forms, or can call 311 or a full phone number to give feedback. There is a link to an accessible form, but it isn’t really an accessible form, it’s instructions to call the 311 number if you can’t use the web form.

Here is screen one of the complaint form. It asks for an email address and a repeated email address confirmation. You have the option to skip this step.

MUNI complaint screen 1

Then I get a screen that either adds my address to the 311 database, or tells me it’s already in there. It tells me to call 911 in a real emergency and gives me a disclaimer about privacy. There are Back and Next buttons.

MUNI complaint screen 2

Screen 3 is a beauty. It’s 26 fields, 8 of them required.

SF MUNI complaint screen 3
Here are their fields. Required fields are marked with an asterisk. Just for fun, I bold faced the options that I need to complain about most often.

1. First Name
2. Last Name
3. Primary phone
4. Alternate phone
5. *Email address (never remembered from one session to the next; no login possible)
6. Address
7. City
8. State
9. Zip code
*10. Request category — a dropdown menu with these options:
a. Conduct – Discourteous/Insensitive/Inappropriate Conduct
b. Conduct – Inattentiveness/Negligence
c. Conduct – Unsafe Operation
d. Services – Criminal Activity
e. Services – Service Delivery / Facilities
f. Services – Service Planning
g. Services – Miscellaneous

11. *Request type. This dropdown changes depending on which Request Category was selected in field 10.
a1: 301 Discourtesy to Customer
a2: 302 Altercation: Employee/Customer
a3: 303 Fare/Transfer/POP Dispute
a4: 304 Mishandling Funds/Transfers
a5: Refused Vehicle as Terminal Shelter
a6: General Unprofessional Conduct/Appearance

b1: 201 Pass Up/Did Not Wait for Transferee
b2: 202 Ignored Stop Request
b3: 203 No EN Route Announcements
b4: 204 Inadequate/No Delay Announcements
b5: 205 Offroute/Did Not Complete Route
b6: 206 Not Adhering to Schedule
b7: 207 Refused to Kneel Bus/Lower Steps
b8: 208 Did Not Ask Priority Seats to be Vacated
b9: 209 Did Not Pull to Curb
b10: 210 Refused to Accomodate Service Animal
b11: 211 Unauthorized Stop/Delay
b12: 212 Did not Enforce Rules/Contact Authorities
b13: 213 General Distraction from Duty

c1: 101 Running Red Light/Stop Sign
c2: 102 Speeding
c3: 103 Allegedly Under Influence of Drugs/Alcohol
c4: 104 Using Mobile Phone or Radio
c5: 105 Eating/Drinking/Smoking
c6: 106 Collision
c7: 107 Fall Boarding/On Board Alighting – Injury
c8: 108 General Careless Operation

d1: 501 Altercation: Miscellaneous
d2: 502 Larceny/Theft
d3: 503 Fare Evasion/Transfer Abuse
d4: 504 Disorderly Conduct/Disturbance

e1: 601 Delay/No-Show
e2: 602 Bunching
e3: 603 Switchback
e4: 604 Vehicle Appearance
e5: 605 Vehicle Maintenance/Noise
e6: 606 Lift/Bike Rack/Securements Defective
e7: 607 Track/ATCS Maintenance
e8: 608 Station/Stop Appearance/Maintenance
e9: 609 Elevator/Escalator Maintenance
e10: 610 Fare Collection Equipment
e11: 611 Signs, Maps, and Auto-Announcements

f1: 701 Insufficient Frequency
f2: 702 Lines/Routes: Current and Proposed
f3: 703 Stop Changes
f4: 704 Shelter Requests

g1: 801 NextMuni/Technology
g2: 802 Advertising/Marketing
g3: 803 Personal Property Damage
g4: 804 Fare Media Issues
g5: Muni Rules and Regulations

12: Expected Response Time (7 days)
13: checkbox for Disclaimer
14: * Vehicle number
15: Employee ID
16: Employee physical description
17: * Line/Route (Dropdown of all the routes)
18, 19, 20: Date, Time, am/pm
21: Location
22: * Cross Street
23: * Details
24: Do you want a response letter?
25: Was this an ADA violation?
26: If it was an ADA violation, do you want a hearing?
(If “Yes” is selected, and the operator is identified, a telephone or in-person hearing will be scheduled to address the issue)

Sometimes the form returns an error message!

muni complaint form error page

When it works, I get a confirmation screen with an option to go back or to confirm the info.

After confirmation I get an issue tracking number, and if I’ve given my email, an email with all the information I submitted plus the tracking number. So, if a person goes through all these screens successfully, the tracking system seems pretty decent.

My main criticism of the form is that it requires the user to decide on a taxonomy for their complaint. The complaint must fit into one of the dropdown menu options, but the possible options are shown only after the user decides what category it should be in. The complaintant should see all the options and should have a clear “miscellaneous/not included in these options” possibility from the start. THey shouldn’t have to put the complaint into a category at all. The computer can assign a category for it based on the user’s choice from a single dropdown. Uncategorizable complaints, or complaints from people not patient enough to read through the dropdown options, should be accepted too, because they are potentially useful data points. I don’t care if someone just wants to say “Fuck You MUNI” — that is not super constructive, and yet it still gives useful information in that someone was dissatisfied.

The MUNI complaint form appears to be designed with an official bus inspector in mind as the “complaintant”.

I have never seen a bus driver put the restraint system on for a wheelchair user, by the way, though some drivers have tried to get me to lock myself in with the wheel clamps. I’ve actually only seen one guy in a cheap E&J chair with no working brakes use the wheel clamps and never seen *anyone* use the belt system. It is unrealistic and not very workable. I’m sure someone out there uses it and likes it, though.

The “compliment” form is much simpler than the complaint form.

I can picture many other ways to collect this data. Maybe by building a system to take simplified complaints by text message from a feature phone (like Krys Freeman’s Bettastop prototype), or from a phone call. Paper complaints should also be possible, maybe by postcard. Complaints should be collected to figure out where problems may be clustering.

There could be a variety of useful smartphone apps as well. Though how many other disabled people on the bus do I ever seen with an iPhone? Take a wild guess. None! (That number will grow as GenX ages.) Accessibility problems should be reported via smartphone by able bodied people routinely, rather than that issue being left to the people with the least energy and resources.

It is hard to know what details you will need in making a complaint. Bus number, time of day, route number, location of the issue are the main details. I could make preprinted notepad forms and distribute them to other people on the bus, asking them to collect data.

I could see what my experimental data collection on Flickr leads to and if I can get anyone else to do the same and use the same hashtags.

And I could certainly go to one of the MUNI accessibility committee meetings to see what they talk about. Mainly at this point I’d like to know what happens with the data collected and how I can obtain it. Do particular lines have more wheelchair users, or more lift breakdowns? Particular times of day? What could be done about that?

Ideally, lift breakage or other issues would be reported in as close to realtime as possible, and hooked into a great open source system like QuickMuni? What about an app that knows what bus I’m on already, and for which I can just hit a few buttons to give simple feedback?

The thing that pisses me off most of all is trying to ride the bus during a busy time. Drivers then sometimes let 20 other people get on the bus first through the front doors. Good drivers tell everyone to board from the back door, and lower the lift immediately. Bad drivers delay everyone if they let the able bodied people go in the front, then don’t get them to move back, and then the driver refuses to let me on the bus. Leaving me in the dust is just the logical, reasonable thing to do in those driver’s minds. I had one driver on the 24 line yell at me for not *thanking him* for explaining why he wouldn’t let me on the bus. You can imagine my incandescent rage as I am deemed inconvenient and it is as if I have no right to take up space, while every other person, their shopping bags, strollers, and so on are given as much convenience as they could wish. It is for those moments that I’m going to take a photo of every bus I attempt to board, even before there is a problem.

Driving around, I waste more time

This afternoon we drove around searching for the building I’ve seen and wondered about for years. It’s visible from Highway 101, is topped with giant panels of stained glass, and says “STUDIO” on the side in white letters. “Studio” is not very google-able. It’s in a neighborhood in San Francisco called Silver Terrace, just west of Bayview and east of Portola. STUDIO, after we tracked it down and did some sleuthing, turns out to be Church Art Glass Studio owned (or formerly owned?) by Nick Lukas. Above the front door there’s an awning made of the same colors of glass as are on top of the building, throwing intense colored shadows. Framed stained glass panels were in the dusty windows. The hill was very green & lush. I love corners of neighborhoods that are mostly full of industrial buildings and warehouses for floor tile and stuff like that. This area has the added bonus of being mostly underneath a highway.

church art glass studio

The majority of windows at St. Michael [in Livermore, CA] were done by the Church Art Glass Studio of San Francisco, which has designed windows for the churches on the West Coast and Hawaii since the turn of the century. The original owner, Edward Lopolka, advertised as “artists in stained glass, German and English antique.” The business was sold in the 1940’s to the father of Nick Lukas, who continues to operate the business in the shadow of the 280 freeway.

I felt like I solved a mystery only to come up with several more mysteries.

Mystery #1: Is the Studio still open? It looked deserted. A post from 2009 says Lukas was trying to sell his entire stock of art glass. It looks like we only just barely missed a very cool art show hosted there, Virtuoso.

Mystery #2: What is the hill of Silver Terrace called? It doesn’t seem quite like it would be named “Silver Terrace” but that’s what I’m going to have to call it. (ETA: I think it’s Mount St. Joseph! Source: How Many Hills are in San Francisco?

Mystery #3: What is that funky deserted building at 432 Paul Avenue that looks like an old school next to an equally funky factory? It’s beautiful!

Silver Terrace was in the Rincón de las Salinas and Potrero Viejo Mexican land grants, sold off by the Bernal family in the 1860s. Actually it sounds like General Sherman foreclosed on the Bernal mortgage and then sold it off to J.S. Silver who subdivided it into lots, so it’s a very old San Francisco neighborhood. You can see from old maps that Bernal Hill is on one side of the bay inlet where Islais Creek was, that was eventually filled in to become Bayview, and the mystery hill that isn’t called Silver Terrace is on the other side, just east of Hunters Point Ridge.

San Francisco coastline and crreks

Here is a fantastic history of the area!

History of Bayview and Hunters Point (pdf)

We ended up going through McLaren Park which we had looked up beforehand – making fun of videos of hippies dancing to very boring music at Jerry Garcia auditorium – And pausing to look out over the valley below & trying to figure out what everything was. It was mostly Visitacion Valley, Bayshore, and the Cow Palace. I’ve never been there. We drove through and the most I can say for it is that I plan on going back to the huge Savers thrift store on Geneva. If there was a there there in Visitacion Valley I didn’t find it. I did wonder about what the Visitation was – something like the Annunciation which I do know is when Mary finds out she’s preggers – It turns out it’s when Mary’s pregnant and knows it, and goes off for a visit with another pregnant lady. I could rewrite that in my head to be all about pregnant ladies being supportive of each other instead of all the stuff about creepy babies leaping in the womb because of getting weird telepathic messages from other babies!

Back on Mission in the Excelsior neighborhood we were tempted by the Chicken Coop restaurant which looked amazingly retro. I couldn’t park though so we decided to go home and make omelettes. Signs informed me that Excelsior Welcomes the World. I will definitely return to work my way through all the small grocery stores on Mission. They look great. Anyway, we changed our minds about dinner again a few blocks later when we passed Joe’s Cable Car. Joe’s Cable Car turned out to be not the greasy cheap diner I thought it was. It is more the Dr. Bronner’s of Burgers. Everything at our table was covered in rambling, old-school sales talk and folksy wisdom about the magic of GROUND STEAK from, presumably, Joe. By the time we ordered our food I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “burger” because of the incredible amount of text about GROUND STEAK I had just read and all about the sharp knives, the way they butcher it all and grind it right there practically at your table, and how Joe himself and his jolly butchers were ready to Down-Home-ily bring a cow right to your house straight from the Gold Rush, and grind it up, unlike the evil fast food industry and its evil, evil breadcrumbs and midwest factory slaughterhouses, so please fork over 14 bucks for your Ground Steak while you enjoy the wolf-whistle of the doorbell and the singing santa christmas lights and the giant neon signs shaped like the Golden Gate Bridge, while sitting in something that in 1965 used to either be, or look like, a cable car. I had a great time and the burger was delicious.

The myth of the place and what I was about to eat had completely sold me on the restaurant before I had even sipped my coke. It was overwhelming especially to sensitive, neurotic artists who had gone to look for America and been driving around all day. It reminded me a little of the 1000 mile trip I took around the Southwest where through three states I saw billboards advertising “The Thing!” and then finally got to “The Thing!” roadside attraction and was so freaked out by its Americana-ness that I wrote several chapters of an autobiographical novel about it.

As usual, Oblomovka navigated and looked things up on his G2 while I drove and made a lot of spontaneous decisions which way to go, and we made things up about the stuff we were looking at and tried to imagine everything about all the neighborhoods and imagined our future hacker artist co-ops in all the funky old buildings. I have an especially good time because we can both get passionately attached to some imaginary and pointless goal, like figuring out where the headwaters of some cemented-over creek is, or how to get as close to the top of a hill as we can, but we don’t actually care that much and so are happy to change our minds and do something else as soon as what we’re doing isn’t fun anymore.

Very small adventures

This morning I had a Very Small Adventure, which is a little like a Very Small Epiphany. I’ve looked for Very Small Adventures for ages but only just now named this practice – it deserves a name! A VSA takes anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours and is simply a departure from habitual patterns. I started doing this long ago to ensure that I was on time for things and didn’t get bored. To have a Very Small Adventure, leave early for something you need to do, and on the way, take a detour to explore. That could mean driving a different way to work, going down a new road, taking a bus to the end of the line and back, or going into a different corner store than usual to buy a soda and see what it’s like in there. It is crucial to sit and stare at something new and very helpful to have a map to look at.

The Very Small Adventure of the day today came about because I dropped off Moomin at school at 8:20am and then needed to go to work, but don’t have any meetings till 9:30. Normally I might stop to pick up non-refrigerated groceries on the way to my office, or get gas, or do some other tiny errand. Today I wanted to have a VSA instead. Instead of turning left on the road that goes to my office, past the marsh and the county’s main dump and recycling facilities kind of over by Oracle, I went straight on down one of the main roads into Redwood Shores to see if I could see any of the shoreline in back of the San Carlos Airport.

voyage to corkscrew slough

I ended up in a lot of back parking lots behind hotels and shopping centers looking at Steinberger Slough and its resident ducks through chain link fences. I came across some people passionately making out in the cab of a big truck so it must be a good romantic make-out spot even at 8:45am.

There’s a nice non-fenced view at the northeast end of the shopping center, in back of Nob Hill Grocery. I sat in the car and wrote a few lines and felt very peaceful there. Though, I did neurotically imagine what explanation I would give to the bread truck delivery guys or the police if they came to ask me what the hell I was doing there and they would believe that I was poeting and watching the morning rather than shooting up or working on my suburban bomb plot. I ended up hoping the police would investigate the hot and heavy passion in the truck cab before they would bother the tiny car with the FMINIST license plate. After 15 minutes of driving around through those back parking lots and subdivision cul-de-sacs and doing some free associating in my notebook in my lap, I found a trail access point next to a road, at the intersection of Teredo and Spar.

I would like to note that “Teredo” is a terrible street name! Everything in that neighborhood has a fake maritime name that has nothing to do with anything – they could name the streets things like “marsh” or “pickleweed” or “cordgrass” or “liquefaction zone” or even “goose poop” if they were going for local accuracy. But no. “Teredo”. Which, if you don’t know, is a sort of marine worm, really a clam, that’s notorious for boring into the hulls of ships and into piers and pilings and eating them into skeletons no matter how the wood is treated. It’s like naming something “Termite Lane”.

The access trail was up a short gravelly slope, about 10 feet and manageable for me on crutches especially in my energetic morning. I hauled myself up the path and stood there to look at the morning light on the water of the slough. It is the sort of trail people only go on to walk their dogs. But I bet you can see lots of seals from it in the early morning and evening. There is probably somewhere along it that’s good for guerrilla kayak access, too. In future adventures I’ll look for somewhere similar but with a bench. It was nice to see the Port of Redwood City, the gravel crushing factory in action, and my own harbor but from the other side of Bair Island.

I sat in my car for a bit there too thinking about the act of looking at familiar things from other perspectives and how important it is. Now while looking at the map of this place, I will have a mental image in which my maps in my head all hook up, which my friend Lisa explained was “stitching manifolds” in math or topology. I listened to Leadbelly singing “Good Morning Blues” on the radio from the awesome Monday morning KPOO blues show and it was the perfect sound track.

The other good thing about my Very Small Adventures is just making space in a day to think and to go outside routine. When I do this (which I do a lot oftener than I admit to, when alone) it helps me feel like a human being with free will and agency even if I’m just stealing 20 minutes out of my day going to work in my cube and shop and cook and pick up my kid. It also prevents me from doing what I really, really shouldn’t do which is write in my lap while driving.

I love my car especially I think because of disability. I feel hugely empowered driving around by myself and just making the simple decision to go one way or another and stop as often as I want without anyone being annoyed or inconvenienced.

I got into work at 9:05. Go, me!

Well! I have many adventures from the last month and from NYC and Boston to relate, but I’ve been busy and sick and then even more busy and sick again. There’s a lot to catch up on. Rather than go back in time I thought it best to blog about my morning and jump back in the saddle that way. Peace, out!