The most rewarding 5½ years of my life came to an end Thursday, my last day as the transportation reporter for The San Francisco Examiner. However, before departing I decided to embark on one last Man vs. Muni challenge — a nostalgic return to the feature that made me famous. And by famous I mean that I was publicly recognized by readers on no less than four occasions. So yeah, obviously Brad Pitt is on my speed dial now.
I chose to race the F-Market historic streetcar line for my final battle royale against Muni for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that those vehicles are older than my grandmother and Market Street is a traffic nightmare. And the streetcars travel right outside my office building — which is nice for a reporter not trying to do much during his last week.
The photographers and I set off to race the streetcar from Second to Seventh streets, a course reversal of our 2011 battle against the F line.
10:14: As always, I'm joined by my faithful photographer Mike Koozmin. The Man vs. Muni gig is easily his least-favorite assignment, but since our last race Koozmin has embraced competitive stair climbing. I'm a little nervous he might lap me out there. And since this article is of the utmost importance to the public at large, we've also allocated additional resources in the form of new photography intern Alex.
10:15: I check the iPhone and see that the F-Market is delayed. Shocker. Ignoring Koozmin's pleas to leave before the streetcar even makes a turn onto Market Street, we take off about two minutes early. I'm a little dismayed surveying the scene: The normally chaotic Market Street has all the traffic congestion of a nuclear winter.
10:16: I'm now becoming hyperaware of the screwy crosswalks on Market, where everything is weird and slanted. More bad omens: I barely avoid getting nailed by a Nissan Pathfinder. As a veteran of these adventures, near-hits are nothing new, but almost getting splattered at the beginning is cause for concern.
10:18: The crossings are becoming dicey. The streetcar is already right behind us, so we're just bee-lining through the intersection at Third Street.
10:20: And we've already been passed. I'm hoping for one of those patented traffic jams where 15 cars get stuck trying to cross Market Street. However, since each block on Market Street is about the length of an airport tarmac, I'm still about a mile and a half from Fourth Street. Need a miracle now.
10:21: I spoke too soon. We pass the streetcar at Fourth and Market streets, even though no one is boarding. Again, I need to emphasize that mid-morning is not exactly the prime traffic time in San Francisco. Whereas New York is the City That Never Sleeps, San Francisco is the City That is Always Taking a Weed Nap.
10:23: After being passed by the streetcar again, we finally get some help at Fifth and Market streets: A bunch of tourists at the cable car turnaround are boarding the streetcar and they look as slow and confused as always. I would reach out and hug every one of those folks — and their fanny packs, too — but I have a race to win. For the second time, we take the lead.
10:25: And again, the lead is unceremoniously wrenched back from us. Curse words are flying right now — some from me, some from the nice guys playing a game of chess nearby. We get a brief glimmer of hope when the streetcar stops at Sixth Street, but the relief is short-lived. The F-Market takes off, leaving us a considerable distance behind.
10:26: Koozmin officially capitulates as we arrive at Sixth Street. This could be in regard to the last time we were here, when he got socked in the face by, for lack of a better term, some crazy a**hole. Even though we're hopelessly behind, we soldier on, enjoying the scenery of Market Street's historic strip-club district.
10:27: We arrive at Seventh Street, only about a half-block behind the streetcar. Considering the elements, I'm real happy with the back-and-forth race. It would have been nice to show up Muni one last time, but it just wasn't in the cards today.
10:28: Time for reflection. I'm going to dearly miss Man vs. Muni and everything else about the wonderful S.F. Examiner. Well, everything except the anonymous online commenters. I get it — you think I'm ugly. But here's a fair warning: Those kinds of remarks are only going to earn you a stern scolding from my mom in the comments section.