Man vs. Muni: San Francisco Examiner reporter races cable car up Powell Street 

I know, San Francisco’s cable cars are iconic moving landmarks, a huge draw for tourists and an essential part of The City’s long and storied history.

Click on the photo at right to see a slideshow of Man vs. Muni.

But they’re also ridiculous, slow-moving vehicles that stop completely at random (ever try driving behind one of these things?). And with a fare hike planned for July 1, they’ll soon cost a hefty $6 to ride.

Looking out for the best interests of visitors to our fair city, I set out to beat the Powell-Mason cable car line by walking from the Powell Street terminus at Market Street to the top of Nob Hill at California Street.

By scaling San Francisco’s version of Mount Everest at a quicker pace than the cable cars, I planned on proving that you can catch all The City’s famous sights, but quicker and while saving $6. The only thing you have to risk is a potential heart attack.

11:26 a.m. Examiner photographer Mike Koozmin and I depart as soon as the Powell-Mason line begins boarding passengers. Based on our previous scouting reports, we find that this process is very lengthy. The long loading times should provide us with a substantial cushion before we have to scale Mount Doom (Powell Street).

11:27 a.m.  Recon work be damned. Just one minute and one block into our race, and the cable car has already boarded everyone and started moving. I nearly swallow my digital voice recorder in shock when I glance back at O’Farrell Street and see that old box of wood creeping toward me.

11:29 a.m.
Although heavy traffic in Union Square is keeping the cable car at bay, I know I have to take some chances during the flat part of this competition. I try anticipating a light while crossing Post Street and almost get hit by two taxi cabs. I look back, assuming Koozmin was T-boned, but he’s all right. We move on, extending our lead.

11:31 a.m.
As I cross Sutter Street and enter the alpine portion of the race, Koozmin gracefully bows out and gives way to our second photographer, Joseph Schell. Even while fighting off altitude sickness and a boo-boo on my toe, I start to pull away from the cable car.

11:32 a.m.
Worst-case scenario strikes us when we get stopped by traffic at Bush Street, a heavily used one-way thoroughfare. Anxiously awaiting a light change, I see the cable car lurching ominously toward me. In the distance, I can hear the bells of other cable cars ringing out, urging their brother-in-arms to catch up to me.

11:33 a.m. After an eternity (25 seconds), we get the light and cross Bush Street, only two blocks from the finish line, but with a lead that is substantially smaller. Churning up the steep terrain of Powell Street, I begin to realize the euphoric highs Lance Armstrong must have felt during the Tour de France.

11:34 a.m.
We get stopped again at Pine Street, but this contest is already decided. The cable car is a block and a half away and stopped (tourists really are not the most efficient boarders). Only one more block separates me from victory. About 200 feet from the finish, I start deploying an array of premature celebratory dances. If this were college football, I would have been penalized. But it’s Man vs. Muni, so I get a high-five from the photographer.

11:35 a.m. Sweet victory. Standing atop the Powell Street peak, I glower condescendingly at the cable car, which hasn’t even crossed Pine Street. After a harrowing defeat last month to the 14-Mission (which culminated in Koozmin getting punched in the face by a crazy man), my record against Muni now stands even at 2-2.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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Will Reisman

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