marin county, Traveling

Marin County (still) relies on Golden Gate Transit

Coming to the end of a visit back to my “California homeland” of Marin County, my Yelp page has turned into a blog for this trip. I looked again at a Yelp review I wrote in 2011 of the local transit provider. It was quite wordy!

I’m coming to the end of 2 1/2 years of relying on GGT for a regular Marin to SF commute and returning home back over the bridge.

If you commute on a typical 9-5, Monday-Friday, schedule, GGT has your number. Very efficient and frequent service, especially on routes 4, 24, and 54, from various North Bay locations. As noted with the 4, they seem to have a soft spot for Mill Valley commuters, and I’m not exactly sure why that is. In the afternoons, I’ve often seen back to back 4s where one is very crowded and the next one not at all. Lack of information as to the next bus at SF stops can be irritating, although I have heard that they are working to update this in the near future. Last fall, they introduced a new fleet of ultra-modern larger buses that seem to be in service mostly on the Sonoma County routes.

They also offer service to the East Bay on routes 40 (express) and 42 (local). I have taken those buses a few times and find them to be mostly efficient. It’s nice to not have to pay the Richmond Bridge toll. A discount when going on to BART would be appreciated.

On the other hand, late night and weekend buses are another story. The 101 semi-express bus (which was surprisingly only introduced in 2009) stops running after 8pm, leaving the only options as the 70 to Novato or 80 to Santa Rosa, which alternate on the half hour up to 10pm and ONLY run once per hour following that time until 1am. Also after 10pm, the buses will make Every. Single. Stop. along Route 101, including an awkwardly long initial jaunt through Sausalito and awkward stop-over in Marin City, as they proceed north. (The buses do seem to have done away recently with the long layovers in Marin City, although the northbound 22 – a local route – still halts for no apparent reason in San Anselmo.) As you might imagine, this long journey home can be excruciating when you either just want to get home or don’t have anything to read or write on the bus. Those same “basic” routes (so named by GGT) are often populated by a considerably more diverse cast of characters than the typically business suited commute bus rider.

It’s no secret that Clipper (formerly TransLink) cards will give you a discounted fare on GGT, but I am surprised how many people seem to still not know that. GGT seems to be aware of where their income comes from, as they claim that Clipper can not be used for the popular AT&T Park ferry, when it most certainly could if you tag in and out at Larkspur.

On the ferry, the service is also reliable and comfortable. The early morning departures and 5:00 hour returns from/to Larkspur are filled with strong representation from the financial district. It’s always amusing to notice how the ferry becomes a tourist line between 10am and 3pm or so, and then thins out drastically for the last few runs back to Marin after 7pm. But why does it not run later than 9:30pm??? (More on that later…) Meanwhile, weekend ferries never run on time and seem to be populated with a large number of passengers who have either never been on the boat(s) before, treat it as a party boat complete with beers or other beverages, or are only there every few months.

As you can tell, GGT is well organized and mostly supportive of its riders and clientele. They even have “advisory committees” for bus and ferry passengers to participate in.

But as a frequent and loyal rider – admittedly with no other public transportation option – I have a few persistent questions:

1) Why continue with the constant raising of your fares? I moved to Marin in early 2009; San Rafael – San Francisco was $7.28 roundtrip on TransLink cards. Now it is $8.40. Not everyone can afford the constant rising in costs, and I don’t believe the haughty statement that it “keeps pace with inflation” – having some stability or consistency with these costs would be welcomed.

2) Don’t assume that everyone who is on GGT goes to SF for business. It’s clear that the schedulers may think that, based on the ratio of commute to general bus service.

3) Give us more options to get home to Marin at night. As stated above, the 70 or 80 can be excruciatingly long or an unappealing prospect. What about one or two buses around 11pm that go direct to San Rafael? Or Santa Rosa? Marin residents deserve more options. Not everyone here has a car or the luxury of being able to drive across the bridge as they please. I read somewhere that there was once a late night Friday and Saturday ferry to Larkspur. Why not bring that back?

4) You’ve bought two brand new ferries to add to the fleet within the past two years. Why not use them on the weekends and permanently retire the older Spaulding vessels?

5) Be more transparent about yourself, GGT.


I’ve enjoyed my time with you, GGT. I know you can be better. I look forward to seeing you mature.

And if you read this far, here is a throwback video to one of my many Golden Gate Bus rides across the bridge…


Throwback Thursday: Theatre Commute

In early 2009 I commuted for a few weeks in “figure 8s” around the Bay Area from the East Bay into San Francisco and down to San Jose, then back to the East Bay. I compiled a few highlights for LiveJournal on several of the days, and here’s one of them.

I resumed my temporary routine of (total) 125 miles driving and travel from Richmond to San Francisco to San Jose and back today, a geographic figure eight around the Bay Area. Things were pretty smooth today, though here are some episodic highlights:

10:45am: Leave the house. No traffic on 580 East.
11:03am: Pass the Bay Bridge toll. Am surprised by the fact that the metering lights are on and the traffic is backed up after the morning commute.
11:25am: Am detoured from my usual parking spot by today being a “street cleaning” day. Instead I go to a completely different neighborhood where I know parking will be free and non-stickered.
12:00pm: My MUNI trip inbound from Noe Valley is free when the conductor waves passengers past the non-working ticket machine.
12:05pm: During the MUNI trip, I see an intense panoramic view from the top of Dolores Park that I had never seen before.
4:05pm: Near the end of my work shift, I step outside for a few minutes and have an experience out of an action movie. I’ve arranged to give a black suitcase filled with laundry to the show’s costume designer. Instead of stopping, she pulls up to the curb and wordlessly gestures for me to drop the suitcase in the open bed of her truck. I do, and feel like it should have contained lots of money, or we should have been filmed, especially since it is right on Market Street.
4:50pm: During the MUNI trip back to the parking spot, two high schoolers near me decide that they will make the biggest PDA possible while jointly blowing smelly bubble gum.
6:05pm: Arrive at the theatre in San Jose and am pleased that there was no traffic going south on 280.
11:20pm: Leave theatre and begin the trip home on 880.
12:00am: A CHP car suddenly begins to weave across the highway just a few cars ahead of me. Turns out there’s been a minor accident, and that was this officer’s way of alerting the drivers.
12:25am: Arrive home.

Movies, Theatre

Bright lights shine on a familiar cinematic story

fairlane cinemaI made a return visit to the garishly Disney World – esque AMC Fairlane Cinema (photo at right) this evening. Though this cinema is a relatively close neighbor to me in my present living situation, this was only my second time there. Their admission price of $7.25 seemed like a throwback to another era, although the average priced concessions made up for the initial cheapness.

The interior of the cinema offers a familiar design seen in many turn-of-the-millenium era Loews Theatres, which I know well from early visits to the Boston Common cinema, and I’m sure can be seen at other venues across the country. However, it doesn’t seem to have aged badly, and this particular complex has been well maintained.

This evening’s feature of choice was Beyond the Lights, a current release focusing on the story of Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a British R&B/urban singer and clear Rhianna/Katy Perry/insert your pop star here composite, who has found fame in her provocateur act and lives the high life in Los Angeles, but yearns to drop it all and go back to her more humane self. She faces conflicting guidance from an overbearing mother (Minnie Driver) and decides that she wants to get to know a noble police officer (Nate Parker) who came to her aid at a particularly challenging moment. Simultaneous to her challenges, her intense stardom tugs at her window and makes her struggle to decide which way she wants to take her life.

beyond the lightsThe film puts a pragmatic and realistic spin on a familiar story, and is really a showcase for a dynamic and revelatory performance by Mbatha-Raw (pictured at left), an actress who proved she was a talent to watch in Belle earlier this year – though I would have enjoyed seeing her Ophelia opposite Jude Law’s Hamlet a few years back on London and New York stages. She carries the film and does all of her own singing with charisma and smoldering heat through most of her scenes, creating a fully rounded character out of what could have just been a caricature. It was good to see Driver back on screen in a primary role; it feels like it has been several years since I’ve seen her in any widely released movie, though I understand she has been busy with television work. Veteran actor Danny Glover, whom I once met briefly in Massachusetts and have a 1 degree connection to in the Bay Area, appears in a supporting role as Parker’s father, and his familiar gravelly voice and committed screen presence were also a welcome sight.

I can’t recommend the film with super-enthusiasm due to its formulaic plot, but think it is worth seeking out at some point for its committed performances and the important fact that it’s made by a female filmmaker, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who knows how to tell a detailed and relatable story.

marin county, Theatre

A “cruel joke” on a noted Bay Area acting veteran

For my 200th post it feels appropriate to reach back to the Bay Area, where this blog began.

Last night, the American Conservatory Theater hosted a benefit for local actress Joan Mankin, who recently received a “cruel joke” dual diagnosis of frontal temporal dementia and ALS. An unusually personal and detailed San Francisco Chronicle article describes her situation, and it’s referenced in a similar San Francisco Examiner article.

I saw Mankin perform onstage at least twice, but feel like I saw her more times than that, as she has maintained an active and committed profile in the local theatre community. She also gained notice over many years for her clowning work, which included teaching at the SF Clown Conservatory and other area schools.

Needless to say, it is unfortunate that someone of Mankin’s stature and versatility has been slapped with these debilitating challenges. I’m sure that the community has rallied to support her.


Film Flashback Friday begins

I’ll make quick headway on my new mandate with this early morning post. From a young age, I’ve made a note of where I was when I saw a particular film, in addition to the film itself, so I hope this series will be a way to explore those memories and experiences in greater reflective detail.

Reflecting on current events in the entertainment world, the clear cinematic choice for this week has to be Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, an acclaimed documentary from 2010 that “briefly” (since she was such a hard and consistent worker) turned the conversation about Rivers to one of her legacy and impact on other comedians. That same mindset is once again in the mix today following her unfortunately sudden death.

(From a quick look at the internet, it seems that other writers are also re-visiting this title today.)

This film was the only movie I ever saw at the Stonestown Twin on the south side of San Francisco, and I’m fairly sure that I specifically chose to catch the film there, rather than one of the downtown SF cinemas or one back in Marin County. The cinema, which is still in operation today, offers an oddly aged 1970’s twin complex – in the sense that it has not been upgraded or changed hands, etc – and obviously began life as a single screen. At some point, the complex was twinned, but not all of the seats were adjusted, and some of them face closer to the wall than the actual screen. The screen I visited, on the right side of the complex, was a long bowling – alley style auditorium that I remember being popular prior to the rise and eventual ubiquity of stadium seating in movie theaters.

The film itself took an uncompromising and honest examination of Rivers’ career, initially focusing on her in a downturn moment of her work, where she was not stopped working, but not enjoying the same level of fame and success that she had in the past. Rivers brought the filmmakers and the audience right in to her process, explaining how she feared not having anything to do with her life and followed a workaholic type schedule of her bookings and performances to hide that fact. The film also gave a look at some of her earlier work, including appearances on The Tonight Show and other stand – up performances.

I was disappointed, however, that the film did not include a clip from my first introduction to Rivers’ work, in the classic Muppets Take Manhattan:

Ultimately the documentary continued to follow Rivers as she regained momentum in her career through winning the Celebrity Apprentice and other related activities. It’s clear that she continued to maintain that energy all the way to the end.

It is sad that Rivers’ death came suddenly and under what sounds like questionable circumstances, but it seems appropriate that she left on a high note and with a sense of the acclaim she maintained, and the legacy she secured.


Sudden End of an era in the South Bay Area

Today San Jose Repertory Theatre announced that it has filed for bankruptcy and will no longer produce shows or any output, immediately canceling the remainder of its season and its planned 2014-15 offerings.

Although I never made it to see a show there, I was familiar with its output as a notable producer of plays in the South Bay region. Additionally, I had worked with its now-former artistic director, Rick Lombardo, in the Boston area, and he and I actually made the move to California at the same time, though bound for different locations.

It’s a shame – and seems quite incredulous, actually – that the Rep couldn’t form an alliance with one of the deep – pocketed tech companies in the Silicon Valley area. I don’t know the whole story, of course, though it may be tied in to downtown San Jose’s ups and downs with making itself into a destination rather than just a place that people work. I applied to work there at least once between 2008 and 2011, though it was always just a little too far from my Marin County home base to go for a night. However, many regional actors based more in the central Bay Area (SF, Oakland, Berkeley) appeared there regularly in a variety of shows and roles.

There are uncomfortable parallels with a similar situation unfolding here in Ann Arbor at the moment with the city’s premiere resident theatre company, Performance Network, although in that case the organization’s board has “suspended operations” and a new business model is set to be presented to the board at their upcoming meeting next week.

And on a personal note, this news comes just as I’ve been accepted to study for an MFA at an arts management program. But I remain committed and hopeful that the power of the arts as a beacon of the community – and way for people and places to come together – will shine through.


An appropriate addition to San Francisco culture

Just got word of this on a list serve. I wouldn’t mind joining!

Adventures in Geek Therapy  
A New Group that Engages the Wisdom of Geek Culture
Launching June 3, 2014
Tuesdays 7:00-9:00pm

What can we learn about mindfulness from Star Trek? What lessons about prejudice can be sought in Battlestar Galactica? What can Batman tell us about the potential effects of trauma on one’s identity? What can the building blocks of Minecraft teach us of coherence? How may we embrace the simple wisdom in the Tardis illusion fromDr. Who?

This highly experiential adventure group will use geek culture as both map and compass and employ drama therapy and expressive arts techniques. 

The group’s mission is:

  • To foster engagement, participation, collaboration, insight and creativity.
  • To explore identity, aspirations and personal responsibility.
  • To cultivate wisdom and tools to navigate human (and non-human) relationships and life transitions.
  • To honor non-conformity and build empathy.

Each month will bring a new theme, these will be the territories for our ongoing mission. The themes will come from Sci-Fi, Superheroes, RPGs, Midnight Movies, Comics and Technology.

We will begin with a Star Trek theme in June.

What: Weekly 2 hour group sessions to include group discussion, reflective writing, role-play, cosplay, games and art-making.

When: 7:00pm-9:00pm Tuesdays

Where: Central San Francisco Location

Cost: $40/week, payable monthly 
Enroll before May 23 – Save $40! First week FREE

About the Facilitator: Doug Ronning is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (MFC 51086) and Registered Drama Therapist. He is a produced screenwriter and a life long geek. 


No geek experience necessary.
All are welcome!

For more info: 415-902-5638