It was a beautiful May morning during Cinco de Mayo week, & an appropriate time to take what turned out to be an entertaining & rewarding mass transit journey around San Diego County. One that would eventually lead to the border & San Diego’s younger but
larger sister city of Tijuana.
I love recreational day trips that primarily utilized public
surface conveyance, so it was with little resistance that I left my warm bed when my internal alarm clock awakened me at 4 that morning, giving me enough time to leisurely limber up my muscles in preparation for a full day of activity. A few stretching exercises in the spa did the trick before catching the 5:07 AM trolley at Grossmont Center.
During the 30 minute trolley ride to my 5th avenue connection in
downtown San Diego, I saw the occupancy in my car quadruple from 6 people to two dozen persons of diverse races, with black people dominating the numbers. Conversation was almost nonexistent in the early morning, sterile-like confines. People were either reading,
nodding off, or staring blankly out into the still dark exterior. The only exception was the transit announcements that were made in English, & then again in Spanish in deference to the second most dominant race on board the trolley.
The train was pretty much on time into downtown San Diego, but due to
my own cockpit problems I missed the first connection there to the #20 express. Had to wait another 15 minutes for the next one. Standing there on the corner of Broadway & Fifth, just outside of the main Transit Store, I felt little difference from similar situations in
Latin America. The street around the bus stop was littered & the buildings had a fair share of graffiti. Most of the conversations were conducted in Spanish…why not, we were in a Spanish named city, I thought to myself. Not far away at another bus stop I spied a
middle-aged Mexican woman amble over to a nearby doorway to empty her stomach of what obviously didn’t agree with her system. The casual way in which she did it, & wiped her mouth afterwards, suggested that it wasn’t an unfamiliar form of conduct.
The #20 express was not really so much of a direct route as the name
implies. It made a dozen or so stops, & I found myself sharing my double occupancy seat with three different companions at various intervals as the patronage aboard the bus continuously changed. All of my seat mates were polite but not quite awake for much
conversation other than a nod & a hello, so I left them alone with their thoughts. Number 20 lost most of its ridership & was pretty much empty when it terminated at the North County Fair. After a couple of hours of keeping my bladder at bay I took advantage of
the 15 minute wait for my next connecting bus & used the facilities at an adjacent ball field. I found the bus stop marker easily for my next ride on #320 which was an express to the Escondido Transit Center. It arrived & departed on schedule with me on it.
The Escondido Transit Center was well laid out & very clean. The
fifteen stalls for the various bus lines were clearly marked with their schedules on display. It was while reading those schedules that I realized that my mistake earlier in downtown would now cost me 90 minutes. I was connecting to a rural San Diego line & the schedules for these routes aren’t quite so forgiving with their timetables.
Disdaining the station snack shop I took off on foot to find a
restaurant & was rewarded to find one within 3 or 4 blocks. For five bucks I had a wholesome plate of eggs & chorizo, along with a few giggles as I munched my breakfast alongside some Arrowhead Water guys at the Cocina de Charro…they were fun folks. I was back at the
station with ten minutes to spare.
The 307 took less than 20 minutes to get me to the Wild Animal Park
which at ten o’clock had now been opened for an hour. I added to the three bucks I saved on the parking by flashing my zoo pass & entered through the gates without diminishing my cash flow. Immediately I went to the monorail system & was whisked passed many of those in line as they had a couple of singles openings for the next tram. My
immediate seat companions were from Texas & were a conversational treat as well as extra sets of eyes in spying out bashful animals along the 50 minute tour. The weather was just a little bit chilly but it made for some activity amongst the residents in this user
I enjoyed the discourse of our tour driver which was informative & humorous at times. She lectured us a little at the end of the tour on how we might help with the conservation effort, but she was far from pontificating. I also learned a new phrase…sexually dimorphic.
I found the Kilimanjaro Hiking trail & the grassy picnic areas to be
a most enjoyable walk. There were children on a school trip enjoying themselves there & I found their laughter to be entertaining & enjoyable as I most often do…but today evenmore so.
I exited the park just in time to catch the returning #307 from
Ramona at 12:21 & found myself seated with a half dozen mentally challenged…is that the proper term…young adults. They were obviously frequent patrons of the 307 as the driver called
them all by name & bantered both casually & humorously with them. This also gave me a warm feeling.
I had my lone female driver of the day on the one hour ride from the
Transit Center to Cardiff. She was friendly & proved to be the smoothest driver of the day. Every other driver seemed to take pride in waiting until the last second to apply the brakes, usually coming to a stop a scant couple of feet behind the vehicles stopped in
front. She also was more gentle on the accelerator. Along the way she approved the wishes of a rollerblader to keep his skates on as he was going to jump off within a mile or so.
The ride through the foothills toward the coast was most pastoral with its green pastures & grazing animals as we plied around & over them in a rollercoaster manner. I jumped off the 308 a half mile before the end of the line as I had made arrangements to meet an old friend at “The Kraken” in Cardiff. His suggestion of a Budweiser sounded good & tasted better. One led to two before I retraced my steps out the door & headed across the street to catch the next bus south. The wait
for the 301 from my vantage point on top of a boulder near the surf line went fast. And the ride to my next destination & transfer at the University Town Center was panoramic as the bus followed the coast line south.
At UTC, there were frequent departures for the 34 & 34A which took
different routes to downtown San Diego. I took advantage of the generous departure times & spent a little time wandering around the upscale shopping center.
The 34 was another neat line but with a now higher class of patronage
as it wound its way through the upscale communities around La Jolla. My traveling companions were mostly men going to & from the Veteran’s Hospital & some students from UCSD. I had some nice conversations with both groups. As we ventured further south I found the bus occupied by a younger crowd.
If it were earlier in the day I would have stopped at Scripps to visit the aquarium but it wasn’t to be. Instead I stayed aboard & waited to pull the cord in South Mission Beach across the street from the Belmont Roller Coaster. I really like South Mission Beach for voyeuristic pleasures. The down & out, the rich & poor, the young & old, all seem to come together here. At the beach front next to Hamel’s there is always some action. Trick bicycle riders & others showing off their skills at rollerblading & skateboarding perform their acrobatics here. A half hour of sitting on the sea wall watching the tricksters can & did go by in a jiffy.
I went in & had a beer at the Coaster Saloon & again made some
pleasant conversation with a couple of locals. The day was coming to an end though & I cut short my stay to reboard the 34 where I had gotten off a little more than a couple of hours prior. My driver on this leg was by far the most friendly, & we seemed to enjoy each
other’s company as we left the beach & threaded out way our of the beautiful man-made Mission Bay with its green beltway & miles of bicycle paths that follow the shores. I said my farewell to the driver as he dropped my off in front of the Holiday Inn that’s
situated next to San Diego’s equally beautiful deep water bay. I found the ferry boat just starting to board for Coronado Island & was motioned aboard by a cheery deckhand as I showed him my day tripper ticket.
The wind intensified the cold that was setting in with the sun’s
absence, but that didn’t keep me from braving it from the bow of the boat. Cruising by the aircraft carriers docked at North Island from sea level never ceases to put me in awe of their size. And when I finally did tear myself away from my starboard gaze to took to the
lighted skyline of the city I was equally impressed. San Diego has a nice skyline but it’s even more so during the depths of winter when the sun is furthest south. I find the view from Coronado during those months to be absolutely fantastic as the sun reflects off the high
rises both directly & off the water. But no matter that it’s May as the combination of the view & blustery wind made for giant goose bumps on both skin & soul.
I found a little bit of a party spirit at the Coronado Ferry landing,
but paused there only to use the rest room before walking out to the street & catching the 901 for the short journey over to the Hotel Del Coronado. I like to walk the hallways downstairs at the Del & look at the old time photographs of it & the city landscape…spied one
on this trip of the Del in mid construction phase & a 1887 date…I didn’t realize it was that old. I utilized one of the well appointed men’s room to freshen up & felt a renewed claim on my day that was now 16 hours old. Couldn’t resist walking up the circular stair way up to
the top floor & snatching a view of the ocean from there; then returning by way of the old fashioned operator controlled elevator.
Back on the bus, the oldest one I rode on that day, I found my
companions to be mostly military. They were out for a night of partying & the conversation was lively all the way to the end of the line at the Iris Trolley station. After a 10 minute wait it was a
short rip on the trolley to the border & Tijuana.
I walked across the border & fended off the multitude of taxi drivers
that were hitting on me for what felt like a block long gauntlet. I was successful & made it across the river to where there were a number of taco stands clustered together selling the same product for the same price…3 for a dollar. I gave one of the hawkers a buck & a quarter for 3 pork tacos & ate them on the reminder of my stroll into downtown & Revolution Boulevard.
It was a Cinco de Mayo spirit & the music coming from the nightclubs
dominated the air. Politely fending off the nightclub & strip joint hawkers I made my way down to the beautiful & ornate building that houses the Jai Alai games. I popped for the cheap two dollar admission & joined the locals for an hour…Had a dollar margarita, made two bets…lost them both. Rejoining the street scene, I roamed around observing the very young in their quest for nightlife action.
Time seemed to slip away from me & I found myself hustling to get
back to the border as I still had to make a connection in downtown San Diego. My hustle was rewarded as the trolley delivered me to the Imperial & 12th terminal 5 minutes before the last eastbound trolley departed at 12:36. At Grossmont Center I found my solitary car waiting for me where I had left it 20 hours earlier. Fifteen minutes later I was once again at home & in my spa…grateful for the hot water…a little unsure of my lucidity…but thoroughly content.
The $5.00 DAY TRIPPER TICKET is a bargain as it gives the holder
unlimited access to the light rail trolley, an extensive bus system & the ferry boat that connects Coronado & downtown San Diego with round trip service every hour on the hour & half hour in making its 20 minute trips. The price for single destinations, however, is not as
generous: a one way fare to just about anywhere is $1.75. All are clean, free of graffiti & on time, with the operators being for the most part helpful & friendly.
For the first time, or infrequent visitor to San Diego, I would
suggest disdaining the Wild Animal Park as it takes up too much transit time, & make Balboa Park & its wide array of museums & world famous zoo a part of the itinerary.
Cabrillo point at the end of Point Loma is also a fabulous
destination point as it has, at least in this person’s opinion, the best view of the greater metropolitan area & the Pacific Ocean to the east, west & south.
An overall transit map & accompanying route maps can be obtained at
the Transit store located at Broadway & 5th. The individual route maps are easily obtainable at many locations throughout the city.
Every Tuesday 4 or 5 of the museums in Balboa Park offer free