At school, Alia is in the GATE program. The GATE kids get to do a lot of interesting things, and one of them is a trip to San Francisco to spend a night on either a submarine or a tall ship.
The Tall Ship activity is run by a San Francisco maritime museum. The ship itself is the Balclutha. The kids arrive on a Sunday afternoon, spend the evening and night living the lives of junior sailors, and in the morning get back on their school buses to go home.
Well, when I saw these plans afoot, I thought that it might represent a neat opportunity to spend some more time with Alia. I figured that I could skip the day at work and go to San Francisco on Monday morning to meet Alia. There we could do a few fun things, and then I'd put her on the commute flight home.
One of the odd things about this trip, and about most of my visits to SF, is that I won't bring a car there unless I absolutely have to. There are generally no places to park in the parts of SF you'd want to visit, and the people who do drive and park there do so by rules that I don't quite comprehend. Well, it's not like they're from a different planet - I think I could get the hang of it with a week or two of study and copious notetaking. But for now it looks like something better off left to others. So I take the bus in The City. When I'm planning a trip, I use www.transitinfo.com, and print out the maps and schedules. It works great.
Also, when I mentioned my plans to my dad Roger, he said that he wanted to go too and spend an afternoon with his granddaughter. And besides, if the commute flight didn't go, he could either drive Alia home or fly her home in his Piper Cherokee.
So I set to refining the plan. The things that made the day a real challenge for me were that it would be a real long day for me, and that there were many many connections between the different transit modes. I laid in about three layers of contingency for most points, figuring that for everything else beyond those, there's MasterCard.
I set the plan in motion, and almost immediately started falling back into the first layers of contingency.
Sunday 27 February 2005, 6:15 PM: The commute flight pilot calls. The weather forecast is not good, he's not flying into San Jose in the morning, nor is he flying back to Columbia in the afternoon. So instead of getting up at 4 AM and driving 15 minutes to hop a 40 minute flight in the morning, Brigitta and I would get up at 2:30 AM and drive 1.5 hours to take a 1.8 hour train ride. But from there I'd be on profile until it came time to send Alia home, at which point we'd have to start improvising.
Monday 28 February 2005, 2:30 AM: Alarm goes off. I shower and dress while Brigitta warms the car.
3:00 AM: Under way and under control, thanks to one of our Fine Stout Swedish Automobiles and with the mercy of the Lord and Goddess of Automotive transport, Amen.
4:41 AM: I'm on the AceRail train at the Lathrop/Manteca station.
6:30 AM: Arrive at the Santa Clara train station next to the San Jose international airport. I look both ways many many times as I trespass across the tracks to the airport side of the station. I know that I won't hear or feel an oncoming train, but I'm much more worried about getting a ticket for walking across the tracks.
7:05 AM: Arrive at Roger's house. He knows the drill. He's ready with a plastic trash bag and we clean all the junk off the right seat of my car so he can sit in it.
7:31 AM: Arrive at the Fremont BART station. There are no available parking spaces, so I drop Roger off to wrestle with the ticket machines while I go stash the car on a nearby side street.
7:36 AM: Having quickly found a good parking space and run back to the station, I find that Roger has conquered the ticket machine, and has tickets for both himself (round trip) and Alia (one way). I already have a leftover ticket from a disappointing visit to the City the previous December, so we're good to go. We go onto the platform, step into the first train we encounter, and are on profile and under way.
The train fills quickly as we pass through the Bay Area bedroom communities and through the now-congested postindustrial heart. Soon a pregnant woman gets on and reaches tentatively for the overhead rail. She doesn't just look tired. Everything about her radiates fatigue and exhaustion, and yet she is dressed for a day at the office. I stand, and she sits next to my father.
7:51 AM: Arrive at Civic Center BART station and consult map. The directions say to go to the Northwest corner of a certain intersection. I consult my Fine Stout Swedish compass (Silva, courtesy my brief career as a boy scout circa 1974). The cardinal points are adrift, the red pointer ambiguous. We look towards the stars, shielding our eyes from the rare City sunlight. We see signs. We stand under them. The number 19 bus arrives in the place portended. We embark and sail.
Let me say right here that I had actually seen my father ride a bus before, but that it had been some thirty-odd years. Not that there's any great trick to riding a bus. You get in, pay the fare, choose seats, and sit down and ride. But there is a hidden system to it, a set of techniques that not everybody has in thier social toolbox. But he wears just the right tolerant smile and rolls with the jerky heavings of the diesel machinery. He is on the bus. This is going to be okay. I relax.
8:58 AM: Arrive at Larkin and Beach streets, commence walking towards the Hyde Street Pier. We make good time afoot. I relax more.
9:15 AM: Arrive at the Hyde Street Pier, and see the school bus on a nearby street. The GATE kids mill about, and Alia is there and in good spirits if a bit tired.
After the obligatory round of introductions, we arrange for Alia's luggage to ride the school bus, and then hang around the nearby waterfront for a quarter hour or so. Alia tells of her night and day as galley crew on the Balclutha. The ship's officers had of course shouted orders and encouragement, not all of it polite. But she is well-centered and the experience had been interesting and rewarding. Later, Alia picks among the boulders on the breakwater, mildly tormenting the many crabs, mussels, and barnacles there. Roger and I sit and rest on the cobbles at the edge and look out over the bay and Alcatraz and the Golden Gate and its big reddish bridge. Roger tells something of the history of the thick-skinned Balclutha.
10:00 AM: The San Francisco Maritime Museum opens, and we tour it for about an hour. We watch a film about the wreck of the Frolic narrated by Mark Hammill. The narration is actually pretty good, and there's no hint of Luke Skywalker's crackly whine to it. I get out my cell phone and make a call. The word is still go.
11:23 AM: Board the #19 Navy Yard bus at Beach and Polk street. The bus wends its way through into and through the financial district, and then over to where the streets are named after states. We spend a few miles on Rhode Island, and then over to Connecticut where we disembark just as the bus T-bones Caesar Chavez street.
11:55 AM: Walk west-ish down the north-ish side of Caesar Chavez, and then North-ish up Missouri.
Monday 28 February 2005, 12:02 PM: Arrive at M5 Industries, Inc. at 1268 Missouri street.
Through a set of strange coincidences and circumstances, I had the opportunity last fall to interview (audition) for a position as co-host for the Discovery Channel program MythBusters. Obviously, I didn't get the job. But in the process of doing my homework for the show, the family and I watched all of the first season on DVD, and watched as much of the second season as we could get friends and family to tape for us. We became fans of the television program, we who are not connected to cable and who do not even get a television signal where we live.
But anyhow, I did do the initial audition, and then a followup audition, and then later answered a few phone calls and emails about where they get some odd items of aeronautica. So to some tiny degree, I figure that these guys owed me. Not much, but at least a quick tour. That would put paid for sure. So weeks prior when Alia made her plans for the Balclutha, I started making arrangements for a quick tour of the M5 shop where they film the program. I'd emailed co-host and M5 principal Jamie Hyneman, and he said it was OK. I'd made that followup call from the museum, and it was still OK.
The shop tour lasted for about half an hour, which is about as much time as I'd want to steal from people who are generous and gracious, but obviously have a lot of stuff to get done in a day. Jamie met us at the door, showed us the jetpack machine he's building from plans, and showed us the machine shop and main shop floor. He gave us a quick tour of the upstairs MythBusters headquarters, complete with a quick hello from executive producer Peter Rees. Jamie even gave Alia a MythBusters T-shirt that says "Human Guinea Pig" on the back.
The greatest part of our time at M5 was spent discussing the jetpack, since I hold some familiarity with the types of aluminum and composite construction techniques that go into it. If there's any one good thing that comes from that conversation, it would probably be my recommendation to paint the composite fan ducts white. When I saw them, they were still the black color of unpainted carbon cloth, and I'm pretty sure that if exposed to raw sunlight in that state they would exceed the service temperature of the epoxy, soften, and warp.
On the way out, Jamie showed us the robots that he'd made for a series of commercials. Of particular interest were the joints he'd designed knees and elbows and such. By using a novel combination of bevel gears and worm gears driven by variable-speed DC motors, he'd arrived at a mechanical arrangement that offered both the flexing you'd expect of a knee or elbow, and the torsion you get from the radius and ulna in the forearm or tibia and fibula in the calf. It was pretty slick stuff, done rapidly and effectively on a relatively tight budget. Anybody who knows that stuff would be impressed.
Anyhow, that visit was pretty much the high (though not highest) point of the day.
12:32 PM: Go around the corner to the delicatessen (Oscars?) at Caesar Chavez and Connecticut, and have lunch and a rest. At that point, I've been up and going for ten hours, and it felt good to have nothing to do for a few minutes. At the deli, Roger calls flight service on his cell phone and gets the weather. It looks good for a flight to Columbia.
1:12 PM: Get on the #19 bus going the wrong way. Instead of taking us towards the city center, it takes us out to the Navy shipyard, where we have to get off since we don't have clearance to stay on the bus through the yard.
1:40 PM: Get on the correct #19 bus at the Navy Yard gates.
2:23 PM: Arrive at 24th and Mission St. BART station. Wait on the platform about 6 minutes, and then entrain for Fremont.
3:10 PM: Arrive Fremont, walk to the side street where I'd stashed the car.
3:22 PM: Stop at Roger's place, get charts and headsets and other aeronautical parephernalia.
4:00 PM: Arrive Hayward airport after driving in the carpool lane past stop-and-go traffic. Preflight and fuel the airplane, and call Brigitta. I point out to Alia and Roger that the Cherokee we're readying is the same type of airplane as they used to test the Chicken Gun myth on MythBusters.
4:40 PM: Depart Hayward airport for Columbia (Oscar 22) with Roger in the left seat and Alia in the right. In the back seat I fiddle with the GPS to find the coordinates for Columbia, even though it's pretty much a straight shot across the valley. When the course line comes up, we're right on it. Alia hums to herself in the intercom.
5:28 PM: We pass over the Carson Hill quarry site where the MythBusters crew blew up a cement truck ostensibly to test the idea of using dynamite to clean the mixer barrel, but actually just to see a big explosion.
5:35 PM: Land at Columbia and meet Brigitta. We say our good-byes, Alia goes home with Brigitta, and Roger and I get back in the airplane.
5:50 PM: Depart Columbia on runway 17 for Hayward. I'd loaded the GPS while taxiing out, so after climbout I turned onto the course line and then just followed it while holding 4500 feet MSL at 2500 RPM, eventually getting up to almost 140 knots indicated.
While droning over the Altamont pass, I looked down and saw that the 580 freeway was jam-packed with stop-and-go commute traffic. If Roger had had to drive Alia home, that's exactly where he would have been just then, with another two hours of driving ahead of him to get to Brigitta, and another three hours of driving beyond that to get back to Fremont.
6:48 PM: Arrive Hayward and land on runway 28 Right after a right-base approach. We remove my car from the tiedown spot, and secure the airplane there. Then we drive back to Fremont, just catching the tail end of rush hour traffic.
7:20 PM: Arrive at Roger's place in Fremont. I've been up since 2:30 AM and I'm knackered. Roger makes us a quick dinner of thick split pea soup and a tamale, and I veg out to some program about a B-29 at the bottom of Lake Mead. Roger is annoyed because I keep shouting out the punch lines - I'd figured out pretty quick that the purpose of the B-29 flight had been to test William McLean's prototype infrared seeker heads for what later became the AIM-9 series of heat-seeking missile.
8:20 PM: Get to bed so I can rise early for a 7:00 AM staff meeting.
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