Saturday, April 8, 2017

Number 7, La Mesa

Being me, I tried unsuccessfully to search for a history of the various bus lines used in San Diego by MTS, the Metropolitan Transit System. The best I can do is note that in a 1952 guide to businesses and services in San Diego, which I found in a pile of old books at the swap meet last year, Route 7 was in existence then and designated as such.

One of the few online references to Route 7 is a poem/essay from some years ago, where the author notes that it is the most widely-used route in all of the MTS system. It runs along University Avenue from a couple of blocks east of my condo complex to downtown San Diego, turning left at Park Boulevard, passing the San Diego Zoo, and ending a few blocks west of Horton Plaza. The zoo stop is probably what counts for so much of its ridership, as University Avenue--though a major east-west thoroughfare through mid-city--isn't what you'd think of as the most important of places to pass along.

The route has special meaning for me though, as it was the first bus I ever rode on, and nowadays about the only one in the MTS system I ever ride on. Mom took us to the zoo on it a time or two when the kids were small, and the folks would occasionally give me fare to ride it home from the Copley YMCA after swimming lessons, as we lived during my childhood just up the hill from the College Avenue stop.

Nowadays I'm about a mile away, farther east on University Avenue. The stop is maybe a hundred feet from my front door, and the noise of the particularly long buses they use for this route is a familiar ambient sound. I ride it on the rare occasions I have business downtown or in Balboa Park, such as jury duty or a ceremony with the Japan Society or San Diego Yokohama Sister City Society. The latter two often involve alcohol consumption, and it's nice to be able to drink moderately without worrying about driving home afterwards. Some years, I might also take it to the December Nights celebration in Balboa Park for the same reason.

The most important function of the Number 7 bus for me, however, is as the first leg of any distant journey. Though once in awhile I'll catch an early morning ride with a friend who works out that way, most of the time I'll begin any flight out of Lindbergh Field with a ride on the Number 7 to downtown. The old saying that a journey of a thousand miles (or more) starts with a single step definitely applies here.

There's a kind of personal ritual of taking a last look around the inside of my condo, checking that I have everything piled and organized in my backpack, bidding the place farewell until my return, and locking it up before walking over to the stop. The Number 7 runs pretty often and I always give myself more time than I need to get where I'm going, so I don't worry much about the schedule. It bumps along through City Heights, picking up and letting off passengers, then through North Park to the big turn at Park Boulevard and past the zoo to downtown.

At the last stop, I get off and walk down to Harbor Drive. Then I follow the Embarcadero walkway north and west, past the Star of India, past the County Administration Building, past the Coast Guard Station, and along the edge of the runway to the entrance road to Harbor Island. There I wait patiently to cross the extremely busy street at the main airport entrance... unless it's after midnight, when the street isn't busy at all and there aren't even any flights departing. In such cases where I have a very early morning flight, I'll catch one of the last Number 7's the night before and ask someone at the Sheraton or another hotel on Harbor Island if they'd let me sit quietly in the lobby for a few hours.

It's surprising what people will let you do if you're polite and considerate. I'm nearly always told that it's quite OK, and I sit there watching TV or dozing on a sofa until it's no longer too early to check in for my flight. In this way, the bus trip to the airport becomes in itself a somewhat adventurous beginning to whatever much longer trip I'm embarking on.

On return to San Diego, I generally do the same things in reverse order, catching the Number 7 from downtown to near its end on University Avenue, and--in the final effort at the last part of the journey--putting on my backpack one last time to cross the street to my condo.

My trip to my place in Florida for spring break last week brought me home after midnight. Since I've been curious about it for awhile anyway, I tried walking up Laurel Street, across the Cabrillo Bridge, and through Balboa Park to see if it were any farther than walking downtown. It doesn't seem to be, but on that particular return there were no buses anyway. On reaching the bridge, I just walked instead along the edge of Balboa Park to Hillcrest, where I treated myself to a taxi home rather than wait around for the first morning Number 7 bus.

The bus fare was 15 cents when I was a kid, as I recall. Now it's $2.25. A couple of years ago, I first qualified for the senior fare of $1.10. This makes it all the more intriguing to think that I've been riding the same bus route from childhood to impending geezerhood. Perhaps when I go, they should take my ashes on a Number 7 ride and spread them along the route.

An extended MTS bus, of the type used for Route 7.

Arrival at Lindbergh Field, coming in over downtown.
County Administration Building is visible to the right of the nose of the plane.
Nowadays the bus stops allow you to text
for info about the next arriving bus.