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Stateside with Rosalea: Tourist edition

AC49

Golly, it was an eventful week. What with a 5.2 earthquake to get us going - the building I live in swayed like a blues mama - and then the new tabloid format of the 'San Francisco Examiner', with its flip-over two front pages, followed by the furore over what the President did and didn't know about likely terrorist attacks last summer, it's a puzzlement what to write about. So I'll write about none of it, and tell you instead about a nice little transit ride I took on Friday, and which I recommend if you ever come to San Francisco.

First up, take BART to the Coliseum station in Oakland. This is the get-off place to watch home games for the A's (baseball) and the Raiders (football), as well as for concerts like the one Paul McCartney gave to start off his North Amercian tour. If you're flying out of Oakland International Airport, you can pay $2 and catch the AirBART bus here and be dropped off at whichever airline terminal you're leaving from. Unless you're going by executive jet, in which case you're probably leaving from the North Field instead.

The North Field is the original airfield and flights from it began 75 years ago, the field having been dedicated by Charles Lindberg after his return from Europe following his solo Atlantic flight. Oakland's airport is the ninth-busiest airfield in the world for takeoffs and landings if you take all the training flights and private aircraft into consideration. And less than 1000 yards from the North Field, in a vintage hangar built by the Boeing School of Aeronautics and used by the US Army Air Corps and the Navy to train aircraft mechanics during World War II, is the Western Aerospace Museum.

According to its little black and white photocopied brochure, everything that happens at the museum is the direct result of donated time, energy, artifacts, and funds. The hangar, an educational centre, a restoration shop, and an outdoor exhibitions area are provided by the Port of Oakland. The prize exhibit in that outdoor area is a Short Solent 4-engine flying boat rescued from the scrap heap in 1976 and being restored to operational status by Rick and Randy Grant. The hangar houses a fully functioning post-WWII Link instrument trainer, and a Lockheed 10-A Electra, sister ship of the plane Amelia Earhart flew out of Oakland Airport 65 years ago on May 20, never to return.

But wait! I've put you crook, as me old dad would say. Left you standing at the Coliseum BART thinking you're supposed to pay $2 and get on the AirBART bus. No, no! On your way out of the station punch that nameless machine saying "only one ticket as you exit" to get yourself a bus-BART Transfer, then give half the ticket and $1.15 to the driver of the AC Transit number 49 bus, and ask him or her to let you off at the WAM. Then when you're done at the museum you can hop on the bus again and continue your trip, which will end at the Fruitvale BART station, where you can catch a train back to San Francisco.

For $1.15 the 49 bus route gives you a fantastic overview of the California dream. From BART the bus steers clear of the on-ramps to the freeway that links the East Bay with the South Bay, travels down Hegenberger Drive past airport hotels and chain restaurants, then turns off to run parallel with the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline around San Leandro Bay - an inlet at the southern end of Alameda Island. The land you are travelling over is called Bay Farm Island, and in 1925, when the aviation committee of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce recommended the city government buy it for a runway, it was marshland.

After your visit to WAM, the 49 takes you down the side of the Alameda Municipal Golf Course and passes through recent tract housing and the Harbor Bay commercial area, where huge, single-storied, unnamed buildings squat solidly in brick and tinted glass on what are known here as corporate campuses. The bus gets to the water's edge at the Shoreline Park and heads towards the commuter ferry terminal past houses that back down onto an artificial waterway running parallel to the actual shoreline.

As the bus goes back towards the golf course it passes through steadily less modern housing. Nothing shabby; just older and sitting on sections that include a patch of yard out front and a bit of space down the sides. You go past a nice community park with tennis courts. More people start using the bus - an elderly Chinese gentleman going to Safeway for his groceries; a young Mexican mum taking her child to the doctor. We've come now to the edge of Bay Farm Island and cross a little bridge. A white heron might gracefully swoop by, as it did on my trip - Arrowhead Marsh is nearby, a protected habitat.

The bus's route slices across the southern end of Alameda Island like a paper cut on a fingertip. The older, more substantial homes on the bay side gradually give way to even older, run-down places as you get nearer to the bridge that crosses over into the Fruitvale area of Oakland. There's a container storage area off to the right, and a billboard advertising a career in the Navy: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of all who threaten it." As if to reassure us that happiness is not yet dead as a constitutional right, someone is selling "sweet cherries" from his car boot. At the corner where we turn into Fruitvale's main shopping street, is situated the local equivalent of a pie cart - a "Tacos El Sol" van.

When the bus makes its next left turn for Fruitvale BART, pull the cord and get off so you can walk along the main street. This is the Spanish-speaking area of Oakland, famous for its Cinco de Mayo parade and its celebration of the Festival of the Dead. There are hand-carts on the sidewalk selling sweet cakes and sweetcorn, or ziploc bags of fresh fruit for $2.50 - cherries and slices of pineapple, mango, watermelon, rock melon, cucumber, coconut, sprinkled with lemon juice and salt if you so wish.

Set yourself down on a haybale in a nearby clothes store to try on their fancy leather cowboy boots, and get yourself a Mexican stetson while you're there as well. Scattered amongst the predominantly Spanish-speaking stores are several Asian ones, and the name of the Sin-Mex Auto Body Shop testifies to the diversity of the local population - a reflection of the two great cultural influences in California that are interwoven with the Anglo-Germanic influence of the settlers who came from the East. Coast, that is.

But it is definitely the Spanish influence that is strongest here on Fruitvale's main street, and you shouldn't miss the experience of eating at the Taqueria San Jose with the locals. It's just a short walk from there to the BART station and your journey back to San Francisco. You could, of course, do this trip in reverse, starting at Fruitvale BART and maybe buying a freshly cooked rotisserie chicken at Foodvale to go with the fresh fruit, then hopping off the 49 at the shoreline park on Bay Farm Island for a picnic looking out over the Bay, and finishing up at Coliseum BART instead.

It's easy to plan trips like this. You simply go to www.transitinfo.org, put in your departure and destination points, what time you want to leave, and whether you want the fastest itinerary, or the cheapest, or the one with the fewest transfers, and you get back a detailed itinerary, including a walking map if transit doesn't go exactly where you want. For example, at the weekends the AC49 doesn't run, so you have to take the AC58, which goes straight to the international airport, get off at Pardee, and walk half a mile to the Western Aerospace Museum. It is open 10am - 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday, and is on Earhart Road.

Lea Barker
California
Rainy Sunday May 19, 2002

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