I knew I was going to miss my bike because for the 10 years I have lived in the Mission, I’ve taken it everywhere. I ride it to get my groceries, late at night after dinners or to go to bars with friends. When I had film shoots around the city I loaded my tripod, camera and microphones on the bike. But there was no riding it to my new job at Yahoo — for that I would be on one of the shuttles.
On my first day of work I prepared my coffee at 7 a.m. The instructions from the contract company said that if I was going to use the shuttle bus I had to be on 21st and Valencia streets, the closest stop to my house, around 7:35 a.m. They later changed it to 24th and Valencia streets in front of Muddy Waters Coffee House.
That first day I was nervous and excited about the job, but ashamed to ride the shuttle. Up to that point, I saw the buses as a symbol of a lot of changes in the neighborhood that I didn’t much like. I made myself a little more coffee to drink on my way to Sunnyvale and then headed to the corner in front of Dog Eared Books.
I was the first to arrive and I double-checked the time to make sure I was in the right spot as normally I am not the first one to arrive anywhere.
Finally, after a couple of white buses passed, a big purple bus stopped. A young woman who had arrived earlier got on and I followed, showing my yellow badge to the driver. Later I learned the company has two types of badges — yellow for contractors and purple for Yahoo employees.
The bus was large, but not as large as I imagined it. Inside it was grey and very clean. The riders were nearly all under 40, some slept, others looked at their phones or at their laptops. The bus stopped twice more in the Mission before turning onto Highway 101 to Sunnyvale. I thought to myself, well it is time to catch up with the books that had been stacking up next to my bed.
I opened Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill. Out the window, the bay looked beautiful. This would be my commute for the next seven months.
Over that time, the buses got fuller and I got a sense of the different personalities that rode on alternate routes because going home I liked to take a different bus so that I could get off outside of the Mission and then walk home. The Mission bus riders were mostly young — some of them long term Mission residents. The bus that dropped riders off in Glen Park had a few older riders and its passengers were more staid. The bus that stopped on South Van Ness near Civic Center before going on to North Beach, carried the youngest group. They were more typical young professionals and definitely the rowdiest on Friday afternoons when a sense of thank-god-it’s-Friday pervaded all the buses.
My first day at Yahoo, I was blown away by Yahoo’s glass buildings and how clean and cold they were. But mostly I was overwhelmed by the food. I followed people to the cafeteria where there was coffee, pastries, eggs, a juice bar and oatmeal — anything we wanted. It was like being at a massive, free and very good buffet.
At 5:15 p.m., the ride home was less exhilarating. Highway 101 North was full of traffic and that traffic would become the hell I had to face everyday for the rest of my time working in Silicon Valley. Even as a passenger it was daunting and exhausting.
The bus scene inside became mundane. My fellow passengers were very quiet in the morning, some on their laptops some on their phones, some sleeping, one or two reading an actual book. One day someone was reading a newspaper, which made me happy — not only because I was seeing this on the bus but because seeing someone stretch out with an actual paper is rare anywhere and it has an almost romantic allure.
Oddly, we bus riders never talked about the bus protests. People worked non-stop in Sunnyvale and on the way home, there was a general exhaustion that disappeared for just one day — on Fridays.
I made very good friends on the bus. There were people who had lived in the Mission for more than the 10 years I have lived here. Like me, they just happened to get a job at Yahoo. Others who were newcomers just liked the neighborhood’s vibe and they were nice and interested in the neighborhood. It is like with anything, once you get to know people, they don’t seem terrible or evil — they were just working for good wages, but not flaunting them. More than talking about the Mission, we all complained about work, talked about architecture, work situations and pixelated eyes.
The shuttles saved and, in part, killed my quick experience at one of the monsters of the tech industry. Above all, the shuttle made it easier. The work itself was grinding and never-ending and I finally found it too much to arrive home at 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. only to start thinking about getting up 12 hours later.
At times, working at Yahoo felt like being in the Sci-Fi version of Chaplin’s “Modern Times.” The buses were just another part of the machine.