Why is there never a dull moment with Caltrain? I swear, every time I head to any station, there's always some drama. Fortunately for me, it's not always bad drama.
This morning, I realized that the next available train that stopped at South San Francisco was leaving about thirty minutes after I had finished waking up, petting the Bella, and stumbling to my computer to check train times. About five minutes after that, I realized I wasn't going to find any parking at the Mountain View lot, I'd better head south to the Sunnyvale station where the parking structure means all-day parking.
The Sunnyvale station also meant I had five fewer minutes than originally thought I did. Five fewer minutes in this case, meant rush. So, rush I did. I left the house with a calculated 10 minutes until the train arrived, assuming the trains were departing 2 minutes early, as they had been last time I rode Caltrain. I arrived at the station with five minutes before the train was calculated to arrive, and turned into the parking structure.
Now, I hadn't expected to find parking on the first floor or the second floor. When I didn't find parking on the third or fourth floor, however, I started becoming nervous. Surely there would be roof parking right? I turned the corner for the top floor, into the bright sun of the roof, and found rows of cars. Crap!
No, no, wait, there was a space at the very end, right next to the pay machine. Hoorah! I parked quickly and hustled over to the pay machine, where a small Asian woman was all a flutter, waving her arms, asking "Help me, help me!" I went to the pay machine and looked at the screen. It was asking for $2.00 on the screen, but blaring out crazy instructions that made no sense if you didn't already have a ticket. She said, "Look!" and shoved a $5 bill into the money slot. The machine rejected it.
I looked again at the screen and down at the wad of money I had in my hands. I hadn't recalled how much the parking fees were, so I had grabbed four quarters, two dollar coins and five singles. I unfolded the singles and fed one to the machine. Almost as if the machine had been starving and was now pacified, the lights stopped flashing, the horns stopped blaring and the two of us heard a contented sigh from the machine, as the amount due dropped from $2.00 to $1.00.
I fed another dollar into the machine, waited a moment, pulled out the parking ticket, and handed it to her. I needed to make the same train, and I didn't have my retardo 8-but-really-4 ride ticket validated yet. I pushed the buy ticket button again, and shoved the two dollar coins into the parking pay machine. Grabbing my ticket, I noticed the woman was still standing there, once again, all a-flutter.
On, right. She wanted to pay for her parking ticket. I handed her my three singles, she handed me the five that the machine kept rejecting and asked the fastest way down. I pointed her to the right staircase, jogged back to my car, and started unloading my stuff. As I heard her clip clip clip away in her heels, I realized my watch said 10:26. My calculations had the train arriving at 10:27, and my ticket was validated. Crap.
Slinging my scooter over my shoulder, I ran for the stairs, ran down the stairs, and around the corner. Dropping everything and grabbing my wallet, I was thankful I had the multi-ride ticket, as the small Asian woman was at the ticket machine, heading the front of a long line of people wanting to purchase tickets at the machine she was using. Oh, goodness me.
I validated my ticket, packed up the keys and books I had run down the stairs carrying and turned to walk to the far platform. "Is this correct?" I heard the woman ask again. I looked down to see her ticket, and asked, "Are you going to San Francisco?"
"Then your ticket is correct." Relief flooded her whole body. "But you need to be on the other side of the tracks," I continued.
"The other side!" She took off running. I hadn't heard the train, so I knew that both the train hadn't arrived and wasn't approaching. Once it approaches, if the train hasn't screwed you over by stopping across the tracks, you can cross the tracks behind it and still make the train. The woman hadn't realized any of this and by the time I had blinked twice and started moving, she was already on the other side, waving happily at me.
I don't recall if I had had such a hard time the first time I rode a Caltrain ride. I do know that I much prefer to train up than drive up, if the timing is convient. Maybe one of these times won't have the drama and suspense.