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happy trails

By enelson
Wednesday, July 9th, 2008 at 5:26 pm in AC Transit, air travel, Amtrak, BART, driving, Environment, fuel, Planning, rail, Security, transit equity, Transit vs. driving, walking.

One of the nice things about doing a blog is that it can travel with you wherever you might end up.

I have a pen-pal, if I may use an anachronism, who ran an airport security consulting business in the Midwest and previously worked as a manager at both SFO and OAK airports. He did an excellent blog on that and other airport management matters.

He still does, even though he’s now working in Afghanistan.

Alas, the Capricious Commuter doesn’t have that choice. Even if this wasn’t a newspaper-based blog, my next home (hint: My pen-pal and I will finally get to meet face-to-face) would be a silly place from which to stir up discussion about transportation in the Bay Area.

As many of you may have heard, the newspaper business is doing a little better than Afghanistan. Nobody’s getting blown up and I’m confident that most of my 29 colleagues who got layoff notices last week will get jobs in some facet of the modern information industry.

At my request, over the last several days, union and management reps worked out a deal for me to leave our newspaper group and one of the 29 could keep her job. No one on either side asked me to do this nor hinted that I should. I merely concluded that it was a good reason to head for the door sooner than I might have otherwise.

Perhaps someone here, or a group of people concerned about transportation and gas prices and the like, will keep the blog going. That would make me happy indeed, knowing that I’d started something that didn’t stop when I left the room.

Whatever happens, I’ve really enjoyed doing the blog and I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments and sparring with some of you on the great issues of transportation around here.

As I’ve said before, transportation is more than just wheels and heels. It’s what links us and makes our civilization possible (along with, say, food and water, which are also important).

Those issues cross a lot of boundaries, as my recent stories on a federal rule proposal that threatens to cut off public transit that takes kids to school in both Oakland and Minot, North Dakota.

The issues of poverty and race come up whenever I hear people talking about whether our society should invest billions in steel-wheeled mass transit systems such as BART or save our millions to bring better bus service to the poorer and largely black and Hispanic populations that don’t have cars.

And of course there’s business, economics and government, which play into discussions on how we ended up so car-and-SUV-dependent in the first place. Developers want to build sprawl because it sells, they exert huge pressures on local governments that control land use. And the state government, which might in some parallel universe be inclined to control sprawl, can’t tell the local governments what to do with the land they control.

And ever since coal-fired steam train passengers had to hold their breath while chuffing through tunnels, environmental and transportation issues have gone hand-in-hand.

And of course some may conclude that all of these things are a function of people like me.

I, after all, wanted a house with a yard but not in unaffordable Orinda or crime-plagued Oakland. Plus, in a two-income family, I ended up living closer to my wife’s work in Sacramento. Thus I ended up with a 74-mile commute from my quiet enclave in the Central Valley. I try to take the train as much as possible, but it’s quicker to drive.

But my wife no longer works in Sacramento, chasing after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with a skinny notebook and a pen. She’s instead scrambling over the rocks and dust of Afghanistan with a long furry microphone interviewing those who live with war and those who are sworn to prosecute it.

As a result of these recent newspaper troubles, and the fact that our son is now old enough to fend for himself, I’ve decided to join my wife overseas. I may freelance or get a full-time job; it’s unclear at this point.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll start a blog.

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23 Responses to “happy trails”

  1. John Miller Says:

    Best of luck, I will miss your blog and your reporting.

  2. anon Says:

    Great work, and thanks for your coverage of issues that seem to escape the attention of too many in your trade. Good luck, and safe travels. Tell ANG to link your blog!

  3. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    Whether we agreed or not you’ve been an excellent source of info on transportation, including HSR – your article last week on the AB 3034 changes was key for us.

    I look forward to your dispatches from abroad!

  4. murphstahoe Says:

    good news, bad news. We’ll focus on the good. Thanks and stay safe!

  5. Brian Toy aka "Happybiker" Says:

    I wish you much luck overseas. I’m sure you’re needed more over there. Alas, I must turn elsewhere for insightful commentary on our public transit.

  6. Mike Says:

    Best of luck to you as well. I will miss your updates here.

  7. D'Andre Berry Says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog post and newspaper articles. It was great to have a journalist take a genuine interest in public transit, including rail.
    I wish you the best in your future endeavors.

  8. timote Says:

    Best wishes in your new endeavor, stay safe.

  9. Jim Gleich Says:

    Thanks so much for stimulating discussion about and attention toward transportation issues in the Bay Area. You really have contributed a lot and I do hope it is kept going after you have left. Best of luck to you and please be careful..

  10. Reedman Says:

    Happy travels.

    Maybe you can find an English language Afghanistan website to blog about the transportation problems there…

  11. Melanie A. Says:

    Gosh darn you! Every time I’ve been tempted to whine about my commute, I kept yours in mind, and shut up. Now the Bay Area Whine Index is going to return to pre-Cap. Comm. levels.

    Good luck on your new assignment! I hope we get to see a co-produced blog from you and your wife from your exotic new workplaces.

  12. Ross Del Duca Says:

    Ugh. And I just found this blog today. As someone who commutes regularly between Sacramento and … (wait for it) … Palo Alto, this blog was right up my alley. I was hoping our blogs could share some content…

  13. ex-Capricious Commuter Says:

    Thanks to all of you for your stimulating and well-reasoned discussion of issues that I’ve always cared about. It’s really wonderful to see everyone’s comments now that I’m done, especially from you folks that kept coming back, even when I was slacking…

    It’s also cool to see some people I never thought I’d see here, and Ross, even though you just discovered the blog, I want you to know that I did this for the last two years and three months for people just like you. Tell me: You have to catch the “Oh-My-God Train,” don’t you?

  14. John Grubb Says:

    Bloody hell! Say it ain’t so! Erik you did the job with such great personality and skill. You constantly beat the competition and knew when to take the job seriously and when to have some fun. As both a beneficiary and – at times – unwilling target, as both a contributor and a reader, please allow me to say that this region is going to miss you, and miss you badly. Thank you for what could only be characterized as “service” to the Bay Area. I know of one new agency that is, ahem, floating in part because of you. This region has an extra billion to spend on fixing its freeway mess in part because of you. This region is not likely to have hovercrafts crisscrossing the Bay anytime soon because of you (dammnit!). You left a mark here and my organization wishes you very, very happy trails.

  15. Ex-Capricious Commuter Says:

    John, thanks for your generous words, but I think it was only about $101 million ;^)

    Seriously, you were a great help along the way, letting me know when the Bay Area was in danger of getting less than the Council thought it should. To this day, I still can’t get a decent table at the Willits Diner.

  16. D'Andre Berry Says:

    @Ex-Capricious Commuter

    Do you know who or if anyone will handle the transit related stories for the newspaper group?

  17. Becks Says:

    What sad news! You will be sorely missed, not only as a blogger, but as one of the few CA journalists that focused on transportation issues.

    Best of luck in your travels!

  18. Doug Faunt Says:

    Good luck on your new endeavours, and we’ll miss you here.

  19. The Overhead Wire Says:

    I’m a little late to realizing you were going but I’m sad to see the only newspaper transport blog in the bay area going. Thanks for the updates and sharing your commute with us. We appreciate it. Best of luck and let everyone know where you land, or ask us for links when you start a new blog. Cheers.

  20. Randy Rentschler Says:


    Good luck out there.

    Please contact me.


  21. Guy Span Says:

    Sorry to see this end. I have enjoyed your viewpoints and the discussions. I had been working in Australia and it was quite a surprise to return to the Bay Area and find you packing for a war-torn place refuge from the vagaries of ANG. That speaks volumes about the company (pun intended).

    One last point. I saw your article about the AC Board voting down the new purchase of more Van Hools. The GM was disgusted, saying he’d now have to bid out a mere 19 buses. Hey, that’s only a $10 million contract…

    It seems that Bus transit is in the same situation Streetcars were in circa 1929. There were plenty of streetcar designs and manufacturers to choose from, each with different mechanical, electrical, braking, etc. This increased the cost of maintenance as each purchase was from a different off-the-shelf manufacturer.

    So in 1929, the Electric Railway Presidents Conference Committee met to produce a standard streetcar design, that all companies would buy. Windows, seats, light fixtures, certain electrical components, etc. were designed and standardized. A few were built, extensively tested and modified. When completed, the PCC Streetcar (like you see on the SF Waterfront)went into standard production.

    Since, as a group, American bus transit systems have massive buying power, they might consider a similar program. The builders would know what was wanted and the buyers could bid out the standard design amongst manufacturers. By standardizing maintenance and parts over time, the various fleets would become more economic. And goofy Van Hool purchases would go the way of all flesh.

  22. former Capricious Commuter Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Guy. It breaks my heart to see all the amazing contributions people still have to make (like your observations about the streetcars) and I’m not providing an outlet for it. You should see this place. Getting around is a challenge, to say the least, although I was delighted to see a smooth-paved divided road to the airport. Elsewhere, there are 3 mph potholes and, oddly, extreme speed bumps in places where the pavement is almost nonexistent. One-way boulevards are a blessing, I must add. There are some new traffic signals, which are obeyed about 25 percent of the time and even the odd traffic cop to regulate traffic at one of the many traffic circles. For the most part, getting through traffic is a matter of sticking one’s nose in front of opposing or cross traffic and praying it’ll stop. One Afghan I was riding around with spoke fondly of how traffic was much better controlled during the communist era.

  23. Fred Millar Says:


    Will miss you sorely. I still distribute some of your articles on the hazmat issues. You are the second intrepid journalist I’ve worked with on rail security who took off for the war zones — Carl Prine’s now back in Pittsburgh from Iraq, having learned a ton about IEDs.
    Thanks for your work. Keep in touch, I hope. Today’s WashPost article re Afghan “Taliban revival” situation is not reassuring. Best, Fred

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