San Francisco. A beautiful city. For the most part. Because of the contrasts it offers. Extreme contrasts. But, that’s a story for another occasion.
My participation at a conference I was attending was done, so I decided to take the afternoon off. A friend suggested I should go to Sausalito for a nice stroll through a beautiful town, and a dinner in a bay-side seafood restaurant with a view of the San Francisco skyline. Who wouldn’t want to do that? So, I did.
But to get there, you must take a ferry. Well, you don’t have to. There is always the Golden Gate Bridge. But not for me. I love water. So, a ferry it is.
I walk all the way to the port building, even though it is 102 degrees outside. Some kind of a record for San Francisco, even though yesterday was even worse. 104, so they say.
I locate the Information board, high above, struggling to maintain my balance against the river of tourists and the locals who are rushing to their destination without regard for a person who has no clue where to go and what to do next.
Luckily, the first thing on the information board says, in big letters, Sausalito. Great, but what time? Oh, right next to it says: Next ferry at 2:50pm. What time is it now? 2:42pm.
2:42pm???? Really? Are you kidding me? What about the next one?
An hour later. Oh nooooooo. I have to make this one.
I look around for the ticket counter. Nothing, just the same river of tourists flowing back toward me, as if they have nothing else to do but to make my life even more hectic than it is. Thanks guys.
I turned around, and right behind me there is an Information desk for the Bay sightseeing company. Great. They should know. I’ll ask them.
There is a guy attending the booth. But, he is busy talking to an older gentleman with a map. They both are pointing to the map, trying to sort out the differences of spatial opinion. I look at the clock. 2:43pm. 7 more minutes to buy the ticket and to find the ferry.
I decide to give them a minute to finish the conversation. I can be a nice guy. Occasionally. Perhaps. Maybe. A big maybe.
2:44pm. I squirm nervously. The guy with the map has more questions. AND, he ask them sooooo sloooowly. God! Seriously???
Suddenly, he stops. He is looking at his map intently, deep in thoughts. An opening. Great. I move closer to the attendant and open my mouth, ready to ask THE QUESTION, when he gives me the look. THE look. You know, the one that says: don’t you dare, you bastard, to interrupt me when I am talking to a client. A CLIENT.
2:45pm. 5 more minutes. Desperate times now. I look around again and see two uniformed guys, policemen, security guards, whatever. Uniforms are good. They should know everything. EVERYTHING.
“May I ask you a question?”
“Where is the ticket counter for Sausalito?”
“There is one inside and one outside, which one do you …” I have to cut him off. Soooo sorry. “THE CLOSEST,” I say urgently. It is 2:46pm.
“Well, go outside, and you will see it.”
“Thank you,” I say, as I am running away. Not sure they heard any of it.
I am outside. Even more people. No ticket counter. What??? I turn to the left. Only restaurants, coffee shops, and a bookstore. And people. More people.
I turn to the right. Nothing. Looks like a construction zone. Then I notice people disembarking from a ferry. A FERRY. Good. The ticket counter must be there. But where? I start going toward the people leaving the ferry, but then I notice arrows on the ground, pointing toward me. A one-way, exit-only traffic, it says. What? Were is MY way then? I look up in desperation, and it says, in BIG letters, Ticket Counter to the right. Finally. What time is it? 2:47. F#*k. No, I did not say it. My mom would not approve. But, I wanted to scream it, like in the movies.
I follow the arrow around the corner. There are some machines. They look like ATMs. I don’t have time for that now. I need a human being. Someone who will understand desperation. And questions about one-way vs. two-way ticket. And discounts. And credit cards. And where the damn ferry might be. And how to get there. And … You get the drill.
There is also a booth that looks like a person occupied it at some point in time. But, the booth is empty now. It says, in big letters, USE THE MACHINE. Oh, God, why me????
So, the machine it is. There are 2 of them. One says CASH, the other says CREDIT CARDS. Great, another choice to make. Which one is the closest? The credit cards one. That’s the one.
But, there is a gentleman there, looking at it intently, trying to figure out what to do. I look at the other machine, but it is occupied too. I turn to the person at the credit card machine and ask: “Can you please help me use this machine? I am late.” My voice clearly sends a message of agony and desperation, all wrapped up in a look that says “I am not responsible for my behavior.”
“No, I can’t figure it out, but go ahead since you are in a hurry.” “Thanks,” I say and hastily place myself in front of the screen. How hard can it be?
12 BUTTONS???? Perhaps fewer, but my mind is not helping either. Everything seems to be a blur now.
OK, I can do this. Take a deep breadth. Let’s look at the screen.
There is nothing on the screen. NOTHING.
What do you mean there is nothing? What are my options? Choices? I need to push something. Some buttons. ANY BUTTON, PLEEEEEASE.
Then, I realize that the sunlight is blinding the screen. So, I press my nose to the screen and block the side gaps with my hands. Something appears on the screen. But it is barely visible. I press my nose even further. Did not know it was possible to make it flat. Now I know.
“Do you see anything,” the guy next to me asks. I see only the first choice and it says SAUSALITO. Good enough. I push the button next to it, the top one on the left side. A new screen pops up and says: “How many tickets?” It show’s some arrows, up and down. No clue how to select. So, I push the same button again. It worked once before, perhaps it is my lucky day.
IT WORKED!!! The number of tickets selected now says: 1 ticket. Another screen pops up and says: “Want to pay now? Press the Red button.”
Where is the red button? I unglue my nose from the screen and look around. No red button. NO RED BUTTON??? 2:48pm. #$@%.
I turn to the guy and ask: “Do you see a red button?” He looks around and checks the same gadgets on the same machine that I just did and says: “I sure don’t.”
What am I missing? What am I missing?
Perhaps it is one of the choices on the screen? But, I DON’T SEE them. The nose back to the screen. Even tighter now. Look around, look around. Wait, what is that in the lower right corner? Does it say Pay? Yes, IT DOES. Is it red? God, I sure hope so. PUSH IT. I did.
The new screen pops up and it reads: THIS SESSION HAS BEEN TERMINATED DUE TO INACTIVITY.
I start over. Left top button. Again. Then, the bottom right button. The screen pops up: PLEASE INSERT YOUR CREDIT CARD.
YES!!! YES!!! YES!!!
I take my credit card out and put it into the card slot opening. Then I push it in. It makes its way in, but less than a third of an inch. I try harder. It goes a little bit further, but not by much. I try to take it out just to make sure that I will not lose it. It does come out, but it requires a hard pull to liberate it from the jaws of the card-eating slot.
The screen beeps: THIS SESSION HAS BEEN TERMINATED DUE TO INACTIVITY.
Ohhhhhh, God!!! Not again.
Rinse and repeat. All the steps again. The same outcome.
The guy next to me says: “ I will just go around.”
Around? There is AROUND?
I walk to the other side of the machines and what do I see? A person, checking tickets.
A live person! Finally!!!
There are many people in front of him, people with tickets, trying to get into the waiting area (standing really) to get onto the ferry.
At this point I cannot afford to be a nice guy. I yell across the people: “Is this a ferry for Sausalito?”
“Where do I buy a ticket?”
“From the machine.”
“I tried. It is not working. It is not taking my card.”
“ Try the other one.”
“Which other one?”
“The one to your right, sir.” This sir thing hurts. I know what it means. It means “Can’t you see it, you moron? It is right next to you.”
Of course, there is another set of ticket machines, this time in the shade. I don’t notice people any more. I just see the machines. There are two of them. It is all familiar by now—one for credit cards and one for cash transactions. I try the credit card one again. I repeat the process. Don’t even have to look at the screen. I know it by hart—upper left button, push it again, lower right button.
PLEASE INSERT YOUR CREDIT CARD.
The card does not go in. Nope. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing.
I have no more patience. I push the card in. Hard. I slam it. I don’t care if I don’t see it any more. Ever again.
The almighty screen says: PLEASE INSERT YOUR CREDIT CARD.
I try to pull the card out. It is slippery. It is not coming out. It is happy in its new home.
I try with both hands. Nothing.
Both hands on the card, one foot on the machine, sudden lurch outward.
The card is free.
Are you kidding me? Cool. Way cool. A small victory.
2:50pm. Still no ticket.
Am I late? I look at the “Sir” guy. “Am I late?”
“Don’t you see that I am still checking people in?
I have no time for a fight. I let him be.
Cash it is. Do I have any?
The other machine. I repeat the process. It goes smoothly.
PLEASE INSERT YOUR CASH.
I insert a $20 bill.
PLEASE TAKE YOUR TICKET AND CHANGE.
The change is $8. In coins. All of them. Seriously?
Back to the “Sir” guy. “Where is the ferry?”
“Right in front of you.”
“This huge line of people?”
“Will we all make it in?”
“Here is my ticket.”
“I don’t see a scanner.”
“Here, where it says: Sausalito.”
“It is a piece of paper, not a scanner.”
“Do you want to get on the ferry or not?”
“Yes, I do, believe me.”
“But it is a damn paper.”
“It is a damn scanner.”
“Will you show me, please?”
He waves my ticket in front of the paper that says Sausalito.
The machine beeps.
He says: “Here you go, SIR.”
I’ll be damn.
I join the crowd waiting for the ferry. They start moving. 2:52pm.
At the entrance to the ferry I see the attendant. Just to be sure, I ask: “Is this a ferry for Sausalito?”
He says, “Yes, Sausalito, New Mexico.”
I freeze. He laughs. I smile.
At last someone with a sense of humor.