In the last year Matt has racked up unbelievable amounts of international business travel. From my personal perspective this is a hassle because it means I’ve spent more weeks than I care to count as a single parent. From a more optimistic perspective his travel represents an unexpected windfall in the form of hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles.
At some point, realizing that our work schedules had turned our winter break into no break at all, we decided to take a real vacation over MLK weekend. Thanks to Matt’s miles, the cost of this vacation was $5 apiece in booking fees and a few days of entertainment plus eating every meal in a restaurant. We decided that was a price we were willing to pay. We didn’t want to leave the time zone because that always turns the kids into zombies and we wanted to be warm. Hello, San Diego!
I don’t leave San Francisco much and when I do it’s typically for conference travel, which is so stylized that I never really see the city I’m staying in—arrive at airport, take public transit or shared van with colleagues to conference hotel, meetings meetings meetings, meals in hotel restaurant, reverse on the way home. Many of my colleagues try to enjoy the conference destination but at this point in my life if I have to travel alone somewhere I prefer to go back home ASAP to be with the kids. So this was the first time in a long, long time that I had spent free-form time outside of the greater Bay Area, except for last summer’s trip to Europe. And I have to admit I’ve found it unnerving.
We stayed in a hotel with extensive grounds notable for its heavy reliance on golf carts, but every trip away from the property was a jarring reintroduction to Southern California car culture. Nearly everything commercial in San Diego appeared to be located in a strip mall. Every street seemed to have at least four lanes and traffic moved blisteringly fast except at rush hour, when we were the only car in the carpool lane and the rest of the traffic was at a standstill. Is this what the rest of America is like?
Despite the heavy emphasis on cars in San Diego, particularly huge trucks, it seems like a nice place to ride a bicycle in many ways. The city itself seems to lack hills entirely; it was no accident that we had trouble spotting a bicycle with gears in San Diego, even in a bicycle shop. There are bicycle lanes everywhere, albeit not with a lot of actual bicycles in them, and since they’re marked about once a mile it would be easy to confuse them with a break-down lane if they weren’t so narrow.
Except at rush hour, San Diego is a small city that doesn’t have serious traffic, which would be a relief. Admittedly my judgment as to what constitutes serious traffic might be a little skewed.
In addition, San Diego, like the rest of Southern California, is so image-conscious that we actually saw a street cleaner out buffing the streets. I’ll bet potholes aren’t much of a concern. California may be experiencing a state budget crisis beyond all precedent, forcing public elementary schools in impoverished neighborhoods to pack over 40 kids into kindergarten classrooms, but fortunately having streets as smooth as glass is the city’s last bulwark against the end of civilization.
Unlike many cities, San Diego primarily stripes its bicycle lanes against curbs where there is no parking, eliminating the dreaded door zone. Unless our son is on board, as he is eagle-eyed and relentless in his self-appointed task of scanning for potential door-bike incidents, I ride as far to the left-hand side of the bike lane as possible when we are at home in San Francisco. And I get no small amount of huffiness from drivers about my determined leftward drift on sharrow streets, where the risk of being doored is greatest—without the visual reminder of a bike lane drivers fling open their doors into traffic with casual abandon.
I never knew that the sharrow arrows in San Francisco were positioned to protect riders from the door zone if they ride on top of the arrow itself until I read it on the SFMTA website. It makes perfect sense, but it does put you right near the middle of the street, and if I didn’t know that was the goal even after I’d started riding regularly I suppose it’s hopeless to expect full-time drivers to know.
We have changed. In San Diego despite having no intentions to do anything in particular, we ended up renting bicycles (of a sort) almost every day.