Waiting for the 43

When people ask me how I spent my teenage years, I tell them a lot of different things. Sometimes I try to describe the political and social climate of San Francisco during the late 1970s and early 1980s, or talk about spending evenings at Baker Beach, the Palace of Fine Arts, or other foggy outdoor venues where my friends and I tried to find a little time and space away from the adult world. Occasionally, I describe the shows we went to at places like the Fab Mab or the On Broadway. Too frequently, I tell stories about freezing, eating cold hot dogs and watching yet another ground ball go through Johnnie Lemaster’s legs at Candlestick Park.

I almost never, however, tell people the truth: I spent most of my teenage years waiting for the 43 Masonic. At the corner of Lombard and Lyon I waited most mornings on my way to school, as well as on weekends, on my way to see friends or hang out in neighborhoods south of my Cow Hollow home. The 43 stop at California and Masonic is where I ended many afternoons spent with my closest friends: two twin brothers who lived in Presidio Heights. At Haight and Masonic was where I waited after an afternoon or evening spent in the Haight or Golden Gate Park.

Over time, the thousands of hours I spent at one of those bus stops have slowly transformed into one memory. My recollection of my entire adolescence feels boiled down to one long afternoon waiting for the bus. In my mind, the long afternoon is, of course, a foggy one. I am not dressed warmly enough so am wrapping my jacket around my body to keep warm while peering anxiously over the oncoming cars to see if that phantom bus is ever going to show up. I feel relaxed and tired, but also a little hungry, from the afternoon’s activities. In those days, there were still areas of San Francisco where we were not surrounded by good ethnic food; and I had a little less money in my pocket than I do now, so I don’t walk the few blocks to get a candy bar or one of those strange San Francisco concoctions of the period like a piroshki or a bagel dog.

Although I have been an obsessive reader for most of my life, I never seemed to have anything to read while waiting for the 43, so in this composite memory, I don’t have a book with me, just that day’s “Sporting Green,” which was actually green then, so I can study the Giants latest defeat. Most of the time I spent waiting for the 43 I was alone with little to do. My mind was free to wander over all the subjects that seemed so important at the time: baseball, politics, school, music, punk rock, friends, girls and the wacky theories my friends and I used to cook up to explain these things. Perhaps there is some profound meaning in my experience of the wait being more significant than the ride, or perhaps this was just a consequence of inadequate public transportation.

The bus would almost always eventually arrive and disrupt my reverie, but I frequently waited for more than half an hour and sometimes nearly two hours for that bus. Most of my rides on the 43 stayed within the area between Lombard and Haight Streets. Back then, those were the boundaries of my San Francisco. I was, however, intrigued by the question of where the 43 went after Haight Street. The front of the bus wasn’t much help. Next to the name and number of the route it would list puzzling and exotic destinations like “Prague/Geneva.” Once I was sufficiently curious to stay on the bus till Prague, but instead of finding myself behind what was then the Iron Curtain, I was in an another anonymous neighborhood in San Francisco.

These days I spend a lot more time in the New York City subway system than on Muni. I have learned to always bring enough to read, but occasionally my mind takes me back and I am sixteen again, wrapping my jacket around myself, singing Clash lyrics in my head, pondering some angst filled teenage dilemma and wondering if that 43 is ever going to show up.