A Trip on the 724 Capitol Corridor: A Personal Essay
As a person from San Diego, most of my travel experiences before arriving in Berkeley were by car. Where I’m from you can drive about 15 minutes and be in a whole different part of town: from town to beach and maybe even mountains. When I got to Cal the topography of the bay was a whole new adjustment. The towns and suburbs of Berkeley are nestled between the fences of the hills and the bay, which are much more densely populated than I was used to. I quickly realized that things were a little different here. A 15-minute ride can still land you, inevitably elsewhere in Berkeley depending on where you are. Not only was urban sprawl a new phenomenon for me, but I didn’t have a car to get around there either.
When I arrived in Berkeley, I was new to urban transportation. The last time I took the bus was when I was in high school. I had ridden in a fender bender on my way to a first date as I was running late in rush hour traffic. This was an unfortunate blow to both my ’98 4-Runner and my ego as it had only been about six months since I first got my driver’s license. The date was easily postponed, but for the next two days I took the bus home from school until the issue was resolved. At home, the bus was a forehand from Adams Avenue, down Park Avenue as it made its way towards Old Town. However, you simply cannot compare public transportation in San Diego to that in Berkeley. While public transportation is fairly straightforward around campus, if you even miss an F bus stop, you might find yourself venturing into Emeryville, Oakland, or even San Francisco.
While in Berkeley, it took a lot of trial and error to find the perfect transit app, get to BART on time, or even figure out if I should just walk. After a few weeks, I finally had some training under my belt. With travel resuming after the pandemic, I decided it was time to embark on a new journey. I was going to take the train to visit a friend across the bay in Santa Clara, 47.7 miles away.
While public transportation is fairly straightforward around campus, if you even miss an F bus stop, you might find yourself venturing into Emeryville, Oakland, or even San Francisco.
My first attempt to catch the Amtrak was unsuccessful. I didn’t time things correctly and unfortunately I watched the train come out of the station in utter despair from my vantage point at 51B, right next to the shops on 4th Street. I probably missed it by about two minutes and three hundred yards. I was right there, but not close enough, and my ego was completely shattered again. So, the next week, I woke up early on Saturday morning, put on my game face, and drank a cup of coffee, determined to be ready.
As I ventured through the frosty autumn streets of Berkeley just after 7 a.m., I observed the world just after dawn. A sort of reverie crossed the air as I passed the early risers at CafÃ© Strada. The brisk breeze passed through the evergreen trees and cheered me on on the way to the 51B bus stop. The bus only took a few minutes to arrive before driving me onto Bancroft Way, continued right onto Shattuck Avenue and turned left onto University Avenue for the last few miles before reaching the last stop just before the Marina de Berkeley.
The morning mildness abruptly stopped, while I waited for the train to arrive under the noisy underpass. The soft daylight brought a sense of security, but I was far too aware of being alone in the grand urban setting. The monotonous voice of the electronic ticket controller sounded announcing that the train was approaching, even though it wasn’t mine, and I realized I was standing about five feet from the tracks. My senses were overwhelmed by the roar of the whistle and movement resumed all around me. The train rushed towards me and I suddenly felt very small. About 10 minutes later, I boarded the 724 Capitol Corridor.
I was surprised to see that I was one of the few people on the train. And since this was my first time traveling alone in the Greater Bay Area, I looked for a safe and secure seat. A place where I felt conscious. A place with a good point of view for “people watching”. Much to my dismay, there wasn’t a lot of action this early in the morning. Only a couple sat across from me as the other passengers made their way to the car in front. However, my seat was also located near the window which meant I could look out over the bay to pass the time.
The monotonous voice of the electronic ticket controller sounded announcing that the train was approaching, even though it wasn’t mine, and I realized I was standing about five feet from the tracks.
After driving obliquely through Oakland, Union City, Hayward and Fremont, we entered a swamp. Its puddles rippled in response to the movement of the caterpillars. I looked out the window and saw the sparrows, sandpipers and snow egrets start to fly away. I was too distracted by the movement outside to focus on the books I had brought to read along the way. The trip gave me time to reflect. It had been a long time since I had let my thoughts speak for themselves.
In the midst of the pandemic world, taking the train offers a sense of security without much hassle or expense. The train’s gestures are simple: the drivers are friendly, the technology is easy to use, and the pandemic protocol is straightforward. Plus, there’s plenty to choose from – Amtrak and Caltrain, to all of the other local options. I arrived in Santa Clara safely and on time. Although my commute was short, it left me eager to plan my next trip – perhaps on the Coast Starlight, which runs along the California coast and even all the way to the Pacific Northwest. These trips remind me that the transit system is there for a reason: by making travel affordable and accessible, it bridges the gap between expensive prices and the long distances that too often isolate people. While transit can take a while to master, for someone like me who doesn’t have a car, it opens up our world to many possibilities.
Contact Katie Cota at [emailÂ protected].