Bridge and Tunnel, Reversed

I think I love my new commute.

No really.  Aside from the fact that in the evenings it’s a slippery slope from an hour to ninety minutes after 4pm, I think I have to rank the route from my home to my new office as the best commute I’ve had in my professional career so far.

It’s quite simple why, and I’ll start with my old commutes.  My first was a 15 minute drive from nowhere Central Valley to nowhere edge-of-the Central Valley, through suburban houses, farmland, and grass.  It was short, yet depressing.  Eventually I reversed that one by moving across the hills.  I saw the sunrise every morning as I drove through wind turbines.  It was better, but life wasn’t great.  That only lasted three months anyway.

Soon I was driving from the East Bay all the way across to the Peninsula.  Like my current commute, it was long and traffic-plagued.  I made the most of it, but soon grew exhausted as the winter rain fell.

When I moved yet again, my drive-time shortened, but my scenery lessened.  There was one awesome spot on I-280 where you can see the Bay and SFO quite well, however 101 is no fun.  Besides, from north and east, there’s no good way to get to Redwood Shores.  But now that’s history.

Starting as before with a view of the ocean, I now get to drive across my home city, past the beautiful, shining glass skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco — some of them are rising higher every day, including the new tallest building in the city.  I’m privileged to then head across the water on two massive bridges; bridges that I sometimes enjoy staring at just because they’re there.  After this, I twist up the eastern hills into an old, Art Deco tunnel, from which I emerge (usually) into a glorious sunrise surrounded by green, forested hills.  In the dawns following a rain, a light mist floats among the trees.  And assuming I’m actually there for sunrise, there’s basically no traffic.  The second half of my commute, distance-wise, takes around a third of the total time to drive.

The best part, however, might actually be the ride home.  In the opposite direction I snake down four sparsely populated lanes of CA-24 through these pine trees and steep hills on my way toward the ocean.  It feels secluded and natural.  Soon, I’m into the Caldecott Tunnel once again.  Whereas the two eastbound bores are the original eighty year old tunnel, the westbound lanes are newer — the third was constructed in 1964, and the fourth was just finished three years ago.  The third has some fun ripples in the pavement that make the car bounce up and down, while the fourth is refreshing in its modernity.  It’s much wider, brighter, rounder, and has periodic exhaust fans above.

Upon emergence from this side of the tunnel, one is treated to a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay that shifts and changes as the road winds downhill.  You can see Angel Island and Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge, Sutro Tower in the distance, and Oakland, a big city in its own right, all laid out before you.  At sunset, this view is particularly spectacular.  And somehow, at this point, there’s still pretty much no traffic.

Heading westbound across the Bay Bridge is one of the first things I did after my first California job interview.  I didn’t know how truly giant the two halves are until I crossed them myself.  San Francisco appears like it’s right there, yet it still takes a good fifteen minutes just to get there.  At the time I get about halfway across the eastern span, cars start to fill in and the pace of the drive slows to a crawl.  Here’s the thing, though: I really don’t think the sight of these bridges can get old, especially from this close up.  In fact, bad traffic only enhances their majesty, as it develops a greater sense of scale.  Plus, not moving allows more time to simply gaze, either at the spans themselves or the surrounding views.  That is, while not moving, because safety.

When I reach San Francisco, there’s always this fleeting feeling of appreciation.  It’s been two years now but I still can’t believe I get to live here.  It was my dream from the beginning, and every day I drive home, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be living it.

Of course, there’s one more thing my commute that I love:


That highway right there, flagged Hwy 24, is my way in and out of the Bay.  I’m one of the moving blue pixels!  Every day I pass by Lake Temescal and Highway 13, and head up through the Caldecott Tunnel to (and past) Orinda.  Twenty-five years later, it really doesn’t look all that different.  Fire excepted.


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