Journeys Afar – San Francisco, 2019 – Part 2

Ready for takeoff!



In this fifth episode of Journeys Afar, I will continue my adventure out to the San Francisco Bay Area. For both my originating & return journeys, I opted for flights that would take me to the Dallas-Fort Worth, TX area. I first had the opportunity to traverse DFW Airport back in 2002 & 2003, & during both times there was a lot of construction going on. What is known today as Skylink, was still under construction at the time, & Terminal D was also being built. So thus, I wanted to get a glimpse of what the airport looks like now. I do regret not allotting myself a bit more extra time on my return trip to spend at the airport because otherwise, I would have had time to get photography of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail & Trinity Metro TEXRail (commuter rail) platforms.

I’ll begin this post briefly discussing my departure from TPA Airport, followed by my layover observations at DFW Airport. Later, I’ll go into my arrival at SFO Airport & end with my journey into the heart of the city of San Francisco.


Departing from Tampa

Heading down the ramp to the plane!

Boarding call for my first flight – American Airlines # 1351 – began at about 11:10am, with the plane (a Boeing 737-800) pushing back from Gate 78 on time at 11:42am. The overall boarding process went without any major issues & I was able to sit comfortably in my window seat (I love window seats on the plane by the way) during the entire flight. I will point out however that the blue bag that I mentioned at the very end of Part 1, I wound up checking that in at the gate counter. The reason was due to it being a full flight & there was no more overhead bin space to fit the bag in. Therefore, I carried my other backpack with me – which was compact enough to fit under the seat in front of me.

Looking out my window as the plane is about to be pushed back from the gate.

For those of you who wish to watch, here’s video footage of my departure from Tampa.


Layover at Dallas-Fort Worth

Hello Dallas!

My flight arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport at 1:25pm Central Time (pretty much on-time). However, I received an alert through the American Airlines smartphone app that my connecting flight to San Francisco (# 2083) was delayed by 30 minutes (the originally scheduled departure time was 2:50pm CT, but it was pushed back to 3:20pm CT). This delay was due to the plane originating from another city before flying into Phoenix, AZ & getting delayed there. While this delay theoretically bought me a bit more time to explore parts of DFW Airport, I still needed to make sure that I arrived at my connecting gate on time.

Here’s the footage of my arrival in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Walking up the ramp from the gate.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot had changed at DFW Airport since my last pass-through in 2003 – namely the opening of the Skylink automated people mover system. Being that I had some extra time to spend before I needed to be at my connecting gate, I decided that I would go ahead and catch a quick round trip between Terminal C & Terminal A – the former by which both my arriving flight & departing flight were located at.

One of the first things I noticed when I exited the gate area was that there was a 7-11 convenience store in Terminal C. For a moment, you would not think that a convenience store chain would open a store inside a bustling airport – but believe it or not – the need for such a store is there. In fact, the chain recently opened a location inside the Westfield Brandon Mall in Brandon, FL, so seeing this location at DFW Airport doesn’t feel weird at all.

The 7-11 at DFW Airport sells many of the same items that you’d see at a 7-11 just around the corner in your neighborhood – including pizza slices, cold prepackaged sandwiches, hot dogs, chips, coffee, & sodas.

So you’re probably wondering if I have any past photos of DFW Airport from my previous pass-throughs. Unfortunately, I don’t – as my time spent there was with family & I didn’t have a camera on me to snap photos with. That’s okay though, because I took the opportunity to get new photos & should I pass through this airport again in the future, I’ll have those to help expand my overall collection.

After locating my connecting gate, it was time to check out Skylink.

After taking a moment to glance at the 7-11, I immediately proceeded to locate Gate C15, where my connecting flight to San Francisco would board later. It didn’t take me too long to find it, so once I did, it was time to head upstairs to the Skylink station to take a quick ride to Terminal A & back.

All of the terminals (except Terminal D) are “C” shaped, with Terminal D being more of a “K” shape. The on-site Grand Hyatt hotel is located at Terminal D – which serves as the airport’s international terminal. The Skylink system connects all five terminals together so that passengers aren’t having to exit & then re-enter security (especially in the case of Terminal E, which isn’t connected to the others by a sky bridge). The network utilizes a fleet of Bombardier Innovia 300 automated people mover (APM) trains that comprise of paired sets (2 cars per train).

Train # 024 pulls into the station.

Knowing that I had only a limited amount of time before I needed to grab a quick bite to eat, then proceed back to Gate C15, I made my trek to Terminal A very short. The good thing is that trains come around in both directions pretty frequently (roughly every 2 to 3 minutes during the day), which is comparable to TPA Airport’s SkyConnect, as well as the Main Terminal to Airside shuttles.

Inside train # 024. This train was quite crowded. Train # 020 going back to Terminal C was even more crowded.

While DFW Airport has a lot of different dining options, knowing time was limited before boarding call began at 2:50pm (CT), I settled on getting a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal at McDonalds at Terminal C, which was not too far from Gate C15. Once I got my food, I went back to the gate area & consumed my food before boarding began.

Once I was finished with my lunch, I had a brief opportunity to go onto the 3rd-party TransSee website, which allows you to track transit vehicles across a number of US & Canadian transit agencies, & see which buses were running on the Trinity Metro (Fort Worth) DASH circulator – which debuted a few months ago, as well as the midday/PM Molly Trolley, which is another circulator. Both routes connect to specific areas within or near Downtown Fort Worth & offer frequent departures – with the DASH beginning service during the 9am (CT) hour & the Molly starting up around lunch time. Both services operate during the PM & early evening hours, with the DASH running extended night service on weekends. The mainline difference between the DASH & the Molly is that the Molly uses 29′ 2015 Gillig Low Floor replica trolleys, while the DASH is specifically designed to use battery electric buses. The DASH therefore uses 35′ 2019 New Flyer Xcelsior battery electric vehicles (the XE35).

While DART has real-time tracking capabilities, their interface currently does not display vehicle fleet numbers, so there was no point in me doing anything on that end.

With boarding call commencing at 2:50pm (CT), it was once again time for me to prepare to leave. With the ongoing delay, it was projected that I would arrive in San Francisco at about 5:00pm (PT) as opposed to the original scheduled time of 4:30pm (PT). At that point however, I would be happy if I was able to catch my BART connection & still get to downtown San Francisco on time. Knowing that trains depart the SFO Airport station every 15 minutes via the Yellow Line, I knew that there was a possibility of me missing the departures at 4:41pm & 4:58pm respectively, thus the 5:15pm trip would be my “fallback” trip to be able to arrive in downtown on time.

Now, you’re probably wondering, why am I concerned about arriving in downtown San Francisco at a specific time? Well, only because I previously arranged a dinner meetup with both Anthony N. – friend & fellow transit enthusiast/advocate, as well as one of my cousins who resides in the Bay Area. I wanted to make sure that I was able to arrive at the San Francisco Ferry Building for dinner no later than 7:00pm (PT).

Here’s the footage of my departure from Dallas-Fort Worth.

Overlooking the Rockies.

Arrival in San Francisco

Hello San Francisco!

Here’s the footage of my arrival in San Francisco.

My flight touched down at San Francisco International Airport at about 4:55pm Pacific Time. As soon as I got off the plane, I proceeded to the baggage claim in Terminal 2, where Anthony was already waiting for me. It took me only a few minutes to walk from the gate area to the baggage claim, but like all flights – it takes a while for the bags to come off the plane and onto the baggage carousel, so this was no different.

Once I arrived at the baggage claim, I greeted Anthony & waited for the baggage carousel to begin operation. Once I was able to claim my checked baggage, we immediately proceeded to the in-house BART station. Like Dallas & Tampa, SFO Airport also has an automated people mover system, which is called the SkyTrain. The SkyTrain connects all three domestic terminals, the international terminal, the rental car center, the two parking garages for the international terminal & the in-house BART station that is located in parking garage G (international terminal parking). Because time was of the essence however, we opted just to walk through Terminal 3 to the BART station, instead of waiting for the AirTrain.

Walking through the ticketing area of Terminal 3.

While walking through Terminal 3, I couldn’t help but notice how kinda dated parts of the ticketing area looked, even though the terminal went through a major overhaul almost a decade before. Despite this, both Terminals 2 & 3 looked pretty impressive overall. I didn’t have the chance to explore the other terminals due to the lack of time, nor did I take too many photos within the complex.

Looking at the entryway to the corridor connecting the BART station to Terminal 3. The AirTrain trackage is above.

As we made our way through the passageway connecting Terminal 3 & the BART station, I was kinda surprised how lightly used it was. I’m sure it sees a lot more people during certain times of the year, but that day it was nearly empty!

The SFO Airport BART station.

Upon arrival at the SFO Airport BART station, the time read 5:35pm (PT), which meant the train that was due to depart for downtown San Francisco, & then terminating in Pittsburg, at 5:41pm (PT) was due to arrive soon. Despite being so pressed for time in order to make it to this trip, everything was going smoothly. Because Anthony gave me his spare Clipper Card, which is the regional tap-&-go fare payment system – & the only method of fare payment accepted for BART, I did’t have to worry about purchasing a new card, which in-turn saved me the minutes that could have otherwise cost us this departure.

Station signage. Note how there are three tracks. The center one was closed off & is only used when needed.

Taking the BART Yellow Line

At about 5:37pm, a 9-car “oldie” railcar pulled into Track 3 of the station. These railcars comprise of the original individual cars that were manufactured during the 1970s, when the BART system first opened, as well as cars that were manufactured during the late 1980s & mid 1990s. The original trainsets are known as the “A” & “B” cars, with the “A” cars featuring sloped cab ends, while cars manufactured in the 80s & 90s are known as the “C” cars.

The “A” & “B” cars were both manufactured by Rhor Industries, which was later absorbed into what is today United Technologies Corp. The “C” cars meanwhile were done in two sets by two different manufacturers. The “C1” batch was manufactured by globally renowned railway vehicle manufacturer Alstom, while the “C2” batch was built by Morrison–Knudsen, which did a lot of building & rebuilding work for the New York City subway system fleet during the 80s & 90s.

While I was hoping to catch one of the new next generation Bombardier trains to downtown San Francisco, the “B” car we boarded had to do, because staying behind for a new train would cause us to be late for dinner. Because of this, I will save discussing further about the next generation trains for a future episode.

Here’s a glimpse into my ride along the BART Yellow Line.

As the train made its way through South San Francisco, everything was going pretty well. Our train was not at all crowded for the time being, but Anthony informed me that because it was still the height of rush hour, that the train would begin to crowd up once we got to the Daly City station – which was the terminating points for the Green & Blue Lines.

The train certainly began crowding up at Daly City.

And Anthony was right! Once the train arrived at the Daly City station, tons of customers began to board. It was the same thing as we traveled up the corridor closer to downtown. It would not be too long before it was standing room only on board the train.

At about the point by which the train pulled into the Glen Park station, the train’s operator announced that we’d be experiencing a delay due to a disabled train at the Embarcadero station. This was not a good sign – as we might not make it to downtown by 6:40pm (PT). I quickly texted my cousin to inform him that we’d be running a bit behind due to the delay – & did so before I lost signal in the tunnel.

This brings up the mainline downside of BART. While it was originally conceived to connect multiple regions throughout the Bay Area, it relies too heavily on a single trunk line with only 2 tracks – especially through San Francisco. So thus, when delays occur due to a disabled train or other incident, the delays quickly spread to the entire network with no other metro style rail options available. At least in New York, if one set of lines went down (let’s say the 1/2/3 trunk line at 42nd St), you’d at least have an opportunity in most cases to shift over to the A/C/E or N/Q/R/W trunks.

From Glen Park to about 24th St/Mission, it was stop-go traffic, as crews were working diligently to get the disabled train pulled from service. In case the situation was not resolved in time, Anthony was ready to execute his backup plan to have us exit at the Civic Center station & head upstairs to take a MUNI Metro (light rail) train to Embarcadero.

Once we passed 24th St/Mission, the train was completely stopped & held in place for about a good 5 minutes before the conductor came back on the intercom to give us an update. It was going to be just a bit longer for the disabled train to be moved out of service & service patterns to be restored. The conductor continued to give us updates roughly every 3 to 4 minutes until the situation had cleared & we’d be moving again. It was about 6:20pm when our train began to resume normal movement & despite the delay, we’d be able to make it to the Embarcadero station without executing the backup plan.


Dinner at the Ferry Building

After exiting the Embarcadero station, I notified my cousin that we had arrived in downtown & were heading to the Ferry Building. It turned out that he was running a bit behind schedule as well & would meet us at the building. For the moment being, Anthony & I needed to walk a few blocks up Market St to get to the building. As we were making our way there, we spotted one of the MUNI (San Francisco Municipal Railway) hybrid electric-diesel buses, # 8893, parked on the side, ready to head onto its next run. Shortly thereafter, electric trolleybus # 5781 passed by. Both buses are New Flyer Xcelsior models – the XDE40 & XT40 respectively. The former fleet range from 2013 to the present, while the trolleybuses range from 2014 onward to replace the aging Electric Transit (Skoda) & New Flyer models that had been on the road since the late 90s.

Once Anthony & I arrived at the Ferry Building, we went inside to take a brief look around, as well as walk up to the waterfront. Inside the main corridor of the building, I noticed a classic split-flap display showing the various ferry departures. These types of signs are commonplace in many public transport facilities worldwide, though some have been recently replaced by LED boards or LCD TV screens. The split-flap displays inside the main hall of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in fact, were recently replaced with LCD panels.

After strolling for about 4 minutes, we went over to one of the in-house restaurants – Gott’s Roadside. Anthony specifically recommended Gott’s for its delicious burgers & shakes, & I simply could not resist! In addition, my cousin had dined there before as well, so it was a win-win for all of us!


Heading to my hotel

After spending about an hour conversing with Anthony & my cousin, as well as consuming our dinner dishes, it was time for us to part ways. It was getting close to 8:00pm (PT) & I needed to make sure that I didn’t miss the check-in window at my hotel, which that window closed at 9:00pm (PT). Since I still had my bags with me & no longer felt like hopping on a transit route to the hotel I was staying at, I decided to hail an Uber. Now, I’ve used Uber several times as part of the Direct Connect partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but this would be the first time I would use the app outside of Pinellas County.

My Uber trip screenshot. Some information has been removed from the graphic for security reasons.

Once I summoned my Uber ride, it took about 10 minutes for the driver to arrive at my location. The ride itself took about 7 minutes & the driver was very friendly. Upon arrival at my destination, I quickly checked into the hotel & proceeded upstairs to my room on the 2nd floor.

Outside the Hotel North Beach on Kearny St, just blocks away from the Transamerica Pyramid.

The overall atmosphere of Hotel North Beach was reminiscent of my stay at the Morningside Inn in New York City back in 2017. Both establishments are housed in older buildings with separate common area bathrooms that can be utilized by any of the hotel guests.

By comparison, the lobby area of Hotel North Beach was much more spacious than Morningside, but in terms of the “budget” room that I had at both establishments, the features were nearly the same (small closet, dresser, ambient lighting). Morningside had LCD flat screen TVs in every room, where North Beach did not (North Beach had traditional mid 2000s tube TVs). My room at North Beach also had an in-room sink & desk whereas my room at Morningside did not.

The nice thing about Hotel North Beach was that it was right next door to a donut shop & bakery, so I wouldn’t have to go too far for breakfast the next morning – especially being that I would be transit fanning for the entire day with Anthony & some of his friends. The hotel is also situated nearby several bus lines, so it was really easy to get to & from the hotel via transit.

My last page post of the evening.

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