Transporting in SoCal


The saga of my move back to San Diego after living in Cleveland, Ohio for over 12 years’ continues. When I left Southern California I knew I was in for quite a shock, culturally speaking. Now that I’ve returned there are times that think I might need shock treatment therapy. Okay, not really, but candidly speaking, there’s some blinding differences between the two places. I could spend a lot of your time citing examples of these differences, but I won’t do that.

Is it redundant that I mention driving in the mid-west is less congested, thus easier to navigate then it is in SoCal? If you nodded in agreement then you understand why I joked about needing shock therapy treatment.

Conversely speaking, there are almost as many similarities between the two cities as there are differences. Sticking with our transportation theme here, one similarity that can’t be denied is both Clevelanders and San Diegans need wheels to get in, around, and out-of-town town. Although both cities do offer public transportation options versus car exclusivity, neither place is equipped with convenient public transportation options that are within walking distance from where most people do the majority of their living. This means people have to some form of adjunct transportation, like a bus or trolley to get to a train that will take them home, to the grocery, to an airport, or their favorite watering hole. All this boils down to time that’s needed to get from point A to point B, which is precisely why the people that live in both Cleveland and in SoCal love driving their cars.

When I moved back, I said, “bye-bye” to my practical Jeep Cherokee. I took good care of her. She had 4X4 super powers, an excellent-working heater that help me navigate through all kinds of snowy situations, while keeping my butt warm. I was ready for a change though. I had visions of something sporty, kind of fast, but not too fast – and of course I wanted to be topless while getting around town. And if my memory served me correctly, Californians (I’m including myself here) have/had love affairs with their cars for quite some time.

It took me some time before finally deciding on my fun, but reasonable two-seater, sports car. I was without my own set of wheels for nearly a month – yes, a month!


This wasn’t as horrific for me as it might be for some car junkies. I am lucky enough to have a work office in my home. I’m also within walking distance from a grocery store, and a Target. I’m biking distance from a thrift store, as well as other city slicker essentials. The only problem is my honey lives about 25-40 minutes (depending on traffic) of freeway driving miles north from where I live. This was of course problematic. Everyone knows relationships can’t sustain for very long if only one of the persons in the relationship is doing all the driving – especially in heavy congested geographical locations, like well, San Diego.  With that being said, it didn’t take me long to quickly discover San Diego’s colorful, public transportation system.

Similar to Cleveland, there are several different options to choose from when it comes to public transporting out here. The best option that I found going to North County from South County was the Coaster. I found the Coaster to be a quick and stress-free way to travel. The train runs along the gorgeous Pacific coast; offering stunning views. The train is fully air conditioned, clean, has bathrooms and provides free WiFi. The train is also filled with lots of vivid travelers. The vivid traveler piece for some might be unappealing, whereas I found this to be extraordinary and good reason to write this article.

My first commute on the Coaster was a Friday afternoon sometime close to 5:00 p.m. The platform was filled with people that were excited to start their weekend. The work week was behind me as well, and I was heading into the arms of my honey, so admittedly, I was excited too. The train pulled into the station right on time, and all the boarding passengers waited patiently for those exiting to hurry off the train. Once I boarded, I headed up the two flights to the upper deck with my over-night bag in tow, purse on my arm and my train ticket in my front pocket. There was a skip in my step.

The train was packed with travelers, but I found an empty spot. I settled into a seat across from a man that was dozing off. My eyes smiled at him behind my sunglasses. He returned with a warm, “hola,” moments before his eyelids became increasingly heavy and he was back to dozing again. As the train pulled away from the station, I glanced around at my surroundings. I couldn’t help but notice that more than a few of the travelers were sitting at four-top tables. They were talking and laughing. And when I took a closer view of my fellow travelers with my watchful lens of my eyes, I noticed they were all drinking beer.

Investigating this further, it was immediately deduced that nearly everyone on the train was drinking beer, with the exception of me, and the man sitting across from that had fallen asleep.

I’m not non-train savvy either. I’ve traveled in subways in various locations around the world, rode the Metro in Europe, and traveled the train system in Boston, Chicago and Cleveland to name a few. I have never experienced this type of mass beer drinking on a commuter train in my life. Ever.

Over-night bags were replaced with 12-packs. As the train chug-chug-chugged along its tracks, both conversations and beer flowed freely; sometimes loudly. I didn’t know about the bring-your-own-beer-while-train-riding policy. I have to admit, I felt a bit out-of-the-Coaster-loop, and wished I’d read the fine print on my ticket, until someone must have noticed my feelings of abandonment, and asked if I’d like one of his beers. I kindly declined. Not because I don’t drink beer, or that I’m un-friendly, nor did I have anything against this beer-drinking phenomenon. Quite the contrary, as awestruck as I may have appeared, inside I applauded this joyous behavior. There weren’t too many places in the United States where you can board a train, crack open a cold one, and sit back and gaze out upon the ocean. It was remarkable, really.

I declined this fellow travelers offer only because I’m somewhat of a beer snob. I had my heart set on a specific IPA once I’d reached my final destination. In other words, I was holding out for the really good stuff.

As the train continued to move up the coastline, the man sitting across from me had awoken. He rubbed his eyes a bit, before he reached into his refrigerated lunch bag and pulled out two cans of, “Cerveza?” He offered one of the cold cans to me, while smiling. “Uh…no gracias, but gracias,” I replied with a smile.

I’m now convinced I was the only person on the entire train that wasn’t drinking beer.

Even though I now own cool wheels by both Ohio and California standards, I’m still taking the Coaster when it’s convenient to do so. I’m not sure why I do, other than the fact that driving the highways out here still stresses me out. And I think I enjoy the people-watching experience riding the train offers over the white-knuckled, “Oh gods, I’m going to die!” mode of traveling to my honey’s house. Call me crazy.

And sure, I’ve run across some non-beer drinkers on other 40 minute rides up to North County, but not many. As my Coaster commute has broadened, I’ve also noticed people are cracking open beers at all hours and days of the week too.

This still astounds me.

Maybe California just has a large population of beer drinking train riders? I’m not sure. I do think at some point I will have to join in with the majority, and that might mean I’ll have to give up my snobby beer drinking ways. It’s in the name of the commuting spirit though, so I think the beer god snobs will forgive me.


Happy Commuting – and beer consuming,

Neve Black