SAN FRANCISCO -- Hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents seized on spectacular fall weather and a rare confluence of big-tent events Saturday, packing public transit and amassing in parks, stadiums and waterfronts to witness everything from boat races and French cheese displays to mandolin solos and a major league playoff game.
There had been dire warnings that a blockbuster weekend of events would tangle the region's transit lines and leave concertgoers and sports fans swimming in a river of brake lights. Yet by late afternoon -- and against all odds, media hype and dire predictions -- traffic woes mostly did not materialize.
"I'm actually shocked; the traffic's been extremely light today, and we haven't had any major backups," said California Highway Patrol spokesman Officer James Evans. "For all these events we've got going on right now, there's nothing that seems to be more than the casual weekend -- and it actually seems to be less."
Jim Allison, a spokesman for BART, which ran 16 extra trains, heralded the day as a public-transit success story: "We're as hot as the Oakland A's. Yes!"
By late afternoon BART ridership had increased by 45,814 riders over last Saturday, for a total of 154,126 passengers.
Their ultimate destinations? A tourist bureau's dream lineup: Justin Bieber at Oakland's Oracle Arena; Madonna at San Jose's HP Pavilion; the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival at Golden Gate Park; the Giants at AT&T Park; the America's Cup races; football games at Stanford and UC Berkeley; and numerous street fairs.
Caltrain on the Peninsula was so jammed that by the time the 3:31 p.m. train pulled out of Palo Alto, it was a sardine can on the bottom deck, with riders jamming the stairwells.
Giants season ticket holders Shawn and Doug Mackenzie of Palo Alto often drive to AT&T Park, but this time they played it safe. "When we don't, we sit there and swear and say, 'We should have taken the train,' " Shawn Mackenzie said.
San Francisco's annual Fleet Week event drew many of the riders, with thousands of onlookers lining the piers and Embarcadero under a cloudless sky to witness the Navy's signature recruiting team, the Blue Angels.
As war planes danced in the sky above the bay, performing free-falls and corkscrews and spewing dramatic plumes in their wake, Brentwood resident Jay Umali marveled at the military's might.
"They appreciate us," Umali said of the armed forces. "Why not appreciate them?"
But Aaron Hinde of Oakland, an Iraq War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, did not feel the love from civilians.
"This is fantasy land," Hinde said, handing out anti-war literature at Pier 41 as the Blue Angels soared overhead. Hinde lamented that Americans marveling at Blue Angels' aerial stunts fail to empathize with the humans who suffer at the other end of U.S. bombers.
Another typical Bay Area scene played out across the city at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, with an estimated 150,000 attendees watching six stages and 66 acts.
A highlight of the afternoon was a musical tribute to the festival founder and philanthropist Warren Hellman, guitar great Doc Watson and famed banjoist Earl Scruggs, who all died in the past year.
Surveying the exuberant crowd, songstress Emmylou Harris lauded Hellman for his legacy.
"Look what he did!" she said as the audience erupted in applause.
Staff writer Lisa M. Krieger contributed to this report. Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781.