Amid the chaos of a BART-less Monday-morning commute, two commute-gladiators joined in battle.
Bay Area News Group reporters Thomas Peele and Josh Richman raced from the Fremont BART station to the corner of Market and Montgomery streets in San Francisco's financial district -- Peele by Amtrak train and commuter ferry, Richman braving Interstate 880 and the Bay Bridge by car, with GPS trackers allowing the world track their progress online in real time.
A bet was laid. Smack was talked. And at 6:27 a.m., amid the teeming thousands desperate to get to work, the Great BART Strike Race of 2013 began. The goal: Help commuters learn from the reporters' mistakes -- and never let the loser hear the end of it.
6:30: Fremont BART station starting line
Peele started walking from the Fremont BART station to that city's Amtrak stop, just a shade more than two miles away, and arrived in about 30 minutes, well ahead of the 7:11 a.m. train. About 75 people milled about, many newbies asking one another if they were on the right platform.
Richman had it much easier at first. He took only a few minutes to drive out Mowry Avenue to I-880, where traffic was moving at full speed. Southbound traffic looked much worse, and getting from the on-ramp to downtown Oakland took Richman a mere 25 minutes.
Here, hunger and hubris intervened.
6:56 a.m.: All aboard in Fremont; longing for a bagel in Oakland
Knowing that Oakland's Authentic Bagel Co. was nearby, Richman -- a native of Queens, N.Y., ¿ever in search of a decent bagel -- exited at Oak Street just before 7 a.m. Alas, Authentic is closed Mondays. Hunger unfulfilled, hubris stepped in: Richman decided to zip a few blocks farther to smugly eyeball the ferry landing area at Jack London Square ferry landing that Peele was striving to reach.
Meanwhile, Peele's train had just left Fremont; crowded and hot, it stopped for a few minutes outside the station, then sped north. South of Hayward, empty BART tracks were visible to the east. Amtrak was the only train running. At $13 one-way, the cost was more than three times the $4.05 a BART ticket to Oakland costs.
7:15 a.m.: Amtrak rolls; I-880 clogs
As Peele began trundling north, Richman was getting back on I-880 in West Oakland -- and here his troubles began.
It was bumper-to-bumper except for those who'd been smart enough to carpool. The next three miles to the Bay Bridge toll plaza would take 59 minutes; Richman's FasTrak transponder -- without which he'd have been stuck much longer -- beeped at 8:14 a.m.
About half an hour earlier, at 7:43 a.m., Peele's train had arrived in Jack London Square; from the train, he'd seen traffic on I-880 backed up past the Oakland Coliseum, giving him hope that Richman was stuck.
Peele hurried to the ferry dock, a few blocks away, to find a line of 200 to 300 people at the dock's gate as police kept order and a few small Coast Guard boats bobbed in the Oakland Estuary. A one-way ticket cost $6.50 -- total out-of-pocket now $19.50. From the back of the line, Peele thought he wouldn't make the next boat -- but he did, and was soon cutting across the bay. Victory hung in the balance.
8:41 a.m.: Victory on four wheels
Traffic on the Bay Bridge ¿moved at a sprightly 35 to 45 mph, with only a slight slowdown near the Fremont Street offramp; after turning onto Fremont Street at 8:32 a.m., Richman made his way to a parking lot at Second and Howard streets before hoofing it the final two blocks to the finish line at 8:41 a.m.
Google Maps says the 37.2-mile drive should take 45 minutes; it took two hours and 14 minutes, including a 20-minute stop in Oakland. Richman's cost: gas mileage, a $6 bridge toll, a $25 flat-fee parking tab (gouging!) and a few new gray hairs.
Peele -- who spent $13.85 more than he would have for a direct BART fare -- arrived at the San Francisco Ferry Building just before 9 a.m. -- about an hour and 37 minutes longer than the whole trip would've taken on BART. He hurried off the boat and up Market Street. Richman was awaiting him with a magnanimous, not-at-all gloating handshake.
History, after all, is written by the victor.