At 7:30 on weekday mornings, I join the ranks of commuters who line the southeast corner of Alamo Square where, starting at 6 a.m., distinct queues assemble on the sidewalk, ebb and distribute into buses of various corporate denominations, and assemble again. We stand with our backpacks pressed up against the wall of the corner apartment building, maintaining a careful distance from the public Muni bus shelter. With our heads bowed over the small screens in our hands, we seem to telegraph to whomever walks past, Please ignore us, we’re just waiting for our bus, we don’t want to be in your way. Once, glancing up from my news feed, I was confronted with graffiti on the bus shelter’s plexiglass wall: Thanks for destroying our city, geek cunts.
When we finally board our large white bus, we brace ourselves for familiar rush-hour drudgery: the slow crawl out of San Francisco, stop-and-go motion sickness near the San Mateo Bridge, a brief gasp of liberation abruptly smothered by the bottleneck near the Marsh Road exit, traffic all the way south to the city of Mountain View. This is our daily ninety-minute commute down the 101, sometimes creeping towards two hours. Hunched in pleather seats, we crack open our laptops and begin work, expressing disbelief at how bad The Commute is in the many forums that contemporary commiseration affords us (Facebook posts, tweets, emoji statuses).
In truth, we are part of an aristocracy. We are tech professionals, who choose to live in the city of San Francisco and commute to and from our suburban workplaces in the heart of Silicon Valley. Every day we sit in company-subsidized buses and gaze through tinted windows at an elevated vista of the gridlock. We lose an average of fifteen to twenty hours on the road weekly to live in proximity to urban vitality and culture. But the tech bus—and by extension, the mass commute down the 101—is also a symbol of what many think is wrong with San Francisco: an emerging monoculture of well-paid Silicon Valley yuppies, rising rents, deepening income inequality, and the displacement of working class families who, after decades here, can no longer afford to live in the city.