Monday, August 26, 2013


In light of yesterday's post to write often, I'm going to try to write early.  Before everyone else has woken for the day (and before I wake them by starting the coffee!) will be my attempt to find my muse.

The day started well, we got out of the apartment just a bit over 10.  Bound for Westminster Abbey to attempt Sunday services, Sarah and I left early to get the boys' daily passes ---

Long aside.  The Brits really know how to do mass transit.  Americans not so much.  On a Sunday in DC  (our nation's capital) we waited 23 minutes for a subway to go to my sister's house.  That was on a direct line.  And we had no idea it was going to take 23 minutes, it wasn't even on the board, it just showed up.  I'm so glad I didn't have to change trains!  This Sunday morning in London we waited 3 minutes.  Looking at the board, the next one was 3 minutes out, and the one beyond was 5 minutes out.  I think my longest wait in London has been about 4 minutes.  The system works.  VTA in San Jose -- every 30 minutes out of rush hour, 15 during rush hour.  No wonder so many rail about how poor mass transit is, it is.  Though naturally it's because of a lack of investment.

And regional trains?  What a laugh.  I took the CalTrain daily to the city.  2 expresses/hr during rush hour, miss one wait 20-40 minutes.  59 minute train ride.  For non rush hour, there are locals and limited lines which will take 1h 15m and 1h 32m respectively if I really was a masochist.  For a 48 mile drive.  Looking at trains in London to Southhampton, they leave every 5-15 minutes midday.  Seriously?  Every 5 minutes?  But they must be slow, right?  Nah.  81 mile journey, done in 1h 14m - 1h 33m.

What about service?  Let's see.  I forget to tag in at the CalTrain station (just refilled my card and forgot the extra step to tag in at the infrequent tag stations, it was before 7a), naturally a conductor discovers me -- he ignores the fact that I had just added $120 to my card that morning.  I got a $288 ticket.  On the underground here in London, I didn't tag on long enough (it didn't register), I got off fine.  Next time on the train, a little sign lights up "request assistance".  I go to the booth and explain my story.  "Quite a scrum at that hour.  We'll fix you right up."  Whole thing sorted out and I'm wished on my way.

Wonder why no one uses mass transit in the US?  It's too infrequent.  Too slow.  Too inconvenient.  Of course we'll all spend $3-10k/yr/car instead of a slight increase in taxes or rates to subsidize mass transit until it's frequent enough to replace the convenience of a car.


Back from my long aside.  The service at Westminster Abbey was beautiful.  The Holst singers were the choir rather than the Westminster Abbey choir.  For a second string, they were outstanding.  And having seen a fair number of cathedrals in Europe, there is something very different about going to a service at one rather than just the quick (or even long) tour.  The myriad details that make up a cathedral can actually be appreciated given a long time sitting, listening and looking.  I definitely recommend doing this.

We splurged on lunch in a pub across the way.  Splurged I say because London prices are shocking.  The number themselves are deceptively small, but when the exchange rate kicks in, wham!  It is worth noting that tipping is roughly 10% and the VAT is built into prices, so that is a little bit of a reprieve.  Even so, dining in is becoming the order of the day and dining out is the exception.  It is a pity because the few times we have dined out the food has been very good.  The appetite built by walking so much (10k steps is a really light day, 15k is the norm and 20k serious) definitely adds to it.

We proceeded on to the National Portrait Gallery just around the corner from Trafalgar Square.  There we tracked down a painting and bust of Laurence Sterne, an ancestor of Martha's and naturally of the kids.  Having read and been entertained by his books (he seems to enjoy throwing in asides as much as me (and note, I use me, not I in that context, which is in fact correct), but I, as I so frequently do, digress), it was still a surprise to me just how significant he was.  Very few people had both a bust and painting at the museum seemed to be quite rare.  I suppose I should have known it when I read Don Quixote and there was a reference to in the introduction about Cervantes being the first pre-modern until one finally reaches Sterne.  Despite the many paintings and stories in the portrait museum, the cries of my children did not go unnoticed and I left early with two of them -- for Speakers Corner.

Speakers Corner is for me a new concept.  This is a place in the city where those who have an opinion and want to be heard go, stand on their soapbox (or ladder, or just their own two feet) and start declaring their opinion.  There were more than a dozen groups clustered around speakers listening (and arguing back) with those who were sharing their thoughts on religion on a big level (Christianity v. Islam), and more nuanced level (Christianity has been a hoax since 369AD when the other gospels were suppressed).  Others I was just baffled trying to figure out what they were arguing for.  One guy went on and on about "he" providing everything, speaking for us, etc.; but despite 3 minutes of listening I never figured out if he was Jesus, Mohammed, Budda, Sun Young Moon, Joseph Smith, God (assuming a male -- one doesn't truly know, it is a mystery), and so on.  A real-time facebook.  In any case, surprisingly little politics.  Maybe it's because it is held on a Sunday?

We had an ice cream and headed back to the apartment for the evening.  Martha made IMHO a great puttanesca w/ meatballs for dinner, though there were complaints from Sarah about the spices.  One cannot please everyone.  Especially in a family of 5.


  1. Gosh Vince,

    You need to compare apples to apples, like London's mass transit to NYC, not San Jose's. USA is the land of cars and highways. Our country is much larger, and the population is much more spread out; cars are plentiful, roads easily usable and gas has cost less, although in that regard, we're getting closer to Europe than ever... Please watch your generalizations... That being said, I do think Chicago's public transit system could be improved--to be faster & more efficient like NYC's--but you're stretching pretty far to compare transit life in Northern California to life in London... Maybe you'll come back to the USA and get involved in helping to improve it...

    Also, are you saying that as bad as prices are in Silicon Valley, they're worse in London???

    Did any of the kids want to try the Speakers Corner??? At Brown, we sometimes had a speaker speaking on a soap box on the main campus...


    1. I had always thought that the Washington DC metro was an excellent metro system (and deeply funded), but actually experiencing London v. DC was shockingly different. I agree that San Jose/San Francisco is a somewhat unfair comparison, but I wonder why? San Francisco has a density approaching that of London, and the bay area itself likely reflects that of a 100 mile radius from London. I'm not expecting perfect coverage to the middle of the Mojave Desert, but when there are 9M people in a metro area, something better than buses running every 10 minutes should be the expectation, not the best-case scenario. And I do believe there is a build it and they will come factor. The fact is, in the 20's and 30's most metropolitan rail lines were bought out by companies who had a deep interest in the growth of the automobile (Goodyear, Ford, et), and they created "incentives" (according to the GE sponsored exhibit at the National History Museum in DC) for their users to transition to autos (ie, they tore up the rail lines and replaced them with pavement). Yes, some change would be good re mass transit...

      And yes, prices are really high here. Especially for property. Apartments are quoted per week rather than per month, and I think 395 is the cheapest price I have seen for a studio and I regularly see prices approaching and exceeding 1k pw. Pounds. So, multiply by 1.5 to get to dollars (assuming the currently good exchange rate). 3BR+ Freehold flats seem to run from 900k-2M. And we're not looking in the realestate windows in a chi-chi neighborhood. It's more just a yuppyish neighborhood. Moving beyond apartments, Adam (housemate from school) took me out for a couple of martinis at 17.5 GBP each. That may not be unusual some places in SF, but I know I can't recall ever seeing a cocktail more than $12 (which was shocking enough). I don't think I even saw a real estate office with posted housing prices in THAT neighborhood. Just two mega-yacht dealers where I suspect that if you have to ask the price, you cannot afford it.

      We just watched speakers corner. I was curious to see if Paul joined in, but maybe that will come later... :)

  2. Do you think the fact that SF's on a major earthquake fault line might be part of the reason for lack of an extensive underground system or maybe the hills make it difficult for an above ground system? I agree DC's system is pretty basic/lame; that being said, Sean likes it better than Chicago's... Chicago's CTA is pretty extensive, but just too slow; the trains are fast, tho. I don't think you've been out much lately because drinks in Chicago easily cost $12-15 each :)