The San Francisco Guide for Montréalers [June 14 2012]
You dear reader should already know that I’m a new San Franciscan and ex-Montréaler. As such, I present you with great authority the definite guide to San Francisco for Montréalers. It’s really more of a collection of fairly obvious differences between Montréal and San Francisco. I really rely on my blog getting zero readership to shield me from real potential of offending residents of both cities. It may have been better titled as “10 differences between Montréal and San Francisco” but I hate those. They most often come in round numbers which I find suspicious. How convenient would it be if there were really 10 differences between the two cities?
Considering this, I’m not even counting how many I’m listing here. I’ll leave that to you and I might just trick you and update this list (hey, this could be a living document). The following represent my opinions but I believe it’s fair to say most with the same background as me would agree.
STM Kicks Ass and Muni not so Much
You don’t know what you have until you lose it, right? Actually, I knew the STM was pretty good. But after seeing tramways, BART and buses in movies depicting San Francisco, I thought the public transport here would be amazing. It’s not really. Muni is cheaper but it’s also as slow as it is unreliable. To be fair, it’s not entirely a problem of Muni but rather a problem with traffic and lack of speedy ways reserved for buses. Express buses are not really express. Additionally if you have a positively surprising experience with an express bus one day, Muni will make sure to make it up the next day with the express just flying by your stop with a bus fully packed of people. Yes, leaving you, the hopeful commuter, standing there feeling the chilly wind crushing your hopes of a quick transit and the seed of cynicism growing inside.
Additionally, there are also little details like no sign whatsoever for Express buses stops on Pine street. There are several express routes stopping here and you don’t have any way of telling which will stop where. Apparently it’s knowledge that gets passed from generation to generation. I’ve been told it’s in somewhat numerical ordering by some wise guy who seemed to have reversed engineered it. Still haven’t verified it. I just memorized the address of the building where the 31AX stops (for the record, it’s 360 Pine St).
The SF Bus Drivers All Hate Life, Montréal Drivers Actually Enjoy Driving People
It’s true. You may want to be polite or friendly and salute your driver when you enter or thank him/her when you get off but you’ll be surprised to get a smile or even an answer back. STM drivers will generally welcome everyone on board and salute them when they get off. I had drivers recognize me and talk to me just like that (remember, I am not good with people!). I even had one watch for me arriving to the stop from the other side of the street to signal me to wait and not cross foolishly when it wasn’t safe as he proceeded to wait for the light change and get me on board.
If that’s not enough, here’s a true STM story: there’s a driver that sings the name of bus stops every morning. I have never actually seen it myself but the tellings are true.
All that said, some Montreal drivers (but those are in the minority) aren’t that friendly. Also, I said all muni drivers hate life and all living creatures on earth but I rode the 31 one evening and the driver was the nicest, going as far as fist bumping me as I got off the bus (this made my day, I love this guy).
All People You See in SF are not Attractive, Montréal Wins
It’s really surprising. I mean, I’m married and it’s not like I’m here looking around but living in the city, you see people everyday. You sort of subconsciously assess the beauty of the population around you, I guess. There’s probably someone studying that social behavior but I’m just there to tell you that the truth is this: it’s very easy to make your way to work and back without seeing someone really good looking. Maybe my sample doesn’t accurately reflect the larger population of san Francisco, I mostly see people riding muni (could this explain why muni drivers have those gloomy eyes?) but there’s nothing to make me believe that it is the case.
Montréal folks are more attractive unless you’re blind and then, it’s a tie.
Just to give you some perspective, the subject was brought up by my wife after I had passed myself the same reflection. It can’t be anything but the absolute truth.
Changes Don’t Happen in Montréal (anymore), SF Moves with the Wind
Even small things never seem to take forever to get done in Montréal. Not like that here. Plans are approved for a soccer stadium in the golden gate park and plans are for construction to start in a few months to be complete by winter next year. Want a bicycle rack? Just ask for one.
Montreal Trees are Tiny Brocolis, SF Ones Are Giant and Majestic
Just look at the pictures (they’re online, sorry I couldn’t get some here for your convenience). Montréal has colourful maples leaves in fall, that’s all. Love trees? Golden Gate park or presidio park is where the magic happens.
The Health Care Situation
Let’s do a checklist comparison because we all love those, right?
Doctor office reachable by email: ✓
Online appointment scheduling: ✓
Availability in the following week: ✓
No line-up for lab tests: ✓
Online prescription renewals: ✓
On-time appointments: ✓
Email communication channel between doctor and patient: ✓
Fully loaded doctor calendars months in advance: ✓
Packed waiting rooms full of people to sympathize with: ✓
Elaborate congestion system to filter real health problems: ✓
Retro-style one-way communication system: ✓
This one is too close. I’ll call it a draw.
San Franciscans all Have a Garage and 10 Cars, Montréalers, a bit Less
People kept telling me I would absolutely need a car when I got here. They would tell me again. And insist. And insist again, telling me I could try living without one but I would give up eventually.
Well, challenge accepted!
So far, we can pretty much do all we want without one and zipcar is there for the luxurious trips like communauto was back in Montréal. However, we are definitely more in an even smaller minority here than we were in Montréal. People have driveways and garages. And they use it. Those garages are filled with cars and that’s not just for one. People use their garage and then park another car on the street. It’s almost unbelievable.
Olds Cars are Still Alive
I hate cars or at least, I dislike them. I still have my driver’s license but I’m a happy fellow when I see anything that prevents cars from being on the street. However, I love the retro look of cars for their visual attractiveness and how they stand out. You might have seen some instagrams as a proof of that. I stopped doing those though. Not because I don’t see any retro cars anymore, it’s just the opposite: old pastel blue painted fords, rusty Beatles, buicks, Cadillacs. They survived in California. They’re all over the place along with the newer models. Not in junkyards, they’re just there around the corner.
I was blasé after a month.
Bicycles are King
Montréal has bixi and bike lanes and flat roads to make it easy for cyclists. SF has steep hills all over and cars are omnipresent. Nonetheless, SF wins the bike culture crown. Those bikes are everywhere. Buses wait behind, respectfully. When Muni service routes are shutdown for a week, a bike train route is put in place for commuters. There’s the wiggle trail for people to have a relatively flat route (I wouldn’t want to do it any other way). Apparently people have cars (and many) but they also know it’s not very wise to drive it during workdays.
Bikes are king.
So who Wins?
You could think I regret leaving Montréal and in some ways, I could. Except that I don’t really. It’s really nice here. And work is great. And there’s the ocean, and the golden gate, and all the great tech and the promise of great historical earthquakes. Oh shit shit shit, the earthquakes…