My sweetest simple pleasure is taking the cable car at home at night.
Standing on its ledge, I levitate above city streets. The lights shine bright, the hills yield to the crank and bell of the car operator.
But there’s something more that makes the experience special: it forces human interaction. There is no string to pull, no tape ticker that signals a stop request to a bus driver. There is only: “Can I get off at Bush Street, please?” Eye contact. A nod from the operator. The ticket collector who recognizes that I’m a local taking the cable car home at 10pm vs. a tourist he’ll never see again. He asks my name.
Amid the bustle of rush hour, a Chinatown born and bred passenger decides to give her feet some relief from the uphill climb. She boards the car and kisses the operator, her lifetime neighbor, hello.
Yes, technology enables entirely new ways of keeping tabs on a proliferating network of 1,000s of friends. Apps bring drivers to the curb where you’re standing and remove the awkwardness of fumbling for cash. A click of a button can get you a date, or, thanks but no thanks.
For all the distance that technology can traverse, there’s no analog for a simple moment of shared humanity.
“Can I get off at the next stop, please?”
A nod, a pulling of the cranks to brake.
The anonymity of urban life can be liberating. But there are nights when, at the end of a long day, I just want the tracks humming beneath my feet, the wind in my hair, the city lights flickering atop the hill. A reminder that we all are on a path, for a moment in the same direction. We all are human. And soon, we will be home.