Saturday, September 8, 2007
Road Trip, Day 22
San Francisco, Sausalito, Mill Valley, Tiberon
A zero car mile day.
A day marred by the jerks at an irresponsible bike rental company (Blazing Saddles).
A day that started by road work crews jarring us awake at 7:30 am on a Saturday with a machine whose sole purpose it seems was to emit a banshee howl of death unrelentingly for half an hour or so, until the jack-hammers could kick in. Sleep interrupted like this during the crucial early morning REM phase can disrupt you for the entire day. We left rather late, intending to take the street car to the cable car to the bike rental shop. Only the cable car wouldn't come, so we switched to the subway instead. That got us to the cable car, only that part of the system wasn't running due to maintenance, so we got to ride the very glamorous diesel bus up the hill instead. Not quite a San Francisco cable car... I got us off the shuttle bus too early; turns out the other side of the hill cables were working. So we walked down a couple blocks we could have ridden down, and missed one cable car. But whatever. Ding, ding, we rode the cable car in.
We get to the bike rental place, rent a tandem. Off we go. Wee! It was overcast and cold in San Francisco. I was cursing myself for having decided not to bother with my fleece warm-up jacket. We rode along the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge, then over the bridge and into Sausalito. It was sunny there, and we stopped and had lunch at a nice italian place overlooking the water. Then we walked around a bit, had ice cream... We finally got back on the bike, and continued down the trail. What seemed like it should be a long ride on the map was over relatively quickly, so we decided to detour off to Mill Valley and the Redwood park there. Mill Valley is very nice. We didn't see any really huge redwoods, but there were a lot of them, and they were big enough, and lots of houses built within the woods. The library was very nicely situated, obviously built around several existing trees.
We didn't go everywhere in the park, because I was finding the hills quite tiring, even with low mountain gearing on the bike. Riding a tandem is not quit the same as riding on your own: the tandem sort of forces you to keep a steady pedaling action going, instead of the parabolic pedaling you'd do by yourself (see the movie Les Triplettes de Belleville for an example of the kind of pedaling I'm talking about) -- both the fact that there is another person whose rhythm averages with yours, and the fact that there is a delay in transmission of your downstroke to the main sprocket due to the connecting chain means that your legs work continually and anaerobically, versus the more aerobic pedaling you'd do on your own. What it comes down to is that hills are a lot harder to do, especially if you've never ridden a tandem before and built up those muscles. The fact that there are two people doing the work only ameliorates this a little -- the constant anaerobic demand on the leg muscles wears you down quickly. This became quite evident later into the trip.
The shifter for the forward front sprocket on this bike was broken -- you couldn't get it to go onto the largest sprocket at all, and then the housing came loose so that you couldn't thumb shift it at all, you had to hold the damn thing with one hand and push the lever with the other. So at one point I was doing this and the torque of the one hand pushed against the GPS I had attached to the handlebar, causing it to break free from the spring watch pin holding it to its strap. Fortunately the watch pin didn't fall out. I reattached everything, we rode off again, I tried shifting again, and promptly popped the GPS out of its strap again, and this time the pin did fall out. So we spent about 15 minutes carefully eying the street looking for the pin. Fortunately it was a quiet residential street in the middle of a redwood park. We got a few bemused passers-by asking if they could help. Meanwhile, my legs were seizing up. Fernanda finally found the pin, I mounted the GPS on her handle bar, and we tried to get under way again. I tried shifting again, and this time we semi/nearly crashed the bike, as I over-steered with both hands on the stupid shifter on one side of the handlebars. We got to the library and decided to take a break and see the redwoods from inside the library.
The library was closing, so we left, took a few pictures of us and the redwoods, and decided how to proceed. We could either push on to the far end of the peninsula at Tiberon and take a ferry back, or return the way we had come. It was 5 o'clock, the next ferry would be at 6:20, and the rental place had provided us with ferry tickets and urged the ease of return by ferry, so we opted for that. Of course, even though the first part of the trip had gone by much faster than the map would indicate, this part did not go by so quickly. We still had to go as much as we had ridden up to now to get to Tiberon. And we were getting tired (or at least I was). And there were hills along the way. And the route wasn't always obvious. And we were sort of racing the clock.
But we got to Tiberon in the end at around 6. We found the ferry landing and waited, along with about 70 other bicyclists. And when the ferry came, surprise, surprise! they only had room for 24 bicyclist. Then 5 more, absolute limit. We did not make it onto the ferry.
Bam! One fell stroke, all our plans shot to dust, and suddenly instead of care free, happy go lucky joy riders, we have to now seriously worry about how we are going to get back to the city, how we are going to the get the bicycle back, how we are going to contact the rental agency because they close at 8. The next (and last!) ferry is in about 2 hours, at 8:05. Will there be room on that one? If not, then what? Riding back is not really an option at this point because a) we are both physically exhausted, and b) it is now getting dark, and the bikes don't have lights. One of our fellow strandees with the same rental company has a cell phone and call the place. They claim that they will get an additional ferry to come and will phone back in ten minutes. (This was an absolute bald-faced lie in every aspect.) I decide to find a payphone to call to add to the pressure. I also decide to call collect, since this should not be my problem -- they sold me this tour, ergo the screw up is their problem.
So, on the phone I see "dial *88 for collect calls", so I do. I enter the phone number when prompted by the automatic system, then I record my name when prompted: "A valued customer". Instead, I get an operator who asks for my name. I ask why, since I just recorded it. Bureaucratically she insists she needs my name to place the call. Fine, I say, John Smith. She gets back on the line to tell me that the party claims to not know any John Smith. I tell her of course they don't, they are a bike rental agency who rented bikes to hundreds of people today, and they won't know any of us from Adam; please tell them that they have a customer on the line who has been stranded out in Tiberon who won't be returning the bike before they close, so just accept the call already. Somewhere while I was talking she just hung up on me! Wonderful service. I called back, and told the new guy that the other lady just hung up on me, what rude service that was, and could he please place my call. Reading off his script he responded like a robot, "Here are the following things I can help you with: I can place a collect phone call, I can bill a call to a different number..."
"Place the collect call, please"
"Are you going to keep interrupting me or are you going to let me finish explaining what I can do?"
??? Are these people trained to be this unhelpful or do they just recruit for soulless drones? Anyway, upshot of this, *88 sucks, don't use it unless it's to waste their time, they deserve it. Horrible, horrible service.
I tried 1-800-COLLECT, but they seem to not actually do anything more than claim that whatever number you enter does not accept collect phone calls. Useless.
I finally just dialed 0 plus the number, and got a real friendly and helpful I assume local operator. He told me that the number I was calling didn't accept collect calls, so I said, "real friendly of them", and explained how they were a bike rental place that had just stranded me and dozens of others, and they don't even have an easy way to contact them to tell them that the bike won't be back before closing, and he said something along the lines of, "dude, that sucks, let me connect you" and bam, I was connected. Some people still have an inkling of good customer service; local phone operator guy, where ever you are: sincere thanks!
Anyway, the guy at the bike rental place proceeds to lie through his teeth (we're talking about Blazing Saddles bike rentals in San Francisco, in case Googlebots are indexing this), though I didn't know this yet. He tells me that this has NEVER happened before; he's been there all summer, and this is the FIRST time he's EVER had this happen. He tells me he is even as we speak in contact with the ferry company, trying to arrange an extra ferry to come, and that no matter what, the ferry company has promised that they will take every last bicycle on the next ferry, that they are sending their largest ferry expressly for that purpose. All bald faced lies. The only thing of value he tells me that is not an outright fabrication (are you getting this Google? Blazing Saddles of San Francisco LIES!) is that they will keep the agency open until everyone returns.
I explain all this to the German couple in line behind me for the phone, who had been watching my exasperation with the idiot *88 operators, who were also fellow stranded Blazing Saddles customers.
So, nothing to do but wait. Our evening plans shot, night setting in and us in biking clothes, it's cold, we're bored and frustrated. Fernanda manages to use our useless phone card from a hotel phone to call Davis and try and schedule around our problems. They arrange that he, his wife and Nilesh will meet us at the ferry station when it gets in and we will all go out to dinner nearby.
So, anyway, the final ferry arrives, and thankfully there is enough room for the 30 or so remaining bikes (it seems a few people either just abandoned their bikes, or rode all the way back in the dark). (It is of course the same ferry that came at 6, not any special "largest boat they have".) I talk to the ferry people, and they tell me how this is a constant problem, especially in the summer, and especially on the weekend. It has happened many times before, and is the rule, not the exception. Confirming that the guy at Blazing Saddles San Francisco LIED THROUGH HIS TEETH.
So anyway, we ride the ferry, we get back to San Francisco, I go to return the bike, Fernanda goes to meet Davis and Nilesh. I get there, explain that I am dissatisfied and will not be paying the extra ferry charge. The Spanish chick who was so eager in the morning to sell you on the great ease of taking the ferry gets belligerent, and predictably points to the disclaimer they have in fine print about how they are not responsible for the ferry and how some ferries may have limited capacity (funny how they don't go out of their way to point that clause out in the morning when sending you on your merry way). I tell her it has nothing to do with the ferries and has everything to do with them misrepresenting the service available, and for that they ARE completely responsible. She belligerently claims that she personally didn't make the specific claims I am complaining about, which is irrelevant, I never claimed she personally did, just that the company did. A hallmark of bad customer service is employees making personal what is institutional -- "you" means the company, not necessarily you the person. I ask for a supervisor, and indeed one comes swooping in, because there is a huge line of late arrival strandees like me, and I am causing a stink. He freely admits to being the one on the phone who made all those statements, continues to claim that this NEVER happens, despite evidence to the contrary from the ferry company, and refuses to change my bill. They have a credit card deposit from this morning, so it's not like a cash deal where I can simply drop what I feel they deserve and walk out. He runs the bill, despite my protests that I am not authorizing them, and keeps my depost receipt. So I walk over and reclaim the bicycle, since, hey, if they won't give me my deposit back then I get to keep the bike. At this point the Spanish chick physically assaults me as she tries to get me to relinquish the bike. The manager quickly moves to restrain her.
...As you can see, it was a totally ugly -- and from a customer service point of view, totally unnecessary -- hassle. Make your customers happy, it is the best policy for everyone involved -- really! They extra couple bucks you might score by these type of crappy shenanigans are far outweighed by the lost goodwill, and you won't be making any bucks when the company goes under as it inevitably will. But they prey on tourists, people who probably won't be in the city, let alone the country, long enough to be able to follow up on any crap they pull, so who cares? Blazing Saddles of San Francisco certainly doesn't care. They irresponsibly sell innocent tourists on services they cannot deliver, and lie to you, and refuse to offer any satisfaction. They employ shady, fly-by-night tactics and do not stand behind what they offer. For now they can get away with this through the sheer high turn-over of their primary customers, tourists. But their crappy business practices will inevitably catch up to them in a season or two and they will go ignominiously out of business and not be mourned.
In the meantime, if you are in San Francisco and wish to rent a bicycle, do NOT, under any circumstances, rent from Blazing Saddles, neither from their 2715 Hyde Street location, nor their 1095 Columbus location, nor their Pier 41 location, nor the Blazing Saddles located at Pier 43 1/2 in San Francisco, nor their 465 Jefferson Street location. They misrepresent what they sell you, lie to you, and offer no customer satisfaction whatsoever. In short, Blazing Saddles of San Francisco sucks!
They will be getting a chargeback from my credit card, and this is no way to run a business.
Anyway, we met with Davis and his wife, and Nilesh, former colleagues of Fernanda's who moved to the West Coast, just like Saroj. We went to a sea food place on Pier 39, and I tried to put my anger and frustration at this crappy little bike rental place behind me, and the fact that aside from wasting 2 hours of my life cold and tired in Tiberon, they are a bunch of jerks. But I put that aside. I'm sure Fernanda had a great time at dinner, and actually I did too.
We took the street car back to Castro, and got in just after midnight, and fell quickly into slumber, not even noticing jumping Castro St. on a Saturday night. (view pictures)
Our New Bathroom Saga
Road Trip South
Our Trip to Ireland
Google Map of our Trip
Road Trip: The End
Road Trip, Day 27
Road Trip, Day 26
Road Trip, Day 25
Road Trip, Day 24
Road Trip, Day 23
Road Trip, Day 21
Road Trip, Day 20
Road Trip, Day 19
Road Trip, Day 18
Road Trip, Day 17
Road Trip, Day 16
Road Trip, Day 15
Road Trip, Day 14
Road Trip, Day 13
Road Trip, Day 12
Road Trip, Day 11
Road Trip, Day 10
Road Trip, Day 9
Road Trip, Day 8
Road Trip, Day 7
Road Trip, Day 6