Ticket to Ride
San Francisco may not be a late night party city, but it is a town where you can party anywhere, anytime. When I moved here from New York, I carried with me an unhealthy dose of East Coast paranoia: I was concerned that the kids unabashedly smoking pot on Haight would be arrested, and I wouldn’t drink a Tecate tall boy in Dolores Park sans brown paper bag.
Soon enough, I learned to appreciate that in San Francisco, the party is wherever you want it to be. To shake things up a bit, I wanted to find one somewhere that didn’t involve dives, green spaces, or houses. Enter the party bus. The concept is as old as senior prom: dark lights, loud music, and high-spirited drinking.
Party buses can be rented for a night of debauchery with friends as a vehicle meant to take you from one destination to another. But what if the bus was the party? If ever there were a place for this, our city is it. San Francisco, I want to have a mobile party with you.
There are a few buses I’d heard about, but my first stop was the most SF appropriate to scout out: the party trolley. I’d seen these trolleys whizzing around ‘hoods that don’t have trolley tracks, music pumping, packed with screaming and drunk celebrators. Alas, a little research on the Interweb told me these trolleys, along with many other party buses in the city, are rented for large parties only, so a solo gal looking for some fun can’t just hop on.
Undeterred, I checked out what was going on over at TransportedSF, which hosts bi-weekly events on a biodiesel, solar-powered, bus. My options: an SF Secrets tour, a day of dubstep, and an Alice in Wonderland-themed extravaganza. I opted for the Secrets tour because it was the soonest, and I was itching to groove. I grabbed my boyfriend, a bunch of beers, and headed over to the Satori Dance Studio, where we’d be meeting and given the option of a belly dance lesson.
Framed Burning Man posters hang from the walls, and the crew appears to be of that ilk, some of which were nimbly moving their bodies in preparation for the next few hours of dance. The vibe was friendly and excited, and people came around introducing themselves to one another. Alex Warnow, who runs TransportedSF, sent us downstairs to start our day, and informed us that we couldn’t drink off the bus and couldn’t smoke on it. Otherwise, we could stand, we could dance, and, apparently, we could moon passing cars.
Once a school bus, but now painted grey with multi-colored hubcaps, our bus is just begging to be driven cross-country to a full slate of groovy festivals. The inside has been stripped of its two-by-two seats; now red and white cushioned benches run the length of each side, leaving ample room for booty-shaking – which, once we were all settled, began immediately. Alex, with a small hoop in each ear, white leather shoes, and a skinny tie, was both host and DJ, spinning cool remixes, straight techno, and popular favorites.
Where would we go? Unclear. Today’s event was run by Tyler Macniven of the blog SF Secrets and he’d be taking us to lesser-known spots around the city. After just 15 minutes of drinking and dancing, we put down our beers, climbed off the the bus, and ended up in Cayuga Park. This Excelsior locale underneath BART tracks has been beautified by one man, who hand-carved and painted over 50 statues ranging from mythical creatures to those vaguely more humanoid. It’s a spot I surely wouldn’t have found on my own. Our crew broke off into groups and strolled the small paths for a half hour until the horn honked and we piled back into the bus.
Once aboard, music pumping, we clung to ceilings, partners, and windows while the bus lurched into motion and then straight into slow-moving traffic. The beauty of the day was that it didn’t really matter where we were going. It was cool to see unique spots in SF (the Ingleside Sundial, the mosaic stairs leading up to Grand View Park, and old barracks and weapon sites in the Presidio), but it was the excitement of dancing where you don’t usually dance, with people you don’t really know, while being taken somewhere you’ve never been that made the experience a verifiable party.
The next weekend, a friend and I head to the Chevy’s on Howard and 3rd for a ride on the Mexican Bus, which hosts Salsa club tours. At night, this colorful bus screams party: it’s painted various colors, and all the safety lights have been switched out for a rainbow of neons. Inside, Salsa music is blasting and the seats are exactly as they would’ve looked hauling bickering elementary school students. The décor, however, is like nothing else: there are murals painted by an artist who worked on many a Mission taqueria, posters of Mexican wrestlers, a large Virgin Mary bust on the dashboard, Speedy Gonzales stickers, and other incongruous and stereotypically Mexican ephemera.
Toñia, who started the bus 20 years ago, tells me it pays homage to Mexican buses of the past. Because they’d spend grueling hours behind the wheel, drivers started to personalize their workspaces with all manner of decoration, including the iconic elements replicated here. Tonight, we’re celebrating someone’s birthday, and the other 40 or so people on board are all friends in from San Jose for the evening. They were a rowdy bunch that boisterously clapped when any new song came on the speakers while passing cameras back and forth for photo ops.
Before our first stop, we got off near the Bay Bridge for a celebratory shot of Tequila and a scenic backdrop for more pictures. Toñia poured a round for everyone and after our “salut,” we all packed back on the bus. Next came our passes to the clubs tonight, cheekily called Green Cards.
Unlike TransportedSF, the Mexican Bus doesn’t allow drinking onboard, there’s nowhere to dance, and the vehicle is more of a kitschy and convenient ride to all-access clubbing. We got drink specials at Mojito in North Beach, and then made our way to two Salsa clubs. First, Café Cocomo – a two-story Potrero Hill space with large colorful balloons and a live band. I’d never been Salsa dancing, and marveled at how sexy dancing can be without much touching. I watched a pair smoothly move together, and when the gentleman came over to ask me to dance, I obliged, but warned him I’d never done this before.
I’m not a terrible dancer, but I suddenly realized that no amount of hip shaking would mask the fact that my feet simply didn’t know where to go. The man tried to lead me, looking effortless as he moved his feet forward and then back, to no avail. When the song ended, he thanked me, without giving me the option for a second dance.
Dejected, I went upstairs, hiding from the main dance floor, to dance with a few of the Mexican Bus folks who didn’t take their moves quite as seriously. Apparently, Salsa clubs aren’t the kind where you can just sit and get a drink, and it’s definitely not the sort of place you can go to if you’ve never danced Salsa before.
By the time we leave for Roccapulco in the Mission, I’m wiped out and grateful for the seating factor on this bus. I’m amazed that everyone else is as boisterous and excited as they were at the beginning of the night.
Two buses, four secret spots, and three clubs in, I’m keenly aware that partying in transit is both exhilarating and exhausting. I’d expected the mobile factor to mean more sitting and less activity, much like days spent lounging in the park. In reality, hanging on the bus meant, well, more mobility. And what’s a party if it can’t get up and move itself? I guess I’ll be playing in traffic more often.
Looking to party en route? There are many party buses to rent if you’re with a big group, including the Mexican Bus. $40 will get you into three clubs, with some drink specials. If you’re looking to get transported, find out what’s happening over at TransportedSF. Definitely bring beer and maybe some snacks, and don’t wear wobbly shoes.