If you have a 9 to 5 in San Francisco or New York, chances are you do this every weekday. If you live in a large metro area with tons of traffic, sometimes this is your only option. If you aren’t a millionaire yet and you don’t want to spend a fortune on Uber or sit in traffic, it’s a good bet that this article sums up a chunk of your day.
I am talking about subways or BART. More importantly the morning and evening commute on BART. It’s the grind that so many of us deal with if we want to live in a cool place such as the Bay Area. There is a lot to do, and lots of employment opportunity, but unfortunately, we must pay dearly. For many of us, that means the long, stinky slog on BART twice a day.
If you ride BART regularly, none of this is surprising. But if you don’t, I am sure you will not envy any of us after this article. The morning trains are full, but not nearly as nose-to-armpits full as the evening commute. The toughest thing about riding BART every day is that delays are so frequent and happen for almost any reason, you do not know if you will get to your destination half an hour late, or ten minutes early. It’s a crap shoot every day when you leave your house and head to the nearby station.
The trains are delayed for weather (because apparently the tracks are too slippery for trains), medical emergencies (homeless people falling asleep on the trains, riders’ claustrophobic outbreaks, people getting stuck under trains), police activity (every possible reason), labor strikes, people on the tracks, fires in the tunnel, and my personal favorite, “equipment problems”. In other words, one of these old ass trains took a crap at Powell Street station at 5:30 pm on a Wednesday evening. Now, we are all staying put.
Of course, sometimes your fellow commuters cause the problems. People are so desperate to catch a train that they hold a door open as they slide in after the doors have started to close. The problem is if the door gets jammed, and stays open, then guess what? The train ain’t moving, and YOU have kept everyone from getting to dinner or their daughter’s dance recital on time. So please, for everyone’s sanity, DON’T HOLD THE DOORS! Would you do that on an airplane?
Most riders know the duration of the ride will be one of your more unpleasant experiences of the day. But as long as you have something to read, or listen to and are light-hearted enough to laugh off the situation, it won’t be that bad. The alternative, after all, is to sit in Bay Area traffic, which, if you ask me, is worse.
But it’s not always bad. Usually, my fellow commuters have resting bitch face as they ride along, but every now and then something unexpected happens. Sometimes a group of kids on a field trip will get on the train at Lake Merritt station for a day trip into the city. The kids are ushered into the car, told to hold on or sit on the floor by their chaperones. They are obviously amused and chatty about getting a chance to ride the train. I guess the best thing about these moments, is the mood among the adult commuters goes from sour and dreary, to amused. Most people standing in the immediate vicinity start to show a smile on their face and chuckle every time one of the kids utters some kiddish remark. Not only does this make the ride a little better, but it gives people a boost of joy as they walk to their downtown office.
To be fair, BART is trying to make some improvements. They have started enforcing proof-of-payment which should mean that if homeless people get on the train, they need to show a valid reason to be on it. Escalators in stations across the system are being upgraded and repaired. And probably most notably, BART has started to roll out the new trains (finally). Not only should there be fewer breakdowns…hopefully, but the trains are designed to hold more passengers, and with three doors on each car, instead of two, people can get on and off much more efficiently.
So until BART becomes an awesome experience again that I eagerly look forward to at 4:30 pm every weekday, I will walk down the stairs into Montgomery Street station, and smile to the old lady in the wheelchair as she sings “God Bless America,” and asks for some spare change. It’s just a quick ride to my stop in Oakland, before I get off, and laugh at all the other suckers still on the train as they proceed on to Pleasanton or some other distant Bay Area community.