Friday, October 28, 2005

Civic Center Bart Station

I think it is about time that I describe the Civic Center station, the station that I get off at in SF to catch the company shuttle.

It is a nasty part of town with high homeless population. The homeless there are not your typical homeless folks- these are drug addicts, drunkards, and the mentally ill. OK, I know you might be thinking now how rude and sheltered I am, but trust me, I went to undergrad in Berkeley, I have co-existed with the homeless for 4 years. I appreciate the color they add to the campus.

Civic Center station dwellers are scary! They scream at you, spit at you, throw bottles at you..etc. Whenever I get off there, I have to hop over puddles on the ground. Not rain puddles...but PEE puddles. It smells like pee (sometimes worse) the moment you exit the train. Every so often, you see more than pee. You see puke.

These folks mumble racist/sexist remarks, yell with fury, and purposely walk towards you and scream profanities in your face. I've experienced it all...or so I thought.

Today was a bit crazy. One homeless man took out a gun from his pocket and pointed right at my head. After 3 seconds of looking at the gun, I realized that it was just a toy gun, but gosh, for 3 seconds threr I thought that was the end of my life (Note: All I had on my mind was I hope my husband knows that I was onlying thinking of how much I love him during this time. Then I had a millisecond flash of my family, my dog....then I noticed the gun was fake because the homeless man made the shooting sound himself!)

He took this plastic gun, and pointed at me, clicking it, re-pointed the gun towards me. He was about 3 steps away from me...and just kept on following me with the gun! I kept on walking away, but he would not leave me alone. Then after 15 seconds, I realized maybe it was my fear that is egging him on. I decided to yell at him. "What are you doing? What do you think you're doing?" I forced myself to chuckle and said, "Have a good weekend too!" Finally, he turned away.

I've seen people drink and smoke pot right outside the station. I've seen people pee, puke, and even poop once. But this was a bit too personal. What if the gun was actually real? What if this homeless man just wanted to take someone's life before he takes his own and I happened to cross his path?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The right to read in peace

I've been driving to work a couple times a week for the past 2 weeks since I seem to be running late everyday. Driving has been miserable. Took me over 1 hour yesterday to get to work.

I finally took BART today, and it wasn't too bad of a ride. It was raining, so I knew traffic would be miserable. The train, surprisingly, was not crowded nor foggy (which is usually the case on exceptionally cold days..and it's so gross to step into a fogged up train.) However, I do have one huge gripe...people who read over your shoulder!

There are always people who don't seem to bring their own reading material, and instead, they like to pry into other people's business. I've had a man once who stretched his head over to see what I was listening to on my IPOD. I had Usher's "Yeah!" on at the time, and he looked and nodded his head. I felt like my privacy was infringed upon! What is I was listening to something more personal like some self-help or self-discovery tape?

This other time, I was reading US WEEKLY, and some woman decides to read along with me. I was in a seat, while she was standing up next to me. I didn't know for the longest time that she was looking until she mumbled.."oh my god, I didn't know that." I looked up at her...gave her an annoyed stare and folded my magazine up so she can't read it with me. If she wants to read it without my knowing, FINE, just don't volunteer the commentary!

Anyhow, today, I was reading my Treo and I felt someone's breath on me. I was seated while this man was standing. He was reading my emails and text messages!!!! I had to put the Treo away after I found. With my only form of "entertainment" today taken away, I had to endure a very boring ride to work of doing nothing except staring into space.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Drove the past couple of days

I've had to drive the past couple of days due to terrible BART delays. Like I mentioned before, I take BART to connect to a company shuttle that comes every 15 minutes. But there is a 30 minute gap around 9am, so if I miss that shuttle pick-up, I am stuck there for half an hour unless I taxi.

So, yesterday, I had a morning meeting, with an already late start, I decided to drive and not deal the gambles of a BART delay. I made the right choice- since I saw people on my usual 8:34 train standing out there past 8:38am as I zipped by the station on the freeway.

Today, I actually got to the station, saw that the next train is coming in 20 minutes!!!! I walked back to the parking lot and drove instead. As it turns out, a East Bay train caught on fire and caused massive delays all around. Thank goodness I made the decision to drive, although I had to pay for daily parking, bridge tolls, and gas :(

The traffic was horrible!!! Still, it was nice to get a break from BART. So relaxing to sit in my own car, listen to the radio, and not be fearful of germs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Talk about air "pollution"

Very bad ride home today. The train was overcrowded, the air ventilation was poor, the train was so warm....but to make things worse, some man was eating McDonald's on the train!!! No eating or drinking on train, that's the rule. 95% of riders abide by the rule, but there are always a few that sneak Chinese take-out in, pizza, or some form of fast food.

Normally, I love McDonald's too...especially the fries. But it is absolutely NASTY smelling on Bart. With the poor air ventilaton and mix of bad breath and body odors on the train already, this man's Quarter Pounder and fries with BBQ sauce, just stunk up the train even more. The air was unbearable. Fanning (my usual technique against bad odors) doesn't even help. I had to pop out my raspberry lotion and dab it all around my nose and neck to try to cover up the foul mixture of scents.

Awful. Why do people not abide by the rules? I feel like bringing in a coffee and sausage McMuffin too in the mornings, but I don't because I don't want to stink up the train, leave crumbs, or spill coffee all over the passenger next to me. I wish others would be more considerate.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Please don't woo on BART!

I had to endure a disgusting phone conversation on BART this morning. This man was talking to his girlfriend or new sweetheart on his cellphone, and was so stupidly infatuated that he did not care that the whole train was sickened by his converstation.

"I love you baby, you are so beautiful", "No, you are more sexy", "I miss you so much", "I miss your smell", "I love how your hair looks at night", "You are gorgeous..I can't stop thinking about you", "I can't wait to see you", "You are the most sexy thing"....on and on and on....

All of us are just rolling our eyes and waiting to barf. Have some discretion!!! Can't you save these conversations when you're in the office? or somewhere private? They didn't talk about anything meaningful- the whole 15 minutes before we went underground (where he lost reception, FINALLY!) consisted of his wooing.

Just not fun for the rest of us to listen to but I guess love makes you a fool.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

No "bless you's" on BART

I have a bad cold today. I was one of those passengers that I would normally hold my breath next to, fan my magazine in front of, or turn away from, to try to avoid contracting their cold.

I was sniffling, sneezing, coughing and dripping all over my nose today and I could tell people were really disgusted. I felt like shit. I didn't even have Kleenex with me, so I had to sniff in whatever was dripping out to avoid major flooding underneath my nose. People were staring at me with "the look" that I usually give other sick passengers. I deserve every dirty look. All of them will probably get sick by tonight just because they were next to me.

I sneezed about 10 times during the ride and it's funny that everywhere else you are (in the office, home, stores, restaurants) people go out of their way to say "bless you." But, not on BART! I've never said bless you once to anyone sneezing on the train, and I don't expect anyone to say that to me. People just want to be left alone on BART- don't speak to me, don't touch me, and don't annoy me!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Consideration is appreciated

Smooth roundtrip rides today except one little incident. A woman decides to take off her loafers-- she lifts her feet up again and again, and stretches her toes! She left her shoes off the entire ride. Completely disgusting to all of us sitting around her. Why did she have to take off her shoes to stretch? Not to mention her feet needed some serious beauty treatment. All of us, men and women, have aching feet at the end of the day! It's sick what she was doing. Thank goodness I was not sitting that close to her.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

When should one give up a seat?

The morning ride was great today. Got a seat in a corner, sat next to a young professional female who looked clean, sharply dressed, and normal. Train did get pretty crowded but didn't affect me since I had a corner inside seat. Train even got in 1 minute early!

The only noteworthy observation was an older woman (looked to be in her 50s) who appeared pretty healthy and fit who got on the train and asked a man (looked to be in his 40s) to give up his seat for her. He reluctantly did so.

I don't ever really expect a man to give up his seat for me on BART, especially since everyone is so miserable already in the morning. But what makes her feel hat she's entitled? Is it her age? She's not technically a senior citizen and she looked pretty physically fit to me! Is it gender roles? I don't think men should always give up their seats to women on the train, unless someone actually looks like they are very weak and must be seated. (Although I do believe a man should always open the door for a woman or allow her to exit/enter first.)

I already have an answer in mind if a healthy-looking but older (under 65) man or woman asks me to give up my seat-- I will say, I don't feel very well at all today and need to sit down, sorry.

I've given up my seat for children, expectant mothers, families (so they can sit together), senior citizens, and people who look like they are feeling ill at the moment. But, I don't think I should feel like I MUST give up a seat to someone just because they appear to be an "older" person? Does younger necessarily mean healthier and more physically able? I don't think so.

No one undeserving has asked me to give up my seat yet. But when one does, I won't be afraid to tell them no.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The fight for safety pole space!

The ride home is always a bit rougher. The trains are a lot more crowded, the smells are stronger, floors and seats are dirtier, people are sweatier and generally grumpier after a day of work.

Today's ride home was bad- probably a 7 out of 10 on my bad BART ride scale. Forget about empty seats, this ride was a battle for standing room and safety bar space! The train was packed! As soon as the door opened, people jammed in from all angles! I had to hurriedly block this side-stepper who tried to cut in front of me! I know his type; side-steppers linger by the long lines. They pretend to be reading the train schedules, but as soon as the train comes, they swoop in. I block their path usually with continuous and sudden body sways from the left to right. It works 90% of the time. It really derails them!

The train got uncomfortably full before we crossed the Bay. The train temperature got very warm. At 5'5", I ended up fitting right in the middle of a tall old man, and a shorter woman. We each had an inch of space between us. I could smell his tobacco breath on my forehead, and her oily hair underneath my nose. Pretty nasty combination. We were crowded in a corner next to a vertical safety pole that runs from a seat to the train's ceiling. In a crowded train like this, handle bar and pole space is very important. The last thing you want to do is fall over into a sea of grouchy passengers.

The train takes off. The tall old man grips part of the pole with one hand. The short woman grabs another part of the same pole with both her hands. A few more hands nearby stretched over and grabbed the pole as the train started moving faster. There was no pole room left for me but a small 3-inch gap of space between two hands. I wasn't about to fit my hand in there with all these others, but I had to do something!!! My body was starting to tip over from the train movement.

Why can't the tall old man hold the bar near the top of the train? Aren't those meant for taller people? Oh wait, scratch that, if he did, I would be smelling his armpit. I was losing my balance at this time...I need something to hold! I finally decided to hold the pole with my thumb and index finger to minimize human contact. Sure, I got stares, but this 2-finger technique got me through the Downtown Oakland stations where 25% of the passengers exited for transfers.

My palm never touched the pole! I made it!

Is half a seat better than none?

Today's BART ride was relatively smooth....well, by that I mean, it was on-time. I managed to get the last seat on the train today-- which is always VERY gratifying! It's a good feeling when my speed-walking pays off. Imagine if I had NOT done that...I would not have been the first passenger in front of the door, and would not have gotten that one seat left! Actually, I should say half a seat. I ended up seating in the half seat next to a woman who took up 1.5 seats. Not to be mean, but this poor woman was trying her darn hardest to stay within 1.5 seats instead of taking up 1.75. I fit fine in the half a seat, but I could see her struggling, pulling herself away from me. I was stuck in a predicament! If I get up and let her have the seat, she will think that her size is inconveniencing me. If I don't, I will be glued (literally) arm by arm with her. I felt the sweat, the body heat permeating from her. My legs were crossed, my body pushing as far to the left as possible, but like a gel, her body started to form against mine. We were both very awkwardly positioned. We were in this predicament for about 10 minutes. This was getting bad....I was about to think of a polite way to get out that half seat.

Suddenly, she got up, and said, "this is my stop." I smiled to her, and felt a huge sense of relief inside. I was glad that I stuck through the 10 minutes of discomfort. I'm glad I didn't make her feel worse by making a scene to pull myself out of there.

My Secret Weapons

There are a few secret weapons that I have to help me get through my BART rides.

1) Purell - Whenever I smell something funny on my hands after touching the handle bars, I drench my palms with Purell! When I touch someone sweaty, I then take out the Purell wipes after I get off the train and wipe all affected areas.

2) US Weekly - It's my guilty pleasure. It will last me about 1 day worth of BART rides (so roundtrip) but I am completely tuned out from the distractions around the train and fully tuned into the gossip columns. I've tried reading WSJ, SF Chronicle (sports section actually works too, but I can only read it when my teams won the night before, so that's rare these days), or books, but my BART rides have gotten so intolerable that US Weekly seems to be the only thing that protects me against all the smells and sights around me.

3) Treo - When I'm truly desparate, I will turn on my work Treo and begin my work day early. But this tends to give me anxiety attacks! When something is wrong at work, there's only so much I can do on my Treo. And with BART being late more often than not, I get too anxious about getting into the office and one minute of delay seems like an eternity. I start looking at my watch 3 times a minute. Keep in mind that I have a shuttle that only runs every 15 minutes to connect to once I get into every second counts!

4) Text Messages - I just got into this (I know, I'm a late boomer) and it does help to pass time on BART. However, very few friends of mine actually text back fast enough to keep me entertained (special shoutouts to Maria K and Kate H who are kind enough to text me back during my bad BART rids). And with BART going in and out of tubes and tunnels, reception is too sketchy to keep a conversation going. So text is last resort.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

What is BART musings?

I've never been a fan of public transportation. Let me get that fact out first. However, driving is not for everyone living in the SF Bay Area, unless you have no problems wasting at least 2 hours of your life going 23 miles roundtrip.

If you're from here, you know what I'm talking about. The 8 bridges make it pretty darn inefficient, especially during traffic hours, to get from point A to B. I used to drive from Albany to SF...a mere 11 miles apart. But sometimes, that could take longer than an hour. Believe me, I've lost many hairs each day doing that drive. I cussed, I screamed, I flicked people off, and I've bumped into bumpers.... just to get ahead by one car's length. Road rage + expensive gas + outrageous cellphone bills + bald spots (which have grown back now, I must add for my own pride) = miserable self + unhappy spouse.

Anyhow, reluctantly, I became a public transportation user. Growing up in Los Angeles, I've never taken a bus in my life. Watching those buses pass by from my car really made me feel quite grateful that I wasn't in there. The buses looked steamy and dirty...I can only imagine what it smelled like inside. I've never seen someone writing a public transport smile. But now....I've become one of them.

BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transport, for those of you not from the area. I've heard from many that it is one of the cleaner subway rides that exist in the U.S. I think it even won best public transportation in the country this year...although, that makes me wonder just how bad the other systems are since BART fails to deliver me on-time 1 out of every 3 days....which then causes me to miss the connecting shuttle that actually takes me to work.

I've been a BART rider for a couple years now, and it never ceases to amaze me the many forms of "entertainment" I get from my 35-minute each-way ride from Lafayette to SF. The musings are wearing on me. From people watching, eavesdropping, reluctant scent explorations and human contact, I need some form of therapy to get these thoughts, experiences, and smells out of my mind!

BART musings is how I intend on doing it. This blog will keep me getting on that train each morning since I can't afford to pay 4-5 gallons of gas, $3 of bridge toll, plus parking at work, on a daily basis. Whether you agree or not, this is one person's observation of SF Bay Area's subway system, BART. So read on...