Every weekday morning, I get up, get dressed, and head to the office. My commute, like so many others, consists of a half mile walk, a 40 minute train ride and a half mile walk. Door to door, it’s about an hour or so.
When you get to the station, stand in the same spot, and ride the same train every day, you see a lot of people doing the exact same thing. I tend to take one of the limited trains being used to ease the overcrowding problem on BART, particularly on the Pittsburg/Bay Point lines. Most mornings, I see the same crew of folks while waiting. A few get on the SFO train just before mine, but most get on the same train.
I only know first names, if I know names at all, but we’re friendly and we worry about the ones who don’t show up. We keep track of vacations and family drama. We share pictures of our pets and kids and grandkids.
On the train, it’s a little different. I see a lot of faces that I know, but I know nothing about them. We get on, go to our preferred seats, plug in our headphones and zone out for the ride. This is good people watching time. Of course, I give them names…because I’m a writer.
There’s Bible Guy. He gets on a few stops after mine, stands across from my usual seat and opens his Bible. He spends most of his time reading. He never speaks. He never makes eye contact. He gets off at West Oakland. I noticed this morning that he wasn’t on the train. I hope he has some good holiday plans, and is off on vacation.
There’s Cranky Lady. I don’t know that she’s actually cranky, but she always has this look like she’s pissed off at you before you can say a word. She doesn’t respond to a smile, to a hello, to letting her go before you. She just glares. I haven’t seen her in a while. I hope she’s doing alright.
There’s TV Movie Thug Guy. He is the stereotypical white thug guy. You’ve seen him in any movie or television show that has a mob element or dock workers, etc. He even dresses the part. He nods his head every morning when I make eye contact.
There’s the Working Mom and her friend, Power Suit Lady. They always sit together and they talk non-stop the entire 40 minutes. They aren’t usually close enough for me to hear over the noise of the train. My favorite conversations though are when one or the other makes the other one laugh. Working Mom has the BEST laugh! Today was one of those days. It’s a great way to start a work day.
Oh, yes! There’s Makeup Girl too! Haven’t seen her at all this week. She gets on one stop after me, and spends the ENTIRE train ride applying makeup. At least a solid half hour of putting on makeup, and when she’s done, I see no difference from when she sat down without makeup, other than her mascara.
Of course, this time of year, you get the travelers too…the ones who have never ridden BART before, and can’t seem to tell from looking which way the lines go, or who think they can just jump the line…the ones with more luggage than hands, the ones with their entire life crammed into a duffle bag nearly as tall as they are, etc.
Riding a train during commute hours is like a window into the lives of thousands of characters. And as much as it can stress me out, if I can keep myself out of a panic attack, I can tell myself stories about them to entertain myself.