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Tuesday through Sunday, I ride BART to the Civic Center station in the heart of downtown San Francisco from the Colma station, a few miles south of the City. It is only a seven-minute drive from our RV park in Pacifica.

The train ride usually takes sixteen minutes. You can practically count on it.

This lulls me into a false sense of complacency; the train schedule is regular enough to make me assume that it will always get me to work punctually.

But of course this is not true 100% of the time. There are occasional problems on the tracks: obstructions, fires or malfunctions, or problems with the brakes on the cars — or more rarely, “situations” with disruptive citizenry in the train stations.

It is amazing, actually, that BART provides as consistent service as it does.

Last night’s ride into work was a different experience, as though I was living in a subtly altered reality. It was not a dramatic departure from the usual routine, but just “off” enough for me to notice.

I arrived at the Colma station to the sound of a train pulling in. I didn’t know which direction it was coming from but I wanted to make sure to catch the train if it was going into the City.

I started to jog towards the escalator leading down to the tracks, but a station manager was standing nearby to wave me apologetically down the stairs, as the escalator was out-of-service.

Difference #1.

The train turned out to be coming from the City, disgorging a huge number of commuters after their long day at work. There were so many of them that they completely took over the stairs on their ascent, leaving me little space to walk down. I squeezed along the extreme righthand side of the stairwell, hugging the bannister as I inched my way through the surge of humanity coming up.

I felt like a salmon fighting my way against an inexorable current which was in danger of sweeping me along in its wake.

I probably should have turned around and gone back UP the stairs and waited for this rush of humanity to pass before trying to go down, but I was in the middle of the staircase when they had suddenly appeared. Besides that, I am stubborn. Committed!

Most of the commuters didn’t even LOOK up to see if anyone might be trying to descend the stairs. Perhaps they assumed that no-one would be going into the City during rush hour; what are you, crazy? What do you mean, you work a night job? This is not normal!

One man in particular was on a collision course with me. He kept his gaze studiously down on the steps he was climbing up, one by one, and I was being pulled into the middle of the current of humanity directly in front of him. He finally saw my feet appearing on the step just above him and he changed course at the last possible moment before disaster struck.

Difference #2.

I waited a few moments for the inbound train, which arrived on schedule. Everything ran smoothly until just after the 24th St./Mission station. The train was moving more slowly than usual and then it came to a full stop in the middle of the tunnel. Not once, not twice, but three times. I heard a faint click of the intercom in our car, then a brief rasping crackle of static on the speaker indicating that the train operator was making some sort of announcement — but the audio system wasn’t working in this particular car.

I briefly considered going to another car where the intercom worked — the knowledge of what was going on would somehow be reassuring, even if it didn’t make my arrival any faster — but in a few seconds the train slowly crawled into Civic Center station.

After a series of jerky stops and starts, it finally positioned itself along the tracks to let out the masses.

I was so anxious to get OUT of there that I didn’t notice the train had stopped in a completely different place than usual. The escalators weren’t working at this station, either. I saw what I thought was the staircase I usually used and went up it (I don’t ride the escalators most of the time, anyway), only to find that it was a different staircase which put me onto Market St. farther away from the theatre, and ten minutes later than usual.

Differences #3, #4 and #5.

This commute felt like one of those dreams when everything is a bit off, an altered atmosphere, almost like being in a parallel universe. Do any of you ever feel like that?

It seems that the “Creatures of Habit” theme is continuing in my life, with the reminder to maintain flexibility if at all possible!

James and I are down to our last few days in the San Francisco Bay area, as I play my final two concerts with the Midsummer Mozart festival. We are SOOOO looking forward to being back in the beautiful, peaceful Woods! We’ll be home by Wednesday.

While I’m still here, I would like to share some excerpts from the handwritten journal which I’ve been keeping all summer. Most of it has been written on the BART train, so a few entries contain snippets of observations that I’ve made on the passengers.

BART train

BART train

From the first day of the journal:

Saturday, May 23, 2009
The train is nearly empty, except for a couple of notable characters — one young woman with suitcases is knitting — something that I have not seen before on the train.

Another “first” is another young woman, who is wearing a white surgical mask.

I had wondered if many people in S.F. would be wearing masks due to the recent swine flu scare, but this is the first one I’ve seen in the week that I’ve been in the area.

June 4, 2009
For a few minutes, I sat on the round concrete bench at Civic Center Station, waiting for the train. There were a couple of old men reeking of booze, and later, a couple of young gals who smelled even worse.

June 7, 2009
Lots of people riding the train today. No-one sitting next to me so far, so it’s definitely more comfortable for me to write — both physically as well as psychically. I’m sure this will change soon.

July 15, 2009
A curly-haired woman in her late 30s or early 40s has just sat down next to me, rapidly working her PDA or whatever they call it these days.

She’s trying to minimize a chronic cough. Has stopped texting now that the train is under the Bay — no cell service. Meanwhile, I can continue to write! It’s sort of funny.

The train is standing-room only. It will be interesting to see if it remains that way through Berkeley. The woman next to me seems to be at a loss without her phone.

The woman is now sneezing and only somewhat covering her mouth — ugh! She’s sort of looking over at what I’m doing and if she’s reading this I can’t be responsible if she takes offense. I sure don’t want to catch her cold!

I am not enjoying this train ride, mainly because of this woman with a cold.

We’ve emerged from the 19th St. Station of Oakland into the sunshine. (Cough-cough) It’s amazing how silent this car is, especially for being so crowded.  Except for the coughing.

Several people on the train are coughing. I’d better be very diligent about washing my hands after being in this kind of enforced public. Turn your face AWAY from me when you cough, woman!!

It looks like I’m going to have to ask her to move to let me out, since we’re now at Ashby and I get off at the next stop, downtown Berkeley.

July 20, 2009
Rush hour. No-one has sat next to me at Civic Center, and there are a lot of standees near the doors. Should I feel guilty? Powell now…I bet someone squeezes in next to me. Which just now happened! An older businessman with briefcase paused next to my seat, seeing my horn case on the floor next to me…I got up to let him sit by the window. Hopefully Murphy’s Law won’t be in effect with him having to get out before I do!

Someone is standing in front of the doors between cars just behind me, which is a little unnerving and the older gentleman next to me is coughing periodically. WHY do I end up with these coughing seat-mates? LOL

Embarcadero…now going under the Bay for the next 5 minutes. Cough-cough. The sound of tinny music issuing from someone’s earbuds — the drum track is the only thing audible. The businessman keeps looking behind him at the woman standing at the connecting doors. He laughed at a comic strip (he’s reading a paper on top of the briefcase in his lap).

Now he’s digging for gold — gross. Sometimes I really don’t like being around people! I’m reaching the end of my rope with this particularly long stint in the Bay area.

Just emerged into the outdoor section of track near West Oakland. Skies are mostly clear here, as usual.

That music is very loud if I can hear it so well through the outside of that woman’s earbuds.

The man next to me keeps coughing, makes a half-hearted effort to cover his mouth. I can still feel the breeze of his cough (now he’s blowing his nose in a hanky — how old-fashioned!)

This particular train ride is putting me into a foul mood.

*     *     *     *     *

Despite these sometimes unpleasant occurences, I’d have to say that all in all, riding the BART trains has been a reasonably positive experience. I love taking public transportation whenever possible, and the SF Bay area is one of the few in the country that actually WORKS. It’s mostly dependable, and gets me where I need to go.