For the better part of 7 years, when I first moved to the Bay Area, I didn't have a car. I took public transportation everywhere (almost always the bus), and because of my location in downtown San Jose, most places I went involved trips on the 22 or 23, both major bus lines. Major. bus. lines. Huge, double buses came by as often as every 10 minutes, and they still managed to become standing-room-only sweat lodges barely containing the hoards of people within.
I don't just mean people, here.
I mean The People. A public bus is the great catch-all, the 99%-mobile. Roaming home of the Everyman.
It seemed hardly anyone taking the bus in San Jose did so to be economical or to avoid traffic or parking issues (parking lots abound!). People in San Jose took the bus because they didn't have another option. And this was one of the things I loved about the bus. When I was forced to share my ride with dozens of other people smelling of their workplaces (or homeless camps), exhausted from the drudgery of just getting from place to place, beat down and war-torn as only The People can be, it was pretty hard to forget my own rightful place among them. I too was living in poverty. I too worked hard (sometimes multiple jobs) and made very little money. I too saw no end in sight to scraping up the ever-increasing means necessary to buy a monthly bus pass, so I could repeat, cycle and repeat, ad infinitum.
I was quite at home in that crowd.
And yet I remember those times as some of my favorite times. I remember often seeing beauty all around me and being constantly whisked into tripped-out states of wonder brought on by some human interaction I'd witnessed. The reason for this, of course, was that there were people to witness in the first place: Strangers. I love them, the strangers. (The stranger the better, in fact.)
Sit tight while I launch into Full Hippie Mode (this is an actual setting on my brain...or is it my heart?). I have more than once been brought to tears--touched, happiness tears--because of something I witnessed on the bus. I have been inspired to write many words as well, like a personal essay titled The Unexpected Teachings of Canned Corn, the title of which alone hints at some of the odd situations the bus has beckoned me into. In those days I felt the absolute truth in the idea that we are all connected--and that this is a good thing.
I don't take the bus anymore. I don't have to because I own a car. I'm very thankful for many reasons, not least because it's been years since I lived and worked in the same city; I put lots and lots of miles on my car. I'm thankful because I can lug things around--things like my children and all their necessities and accessories. I can visit people more easily. I can shop for Christmas presents. I can hit the road.
I'd nearly forgotten that public transportation has a kind of magic to it, and I was missing out.
But two weeks of training I attended recently gave me the chance to ride BART (incidentally, I board at Fruitvale Station and have never once been able to go there without remembering the heartbreaking story of Oscar Grant--please see the movie on the subject if you get a chance).
I'm not new to BART, but I'm new to BART as a commuter. I haven't normally ridden during peak times, when the platforms are constantly filling up, the sleepy- to bright-eyed fresh morning crowd off to work, the weary-eyed and spent evening crowd coming home. It's a pretty well-oiled machine--stuff that's supposed to happen mostly happens. People mostly get to where they need to go. And highly talented street performers are often around to entertain throughout.
I've always liked letting somebody else do the driving because it gives me more time for this:
And it affords me unlimited access to one of my favorite activities--people watching--and people watching brings me back around to that Hippie State, the one that says I love everybody and everything. Hippie State re-opens me to the experience of practically tripping over the gobs of beauty to be found in every day. Makes me appreciate this morning sky a little more:
And this sunset one:
These past two weeks have left me feeling extra alive in the mornings (perhaps because I was standing rather intimately close to so many other living beings). It's made me plan better and be awake for more of the day. It's made me listen more (make that eavesdrop). And it's reminded me that there are so many different kind of lives to be lived. It's made me curious about those lives and left me wishing I could know, like really know, more people in the course of my one, brief-as-all-hell lifetime (seemingly brief, I think, even if I live to be 100).
Now, don't go deconstructing me here. I'll save you the time and do it myself:
Yes, I acknowledge that being able to now choose public transportation instead of having it chosen for me is a luxury like no other. I get how privileged and First World it is to say La la la la la la la...how quaint and fun it is to be riding with all these *other* people. Forget First World. It's a privileged state to be in here in this country as well.
I understand that people who don't have options and who lug their children around and do their Christmas shopping via BART may not think it fun at all. I was there, after all. Years and years of it would probably get old.
Years and years of most things do.
But I also think that, like in many other realms, personality and outlook are the strongest determining factors at play: despite the inconvenience and the added time involved, I always felt this way about the so-called Shame Train, even when I didn't have other options. It always left me feeling more in touch (and sometimes in conversation) with the world around me, or the people who inhabit it anyway. It's, impossibly, brought me a whole lot of joy.
And yes, I did gain a different kind of appreciation when the privilege of driving was afforded me.
But if one day I had to go back to relying on schedules and running to catch my ride and sitting by people who smell like moth balls and wedging my bag of groceries between my feet while I stand, hovering jealously over the lucky ones who got a germ-ridden seat to themselves...I'm just saying...it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.