Diary of a Commuter Jerk


Tuesday: I walk up Eighth Street to the Civic Center BART station after work. Nightmare scenario: I need to buy a ticket, which means I have to stand in line behind other patrons trying to figure out how the ticket machines work or who have decided to buy a five-buck ticket by feeding in nickels. Sure enough, I wind up behind three or four other people. The first person deliberates over the bewildering array of two or three choices before purchasing a ticket. Then the next guy approaches the machine. He feeds in one dollar bill, then another. The machine won’t take the third one. Instead of just buying a $2 ticket and paying whatever he owes at the other end, he hits cancel, gets his dollar bills back, then repeats the process. His third bill still won’t go in; exasperated, he looks first to the right, then to the left, for help that’s not there. Then he hits cancel again, gets his bills back, and feeds them in again. One. Two. No go with the third. He looks right, then left, hits cancel, and starts to try again. At this point — I want to get home, man! — I lean around the woman waiting in front of me and say, "Dude, what’s the problem?" Except, I don’t say "dude" in the friendly "hey, dude" way; "dude" comes out in a tone that clearly signals it’s a substitute for "moron." He turns toward me. He’s a short guy, maybe 5-6, with neatly trimmed brown hair and beard; he’s wearing a short-sleeved yellow button-down shirt; he’s wearing olive green shorts and dark street shoes and socks that he should wear with long pants. I recognize him from somewhere. He says, "It won’t take my goddamned dollar." Simultaneously, the woman in front of me — tall, 5-10, and kind of lumpy in a Joan Cusack way but younger than Joan Cusack — turns around and looks at me and says something. I hear, "Shut up." So I tell the guy he’s holding up everyone in line and I ask the woman, "Who the fuck are you telling to shut up? You shut up." She says, "I said, ‘Chill out.’ And you need to." I sputter something winning; perhaps it was "you chill the fuck out."

Meantime, beard guy has given up his place at the ticket machine and says angrily, "You guys go ahead." I already have a twenty in my hand and say, "You held up the line for 10 minutes." "It won’t take my money!" "Here’s a twenty — it’ll work. Take it and buy yourself a ticket." But he doesn’t take it; he goes to the back of the ticket line while the "shut up/chill out" woman is at the machine. She’s buying something like a $5.85 ticket, exact change. She dawdles. I resist the temptation to say, "Hey, look, another rocket scientist." Then it’s my turn. Luckily, the machine takes my twenty on the first try and I get my ticket without holding anyone else up. Then I go down to the platform, wondering who among the people on the platform and the train home just witnessed my little display. I also realize that I recognized the beard guy from about 20 years ago; his name was John something and he was Kate’s roommate’s boyfriend when Kate and I first went out. Same beard and haircut and everything, though Kate’s roommate, Beth, moved on a long
time ago.

Wednesday (pictured): Back to Civic Center BART after work. I’ve left work a little early thinking maybe I can get a short bike ride in before dark. Armed with my dramatically procured ticket from the day before, I head down to the platform. There’s a train waiting — headed out to Bay Point, not my line. The Richmond train, to Berkeley, is due in 7 minutes. But the train at the platform doesn’t move, and within a couple of minutes, there’s an announcement that "smoke is emanating
from a train at Embarcadero Station" and all the East Bay-bound trains are halted for a few minutes. It’s about 5:10. More announcements. The train at Embarcadero has been taken out of service. The train at Embarcadero had an electrical overload. Or it might have hit something on the tracks. BART workers are walking the track to see if there’s a problem. The delay lengthens — 10 minutes, 15, 20, then 30. Finally, the packed train at Civic Center moves, slowly. Then a Fremont train, headed south toward San Jose from Oakland, pulls in. Then the Richmond train I had been waiting for. The operator announces that there’s another train with a problem at Embarcadero; but by 5:45, we get going, too. I managed to get a seat and fall asleep during a stop-and-go trip through the Transbay tube. We halt for awhile outside West Oakland station. The problem is that another train ahead of us has broken down at the platform there, meaning we have to cross over to the opposite tracks to get through the station. When we get to West Oakland, I’m surprised to see that the platform there (that’s the picture above) is filled with nearly no room to stand — people taken off a train waiting for another to come in; of course, their problem is that all the arriving trains are either already filled or using the opposite platform until everything is straightened out. So those people over there are as good as stranded. Anyway, my train makes it through, and after we turn north from downtown Oakland, we get to Berkeley with no more problems. I get home about 6:50 p.m., so the trip took about three times as long as usual. Surprisingly, no one complained. People even laughed when the train operator apologized for "this less than stellar commute. I guess that’s an understatement." This gives me, the commuting jerk, food for thought.

Friday: On my way into work by way of the casual carpool. Waiting in the Civic Center line at the North Berkeley BART station with three people ahead of me, one behind me. The three in front all get into a Toyota Avalon. So the next car will take me and the other person. One pulls up to the curb and honks. It looks like there are already two people in the car (you need three to take the carpool lane, so they would only need one more rider), and I’m confused when the woman who’s been second in line walks very confidently to the car, opens the rear passenger door and gets in. Just a minute! She’s the third person. She’s taking my spot! I say,"Hey, I’m sorry, I was ahead of you in line. You need to get out." She looks up at me, very puzzled, and says, "Yes?" "Yes," I answer. And she gets out. Then she gets in the front passenger seat, where no one had been sitting. Um — I didn’t see the front seat was empty! Really I didn’t. Did I feel kind of stupid? No — very. And also like I must be cracking up to get into these um, misunderstandings. My trip home was altercation-free, though.

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