It has been almost a year now that I have been commuting across the bay three days a week; it takes the best part of an hour each way, with five minutes or so on the bike at each end, and thirty minutes riding on BART. I have made a point of looking at it as a practice, and as in so many areas of life, even living at Tassajara during a practice period, much of this practice is about navigating space with other people in a way that I hope causes a minimum of inconvenience all round.
Before long I had learned the tricks of where to stand on the platform to be able to get my bike best situated. In the mornings I am getting onto already crowded carriages, so the best place is usually right at the back of the train. Coming home, I know which door will give me a bike space on the side that will open on my home platform, so I do not have to push past people to get out.
Only one half of the journey is crowded as a rule. At Montgomery in the morning, the carriages empty out, and once we are past Embarcadero and crossing under the bay, there is always a place to sit. On the way back, I sometimes get into an empty carriage, and watch it fill progressively until I get off. What I have found though is that arriving at the station in the evening I am often confronted with a wave of people who have got off their train and are intent on getting home, often paying very little attention to anyone coming the other way. One evening I watched as people flowed through the bi-directional wider gate that was the most convenient one for them, ignoring a woman with a stroller who needed to use that one to get through to get to her train; while it is easier for me to use those to roll my bike through, rather than get exasperated with the unseeing flow, I just shoulder my bike and go through the thinner one-way gates, and down the escalator, even if it is against regulations, rather than trying to go against everyone on the narrow stairs.
On these journeys I have done a huge amount of reading; many blog posts have come from ploughing through books and noting sections that seem like they would be good to use. Sometimes, if I am tired, or feeling a little travel sick, which does happen with all the rattling and stopping and starting, I will just sit quietly and pay attention to what is going on.
There are a few people I have recognised from previous journeys, though not one of those seems to have noticed the fact themselves. Unsurprisingly almost everyone has their head bowed to their phones; some have headphones in, some are both looking and listening. Occasionally people have books or magazines; in the evening there might be a conversation – class-mates getting on at Berkeley, or work colleagues traveling together. Mostly there is just the din of the wheels on the track.
The journey starts underground in both directions, and comes up for air on either side of Oakland. In the course of these months, I have seen every kind of weather. It is always worth looking up when we arrive in the east bay to see what the sky is doing over the docks. Many days have been blue all the way; others the clouds are so dense the Berkeley hills are hidden. Rain lashes at the windows on one side; I have seen golden sunsets glowing in every direction. Apart from the urban scenes close at hand, there is San Francisco laid out under the hills, with the Sutro Tower uppermost; there is Mount Tam reclining at ease; the Golden Gate Bridge at full stretch; the Bay Bridge curving up and away. The door opens and I feel the warmth of the sun on my neck; the plume of a container ship in the docks merges into the heavy low clouds; streetlights arc through the darkness in varying patterns.
Often enough there are delays. I rarely have to be somewhere exactly on time, so I don’t have to be stressed about it; my fellow passengers seem mostly quite phlegmatic, perhaps because of the commonness of the hold-ups. I look out at the frequently stationary cars on the adjacent freeways and know that I would always prefer to be in a train, even one that is stuck, so that I can read and relax even in the unwanted stillness.
The east side of Oakland through the windows of a BART train – they are never very clean
The other day I was heading home early enough to catch the sun going down with my iPad – San Francisco in the distance, with the Salesforce building making its presence felt as it does from seemingly every angle these days.