b Papa Dog's Blog: Man on the Tracks

Papa Dog's Blog

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Man on the Tracks

I was standing on the BART platform this morning, waiting for a train. I must have just missed one by a small margin, because the sign said the next one wasn’t for another seven minutes. Rather than staring at freeway traffic for seven minutes, I opened up my book and read.

There are mysteries to BART known to the regular commuter but hidden to the irregular/weekend user. Stand right/walk left on the escalators, for example. Always increase your ticket on the way out, not the way in, for example (that way you’re not standing at the fare machine when your train’s coming). It’s not only possible but advisable to form a line where the train door’s going to open, for example. Two lines during commute hours. If it’s not your train, you step to the outside of the doors to allow passengers to enter and exit. It could all move so smoothly if everybody knew these things.

Anyway, I was at the front of my line for this particular door stop. In fact, I was the only one in line. This means there was nothing between me and the track but the yellow rubber warning strip. Mama Dog has edge-of-the-track anxiety; I tend not to, but I hate it when anyone’s moving around behind me when I’m at the front of the line. As I read, I became aware of that very thing. There was someone walking behind me. My customary paranoid reaction when I catch a glimpse of someone passing at the extreme limits of my peripheral vision is to plant one foot firmly in front to make myself more difficult to knock over. I did that, and glanced back. The guy was passing, heading to the very end of the track. It didn’t look like he was going to join an orderly line, but it didn’t look like he was going to push anybody off the track either. I went back to my book and forgot about him.

After a few more minutes, I saw out of the corner of my other eye the sign flashing to announce the arrival of the San Francisco train. I put my book away and looked down the track. The train was a few hundred yards east, stopped, waiting. I started to imagine a disabled train limping up and disgorging all passengers to await its five-car replacement. Or perhaps a train that would bravely soldier on through downtown Oakland only to stop dead in the middle of the Transbay tube for twenty minutes. One never knows.

After a couple of minutes, the train started up again and slowly approached. I became belatedly aware of a contingent of BART personnel standing at the end of the platform. There was a BART cop, a station agent, and another person out of uniform. The cop was talking on a walkie talkie. The train started to slow again as it approached the platform, and stopped at the very end. The driver poked his head out to speak with the BART cop. He pointed down the track and described a man who was apparently out there, walking between the tracks, headed east. I looked around and realised the man he was describing was the one who had passed behind me and given me my paranoid moment. He had apparently continued on to the end of the platform, out the “DANGER – AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY” gate, down the steps to the ground, and was on his way to the tunnel to Orinda.

Papa Pirate told me once that nine times out ten when you see a BART train standing still for no apparent reason, it’s because some idiot is walking along the tracks. This was the first time I’d ever seen confirmation of that principle.

When the train finally pulled up to the platform, it missed alignment with the door stops by several feet. We were all regular commuters. We stepped as a line to the left to compensate.

In other stuff – Unforgivable Blackness, Ken Burns’ new documentary about the life and persecution of Jack Johnson, started on PBS last night. I missed Part 1 , but it’s repeating on KQED in the wee hours tonight (or tomorrow morning, if you look at it that way), and I imagine most PBS affiliates are doing the same. This is a story about America that all Americans should know and surprisingly few do. Don’t leave it to some Canadian to tell you about it. Watch the documentary.


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