b Papa Dog's Blog: On the Off-Chance the Ending of this Post Leaves You Hanging: No, I Didn't Get Blown Up on My Morning Commute

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

On the Off-Chance the Ending of this Post Leaves You Hanging: No, I Didn't Get Blown Up on My Morning Commute

I ran late again this morning. I don’t even know if I can call it “running late” anymore, since it seems to be the norm. At any rate, it was already going on 8:30 by the time I boarded a BART train at Rockridge. 8 cars, SRO. The San Francisco train arrives at Rockridge on the right side of the platform (if you’re facing SF-bound). At every stop from there until Embarcadero, my destination, it arrives on the left side. Knowing this, I always try to stand by the door I entered through, which won’t be opening again until I’m ready to leave. I snicker at the people who position themselves at the door on the opposite side of the car, who will jump in startlement when the door opens behind them at MacArthur and only slowly realise that they must move out of the way of boarding passengers. Unfortunately, even as late as 8:30 there are other commuters savvy enough to know on which side the doors open, or ones dim enough to neither know nor care, so my regular spot was blocked. I went instead to the fallback position – the wheelchair space next to the right-side door. As long as nobody with a wheelchair needs the space (not always a safe bet), it’s a good out-of-the-way spot with easy access to either door upon opening.

I’d been reading my book on the platform, and I pulled it out now to resume. Something nagged at my attention, though, and as I looked down I realised what it was. There were three big backpacks piled against the wall at my feet and nobody sitting nearby seemed to belong to them. I looked around, trying to spot someone who looked like a traveller. Nobody seemed likely. A guy standing on the other side of the door stared back at me. Maybe him. Not sure. He had a backpack over his arm, and travelling with four backpacks seemed a little excessive.

At 12th Street, the dim commuter who had taken my rightful spot exited, so I crossed the car and stood where she had been. Right there on the wall above the sideways seat was this reassuring BART PSA poster:

Now, I know that apparently unattended packages aren’t generally a big risk. For one thing, they usually belong to someone nearby or someone who walked off and forgot them. The vogue in terrorist attacks, after all, is the suicide bombing. What you want to worry about is not the abandoned backpack but the backpack being carried by the fidgety guy who keeps reaching inside to check the timer (as described by witnesses in the recent London bombings). Still, given my latent paranoia, looking at that poster was enough to turn my vague misgivings into a full-on internal security alarm. My inner Chicken Little was screaming “For God’s sake, get out!” (Chicken Little having misplaced himself in a voiceover from an ad for the original Amityville Horror).

Rationally, I knew I could settle things pretty quickly just by saying loudly, “Hey, do those bags belong to anybody?” Unfortunately, my reluctance to get blow up and my reluctance to look like an ass who was afraid he was going to get blown up were pretty evenly balanced. At 19th Street, I just got off. So long and good luck, other passengers.

On the platform at 19th, I started to wonder…not blown up was good, but would I really want to be the guy saying “…and I was standing right next to those backpacks!” on Larry King? Obviously, getting blown up would be worse, but maybe not by as much as you might think.

The sign announced that a 10-car train for SF would be arriving in five minutes. Okay, I was off of the bomb train, but taking the next train was a calculated risk. If I was a terrorist, I’d want to detonate that bomb in the tunnel for maximum damage. It takes eight minutes to cross the tube, and if I was five minutes behind the train ahead, I’d be…hmmm, well, that’s not really very good is it? Although…okay, they’d probably detonate halfway through the tube, which puts the explosion one minute before my train enters it…huh, maybe they’d stop the train in time for me not to get drowned or incinerated by the fireball or whatever would happen.

In the end, it was not the timing that made the decision for me, but the fact that it was a 10 car train instead of an 8 car train, and I was pretty much guaranteed a seat. The train arrived. I made myself comfy and cracked my book again. For the first minute or two I reminded myself to keep an ear open for distant explosions as we left West Oakland, but then I got caught up in my book and forgot about it. All of which is a pretty good encapsulation of the effect of terrorism on life in America.


Blogger Twizzle said...

Oh, my! What a stressful commute, Papa Dog! I was just gonna say, "just goes to show how entrenched in paranoia our society is now," but that turned out to be your punchline.

I'd have gotten off that train in one NY minute, too!

2:06 PM  
Blogger PapaDogDuvalier said...

Actually, the punch line was "then I went back to my entertainment and forgot all about it."

3:37 PM  
Anonymous big sister said...

I'm noticing a theme of developing social conscience this year. You aren't always acting on the impulses but you sure are having them. Funny how we start to want to make the world a better place when we start to produce other people to live in it. We don't seem as inclined to fix things up for ourselves but our babies are another story.

5:25 AM  

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