I am one of the thousands of people who ride BART regularly. One particularly cold morning, as two trainloads of people tried to stuff themselves into one train, I took to my favorite pastime on the train, when not being able to read or write: people-watching. As I watched others, I mused on the different experiences that riding BART has given me.
I see people from different backgrounds, religions, ideologies, skin tones and economic levels rubbing shoulders with each other. All of us murmur “sorry” and “don’t-worry” good-humoredly when the train pulls an unexpected stop making us bump into each other.
The train has provided opportunities for conversations with travelers setting out on long journeys. As they clamber on with suitcases and strollers, it is hard to not share their enthusiasm. When they get off, you give them a quiet smile and wish them a happy vacation: they smile back happily and go on their way. The experience of travel has already started as far as they are concerned; they got to smile at strangers, got to ask directions from people whom they had never met before.
If you truly want to experience life by meeting people from vastly different backgrounds, riding public transit is a good place to start. Let me start with the conman who asks for precise and exact amounts of money every few weeks. “Good morning all. I need 89$ and 27 cents to save my son – I would appreciate anything you can help with. Thank you, thank you, God bless.” “Didn’t you ask for $137 and 25 cents last time?” asks an exasperated regular, and the conman disappears to try his luck in the next compartment. Then, there are the prattlers who take care of business on the phone; the readers, the coders and the writers all shake down together in a tiny space for the time that they are on the train.
On these trains and platforms, I have been transported to small villages in Africa, sympathized with people living in war-torn regions, listened to the lilting tones of foreign languages, seen and heard people share stories about Egyptian mummies, been wary of conmen, and talked to erudite riders who shared a drop of their wisdom on the way. I have also edged away discreetly from people who are stone drunk at 8 a.m. rearing for a fight, and seen people injecting themselves with drugs. I have seen policemen and policewomen go about their duties of ensuring a safe transit for all with a smile on their faces. I have talked to riders who wondered about whether they could afford health care, laughed with pregnant mothers, and then congratulated them months later as we croon over the baby’s pictures. I have listened to music that I otherwise might not have listened to, because some quirky character decided that his or her fellow riders needed to enjoy his or her favorite musicians too!
I encounter street musicians in the underground stations reaching out to a seemingly uninterested audience. But, belying their uninterested looks, I have noticed a little spring in their step as they near the musicians, and a slight smile even as they move away.
I may not know people’s names, I definitely do not remember every interaction, but as I start writing, I realize that there is so much that I have absorbed about the diverse peoples of the world, just by riding public transit. Therefore, I was doubly pleased to see BART tweet out in response to Donald Trump’s first ban on immigration that everyone is welcome on BART.
“All races, colors, religions, genders, ages, disabled, veterans, orientations, sexes & those of foreign national origin are welcome on BART.”- BART Tweet.
Thank you, BART.
Saumya writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along, savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life.