The other passengers tried to warn me with their eyes but I didn't understand them in time. I was new. (I'm still new but I'm quickly learning the ropes.) I sat down in the nearest seat, right smack next to the crazy guy. Being that the muni train was full and I was concerned about being late, I didn't give it much thought. For about 120 seconds. Then the guy started talking to me. "Why is he driving so SLOW?" New but not stupid, I didn't answer him. I opened my book. Crazy guy turns to the captive bus population and asks them all 'WHY IS THIS GUY DRIVING SO DAMN SLOW?" Waiving his arms forward with derision, in case we didn't get the message. "HURRY UP!!! LET'S GO! MOVE IT!"
His lecture continues for the duration of the trip and the woman across the aisle looks at me as if to say "I told you so."
The muni train was waiting when I started down the escalator. In a panic, I flew down the stairs and ran onto the train before the doors could close. Immediately the muni staff start yelling at me and waiving their arms. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET OFF! GET OFF THE TRAIN!" I look around and realize I'm the only person on the train, and jump off the train just as one of the muni people starts to reach out for my arm. "Get. Off. This. Train!"
Once on the platform I discover that they're taking the train out of service. I watch as one train after another rolls in, disgorges passengers, closes the doors and drives away. Seven times in a row, it starts to feel like a joke. The joke is on me, of course and my fellow travelers are still tittering at my mistake. Cheeks red from embarrassment, I start to fret about missing my Caltrain. Muni might show up every 10 minutes or so, but Caltrain waits for no one.
The Caltrain was just pulling in as I ran up the stairs. My first time using a monthly pass I remembered to tag before boarding to activate my pass. The machine beeped an unpleasant "you did it wrong" sound. I had no time for games, and after one more try I scampered onto the train to take my chances.
Except that I'm not the girl who takes these kinds of chances. As the conductor came around I presented by card in the hope that he 1) wouldn't throw me off the train and 2) could tell me why it didn't work. He had to go to the front of the train to retrieve his scanner. Ten minutes later he scanned my card and announced "you don't have any money on your account." I showed him my receipt for the monthly pass, which miraculously I still had with me. "You have Caltrain credit, but you have to leave $1.25 on your account to be eligible to use the pass." I looked at him quizzically and he shrugged his shoulders in that "I just work here" way. He didn't throw me off the train though, Caltrain staff are some of the nicest folks around.
Caltrains are divided into groups: 1) super fast and kinda scary and doesn't stop at my stop, 2) reasonably fast but doesn't run very often, so better not miss it, 3) very slow and 4) appallingly slow.
I take the same reasonably fast trains every day, and I get to my destination in 30 minutes unless something happens, like they hit a person or car or a something, and then it takes three hours. Twice in two weeks they hit pedestrians, one of those weeks they also hit a car. Whenever this happens all trains are stopped in both directions while they conduct an investigation, counsel the engineer and clean up the mess. It's kind of amazing that people get hit by trains during the day, the tracks positively sing as the train approaches, the whistle blows loudly and the sound of the approaching train can be deafening. Whenever the super fast kinda scary train flies by, I cover my ears and huddle into my jacket. The resulting wind blast is cold and sometimes flings objects.
As much as I like to support the home team, home games wreak havoc on the muni schedules. Overloaded and overtaxed the trains slow down to a literal crawl, and sometimes stop suddenly in their tracks. Always without explanation. The last time I got trapped in the mire, after a 10 minute ride had become forty, the muni train stopped at 2nd and King and announced "we'll be staying here for quite a few minutes." I looked at my watch at realized that if I didn't make a run for it I would never make my reasonably fast train and I would be forced onto the appallingly slow one. I disembarked and started running. And then I slowed down, gasping for breath, reminding myself that these are long blocks and I will never make my train if I pass out.
Running again, then skipping. A fellow muni escapee passes me on his skateboard, turning to look at me and grinning. I run again, feeling older than I've ever felt. I make the train with a minute to spare. There are no seats of course, but I'm in the baggage car and there is space on the floor, next to the escaped skateboarder. I take it. I search for my inhaler and take two hits. Air. Thank goodness.
The men standing in front of me change their position in a way that seems odd and I look down. I see that my shirt has unbuttoned during my run and an important closure is open and I've become somewhat of a spectacle. Praying that I don't end up trending on twitter, I quickly re-button my shirt, put away my inhalers and open my book. Act casual. The train packs in a few more lucky passengers, and I'm suddenly grateful for my little spot of carpet. A railing stabs me in the back all the way home and my legs keep falling asleep from their unnatural position on the floor. But I'm on the train, on my way home.
The light turns to darkness as we descend underground. The doors open with a whoosh and I'm thrust into the swarm of fellow travelers all streaming toward the same tiny escalator. Up up up. The smell of coffee and the queue of bleary-eyed people waiting for another dose of caffeine. Music, today it's a guitarist playing "Blackbird." Yesterday it was a violinist with a budding opera singer. Up another escalator and into the light. The street is busy with office workers, runners, homeless people and tourists. Most walk quickly but some have no idea where they are - they are looking at their phones and depending on god, luck or the kindness of strangers to keep them from getting run over. Most of the time it works out.
Once oblivious, I am now very cognisant of the messy, living network of trains and commuters under my feet. This is my city life.