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Doin' that Oak-town thing

 

A woman with a butt big enough to land a small plane on was waddling along ahead of me at the Oakland West BART station at approximately 80% of what I considered to be a "comfortable" pace. Wishing to pass her "safely" before she reached the escalator (and surely hindered the flow of pedestrian traffic behind her), I gently cleared my throat and with a reassuring timbre politely inquired if I might be allowed to overtake her and continue unabated towards my soon-to-be-leaving train.

I had read about how animals could be trained to respond, sometimes dramatically, to the sound of a single word spoken, even quietly, by a human. What I witnessed next was the mimicry of that response in humans, with the events playing out in almost slow-motion. The first reaction to my inquiry was hard for me to miss due to my position immediately behind this "woman of substance" - there began a pattern of... "shock waves", for lack of a better word, similar to those observed during an earthquake, that rippled across the vast surface of her posterior. Mesmerized by this curious effect, I almost failed to notice that we had both reached the top of the escalator at the same time, with her body technically the winner simply because of its greater girth. The sea of humanity we were floating along in had now been reduced from innumerable lanes of traffic down to maybe two as we began our descent to the street level, but first there was an "obstruction" to be cleared. Tearing my gaze from the undulating spectacle in front of me, I sized up the narrow confines of the escalator well and the seemingly limitless expanse of the woman in front of me, and realized that to pass either after we stepped onto or before we got off would be nearly impossible (if not downright unsafe) so at the last second I slackened my pace to allow her to begin her "final approach" to the first tread. Here is where the "response factor" to my previous words manifested itself once again. With my astonished gaze returning to the "ripples", unsure if they were caused by some muscular contractions or maybe even the vibrations of passing BART trains above us, the woman suddenly grabbed the handrail, which was moving along at the same speed as the treads, with both hands and began to turn back towards me. She was gripping the railing so tightly now that I actually sensed a slight slowing of our descent, while at the same time feeling the crush of hundreds of sardine-like commuters pressing against the back of my pack.

Fearing that the woman would take serious umbrage at my request, I fixed a Chesire cat-like smile to my face as she turned to confront me, but I was instead greeted with the calmest, most relaxed and self-assured expression I had ever seen. She apologized profusely for blocking my path and, if it weren't for the narrow confines of the escalator, would be more than happy to move out of my way! Feeling about 1" tall, I blurted out something about being in a rush to catch a train, blah blah blah, and we enjoyed a marvelous conversation on the all-too-brief descent to the foyer. Suddenly I was transported to another world, where time and deadlines ceased to exist, and what was happening now was all that mattered...

Feeling almost faint from this interlude, I turned upon reaching the floor to thank her for her kindness but, as I half expected, she was lost in the exiting crowd. I actually stopped in my tracks and tried to absorb what had happened, but she was nowhere to be seen (and believe me, she'd be easy to see in any crowd...) so I stumbled out into the street and tried to deal with what I had just been through. I was in such a hurry to escape from my Monday to Friday work week to catch a train to who knows where so that I could relax and "enjoy" life, but I never noticed that "life" was always around me to "enjoy" - I didn't really need to wait until I was on a train to start "enjoying"...

Fridays were always a hurry-up day for me. Working in construction - carpentry, plumbing, electrical work - there was gnawing feeling that once it got to be 3 o'clock or so on a Friday afternoon that whatever was left to do could be just that - left to do (later) - and I started thinking about hopping a train out of Oakland to anywhere... east or north.

After packing up my gear, a 45 minute walk brought me to the bus stop, followed by a 2 hour bus ride into the City, then a half hour ride on BART to West Oakland and a 10 or 15 minute walk to the yard. After the BART train emerged from the tunnel under San Francisco Bay it crossed over the tracks between the main SP yard in Oakland and a smaller yard, called the Desert Yard, where I would catch my train. Going over the tracks gave me a great opportunity to scope out the engine servicing area (to see how much power was available) and to get an idea of which trains were sitting where.

After my "experience" in the BART station I walked the last few blocks to the yard with myriad thoughts swirling around my already-clouded mind. Just what was it I was looking for on train trips? An escape? A chance to get drunk and dirty? Beats the heck out of me... all I knew was that I enjoyed riding trains and it seemed even more enjoyable if I'd spent a miserable week working beforehand. What it really boiled down to, I think, was that it was an opportunity to live in "real time" - to make decisions and react to events that were happening now and because of this there was no means to "stop the clock" and go back and "fix things" if I guessed wrong. In my daily work, if I cut a board too short or goofed up some wiring, I could always go back and "fix it", but on train trips, if I made the wrong choice (e.g. waited in the wrong place for the train, or got on the wrong string of cars, or didn't get on the right string of cars...) then the "punishment" would be immediate and long-lasting - there was no "calling the train back" so I could try again.

Sitting in the darkness, listening to the scanner, drinking wine... I couldn't get that kind woman at the BART station out of my mind. She had the "secret"... she already knew what it took to find whatever it was I was looking for. Powering down the wine, I struggled to figure out just what the "message" was I was supposed to "get" from her. Did she not tell me enough, or did I merely miss the point? Was she just a quirky "city person" or did I really come upon a "gift from above"? Slumping down now from a delicious wine buzz, my thoughts drifted back to childhood. With so many experiences to draw from, how come only a few remain in memory? And a motley sort they are! What makes us remember a seemingly ordinary occasion and not others, obviously more "important" or "meaningful"? Was the "moment" that strong, or were we in a more "receptive state"? My brain reeling now so hard it hurt, I almost didn't hear the sound of the departing train. Jumping to my feet, I pulled on my pack and headed for the tracks, but as I waited for a good ride to come my, I couldn't help but feel that instead of getting closer to the answer I was looking for I was actually drifting away...