January 29, 2003
Catching The Z

The 4:50 Richmond/Fremont is jam-packed today. Frankly, I can't remember ever seeing BART this crowded on a Tuesday afternoon. Maybe everybody is doing the same thing I am: ditching work, a half hour early, so they can hurry up and go home and listen to the President's State of the Union address.

(Or maybe they're just ditching work half an hour early.)

I board the train, figuring I'm probably going to have to stand up for most of the ride ... trying to decide how I'm going to comfortably do that with my purse and my laptop and my open bottle of Fiji Water and my extra jacket, slung over one arm. But then I miraculously spot a vacancy, midway down the aisle. It's one of those funky seats facing in the *wrong* direction -- I'm going to feel like I'm riding backwards on The Wild Mouse, the whole way to 12th Street -- but a seat is a seat is a seat.

"Is this spot taken?" I ask politely.

The woman sitting next to the window looks at me, without expression, and then reluctantly shakes her head a little. I ease myself into the seat next to her. As I'm settling in, I accidentally brush her leg with my purse. She jerks away from the physical contact like she's been stung by something nasty, and then she huddles against the window of the BART train as it begins its slow backward roll towards downtown Oakland. I check my watch, turn off my cell phone and stuff it into my purse, pop a breath mint into my mouth.

My seatmate scooches herself even further away from me.

I pull a battered Sarah Bird paperback out of my purse. Don't worry, lady, this announces. I'm in no mood for small talk either. This has been another profoundly crappy day -- a profoundly crappy day on top of what is beginning to feel like a quadruple-decker SANDWICH of profoundly crappy days -- and all of my mental/emotional/conversational resources are depleted. All I want to do is sit here and stare blankly at pg. 43 of "The Mommy Club" for the next eleven and a half minutes, until I get to Oakland and meet David at his office and we go home and collapse.

I open my book.

The woman -- realizing, perhaps, that she's not in any danger of a chitchat attack, after all -- seems to relax a little. I sense rather than see her tiny body slump back against her seat. Soon, she begins to breathe with slow, noisy regularity. A couple of minutes later, after the Fruitvale Station stop, I realize that she's not merely breathing heavily anymore.

She's snoring.

I take a sneaky peek at her. She is an elderly Asian-American woman: gray hair, soft tired features, expensive lipstick, cheap earrings. Her head is tipped at an angle away from me, and her mouth is hanging open, just the littlest bit. She is snoring like an underpass drunk.

Jesus. What should I do? Should I wake her up? I've never seen anybody fall asleep so deep, so fast. What if she's sick and in need of medical attention? What if she's an Alzheimer's patient who wandered away from her caretaker?

What if she misses her BART stop and wakes up in Colma?

On the other hand ... maybe I should just let her sleep. What if she's simply had a profoundly crappy day?  What if she's worried about money, and her job has become sort of rote and joyless all of a sudden, and she's filled with anxiety over the possibility of war, and she's too far away from her children and her family, and her twitchy husband was bopping around the apartment in a creative fervor until 11:50 p.m. again last night, keeping everybody awake, and this is the only eleven and a half minutes of sleep she's likely to get between now and who-knows-when?

For the sake of propriety -- and conscience -- I emit one polite, tidy little cough. No response.

She doesn't wake up during the Lake Merritt stop, even when a young mother with a litter of shrieking toddlers sits in the seat directly in front of us. ("You shut your mouth! You shut your mouth RIGHT NOW or I gonna shut it FOR you!") Eventually the driver calls my stop, in the heart of downtown Oakland. Giving my seatmate one last look -- at least I'm sure that she's breathing -- I gather up my belongings and join the single-file line of people disembarking the train. As it pulls away from the 12th Street Station, moments later, I turn and catch a glimpse of her. She is still sound asleep, her cheek smashed flat against the window. There is a smear of drool on the glass.

Sweet dreams, lady. Enjoy it while you can.

And with that I turn around and head up the stairs towards David's office.

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~ nil bastardum carborundum ~

i didn't have any problem waking YOU up, though ...
did i?
[sorry about that.]