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
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.
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.