Every city’s subway has a distinct smell. It’s the first sense that announces to my traveling soul – yes, I’ve arrived.
But you, BART, arguably, do not have a scent as strong as that of New York City, or Boston, or Chicago. Those who debate might trace your aroma to a funky mix of mold, sweat, and the last food illegally consumed on board.
What you do have is a very distinct sound - an alto whistle that crescendos into a muted shrill as you reach maximum speed. This sound is as recognizable as the dank smell of our fellow metro’s transit. To me, BART, it means home.
We often are a jaded bunch in the Bay Area, and I know you have plenty of naysayers. But on your 40th birthday today, I reflect on what you’ve meant to me, and wondered how many days of my life I’ve accrued in a BART car during the past eight years of living in the Bay.
BART, you were my lifeline to a new city. My first months in Berkeley consisted of leaving work, parking at Ashby, riding you to downtown SF, and walking, gazing everywhere in awe.
Once I moved across to SF, you ferried me to work daily for six years to the East Bay. Back then, I could park for free at West Oakland overnight. Remember that white Volvo who blocked my car each day until I arrived, sheepishly waving, acknowledging she had stalked my parking space? I felt bad on the days I was late, or sick, or on vacation.
You shuttled me to the Greek Theater for various shows, and my city folk and I exited, meandering through Berkeley campus, in a mass of camaraderie heading for the train. Most importantly, you are the beginning and end of countless journeys, carrying me to SFO and OAK airports. And when I see your face on 580 after many hours of driving, it’s a sign that I am nearly there.
Sure, we’ve had some problems.
I’m not psyched that you retire early each evening. Couldn’t you stay up just a little bit longer?
And when you changed your frequency from every 15 minutes to 20? That really sucked. So many times, I’ve felt the whipping wind as I’m skipping, two steps at a time, down the escalator only to see your fleeting red tail lights and the scrolling reminder stating SF/Daly City 19 minutes.
I’ll never forget when I brought a bike on you for the first time. I was so consumed with figuring out the colored lines that when the crusty old A’s fan screamed at me, “These seats are for seniors!” I exited at the next stop, embarrassed, ashamed, and pissed off (he could have been nicer to a newbie who was not well-versed in the rules).
Last night, BART, I waited in the depths of Oakland’s 19th Street station and I was able to make a crystal clear phone call four stories beneath the ground. I thought the call would drop as we left the station towards the next stop. It didn’t. Nor did it drop as we raced towards the Transbay Tube. That phone call lasted from 19th St through to SF’s Powell St. station with zero problems. Unheard of!
It was also the first time I rode a BART car with your new and improved seats. They all appeared to have plump cushions and were clean as could be. Gone was the nasty carpet as well. Looking spiffy at your age!
Faster than a MUNI bus and more reliable than a MUNI train, BART, you’re still doing a fine job in your older years. I may no longer ride you every day. But when I do, I still feel my adrenaline rush as we accelerate towards the Transbay Tube, your low tune swelling to a subdued soprano note that resonates until we reach San Francisco.
Happy birthday to you.