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excuse me while I contaminate your airspace

By enelson
Friday, January 12th, 2007 at 4:54 pm in AC Transit, Transit vs. driving.

influenza-trolley2.jpg

 Some of you may have wondered what has become of the Capricious Commuter this week (or last, for that matter). For that, I must apologize for my neglect, and beg your forgiveness as I proffer a set of excuses: I was on vacation for the last part of December, and thus not commuting. While on vacation, I was beset with a virus which slowed my output considerably last week and left me bed-ridden and fighting with my new health insurance provider most of this week.

And much to my delight as I try to avoid grossing out my colleagues with cathartic fits of public nose-blowing, I found a way to link my staph-laden lament with the blog’s raison d’etre. Yes, I found another blog, somehow linked to mine, that tells of a New Yorker who was kicked off a NY Transit bus for coughing.

I was relieve to discover that AC Transit does not enforce any such anti-coughing policy.

“If (bus drivers) had any reason to believe there was something serious, they would have to bring in the sheriff or police,” explained AC’s deputy general manager of Marketing and External Affairs, Jim Gleich. “Our practices is that drivers really can’t deny service to people.”

Let’s face it, like urban bus operators the world over, AC Transit drivers are used to running into “people with pretty serious psychiatric issues and they still have to deal with them,” to use Gleich’s words in some semblance of context.

The coughing, the sneezing, the incessant mumbling about beams from outer space and Honduran CIA agents brings to mind another in my growing list of reasons most of us choose not to take public transit to work.

In our single-occupancy vehicles, we are insulated from the various contagions that find fertile purchase in many a commuter’s respiratory tract this time of year. Not so on the bus, rail car or, heaven protect us from those bitter marine winds, ferry.

I noticed this on my regular train ride to Oakland Thursday: A woman behind me blowing her nose and a man across the aisle phlegmatically clearing his throat. Even in my state of recovering infirmity, I felt somewhat under siege, microbially speaking.

“Thanks for sharing,” was the way one of my editors dealt with that feeling when I thoughtlessly and indiscreetly began honking into a tissue at my workstation. So I’m a hypocritical Typhoid Marion. Sorry.

So in addition to cars keeping us healthy (never mind the smog and what that does to your lungs), they also allow us to be sick in our own little climate-controlled booth, free to speckle the dashboard with tiny influenza cultures without anyone noticing. It’s just like the invisibility we enjoy when we debate with the radio, give ourselves pep talks or burst into arias behind the wheel.

But as you faithful already know, my preference is to keep the car at home. So, in sickness and in health, I can also find a good reason not to drive.

This week it was the thought, as I dragged myself out of bed, “If I can only make that #@!* train, I’ll be able to snooze for another 90 minutes,” all the while exhaling the remnants of my waning malady and inhaling my neighbor’s new infection.

Photo of Seattle streetcar during 1918 Influenza Epidemic from www.archives.gov.    

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