I have to start by saying that our own personal vehicles bring out the worst in us. We’re in control. We’re anonymous. Those other faceless operators are trying to get ahead of us and we hate them for it.
But public transportation is different. We must face our fellow commuters, sans glass or metal dividers. We are known. On my train, the conductor sees my name when he checks my ticket. Amtrak knows more about me than Facebook.
But our vulnerability to schedules, reliability and our dependence on the system can take its toll on our psyches and behavior.
Or maybe it’s just me.
Two incidents of late have forced me to look deeply into the mirror and wonder if I need to get in touch with my inner lama.
The first was on Wednesday, after a meeting in San Francisco.
Before the meeting I realized that I couldn’t bring my bike because of BART’s rush-hour prohibition. So I took the Capitol Corridor to Jack London Square in Oakland and rode up to Lake Merritt. There I could park my bike and pick it up on my way to our office near Oakland Coliseum.
Getting off at Lake Merritt on my way back, I noticed that the next Fremont-bound BART train would be coming in six minutes. Just enough time, I thought.
So I got my bike, but became a little preoccupied with winding my cable lock around the frame and hooking it up in such a way that it didn’t get in the way of pedaling or control cables. I suddenly realized that I’d taken up perhaps too many of those six minutes, so I rushed back into the station.
I put my card through the faregate just as the sound of steel wheels on steel rails drilled through to my cerebral transit panic button.
Stop playback. I’m sure there are people who would chant or simply shrug their shoulders at such a moment. I have not yet attained that level of oneness with transit close calls.
So I see coming up the stairs two guys walking abreast. I want them to make way for me and my bike, so with unmitigated premeditation, I rush the top of the stairs, bike held at chest-level.
My personal Critical Mass worked. One of the guys moved aside, and made a crack, something to the effect of “Watch out, biker in a hurry.”
Just hearing that from a stranger would have been embarrassing enough and might have made me come to terms with my bad behavior.
But I recognized the voice.
The second incident took place last night, not long after I blogged about how it was a great day for public transit use, what with all the cars and SUVs clogged up.
I missed my first train home, and because I don’t like to bike in the rain, had to wait for a bus to get the station shortly before 8 p.m. Protecting my mobile phone inside the hood of my ski jacket, I called Amtrak and found out that the train was running nearly an hour late.
Unlike most transit commuters, I nearly always have the option of turning around and driving, and luckily, I was still standing next to the parking lot at work.
The only problem was that the other family car was parked at the Amtrak station in my peaceful Central Valley enclave. When I got home, I decided against biking in the rain to pick up the car. I’d take the last local bus, which would get me within a 15-minute walk of the garage.
I walked to the bus stop and realized that I’d left my mobile at home and thus didn’t know how long I had to wait for the bus. The rain kept coming down, I kept waiting and then resolved to count off five minutes’ worth of seconds and return home.
In four minutes, I peered out from under my now-soaked baseball cap visor to see the bus coming. After what turns out to have been 20 minutes of waiting, I realize that the driver of this last bus of the night is not planning to stop for me.
It was too late to step out into the road to make myself more visible, so ripped off one of my cheap nylon ski gloves and flung it into the path of the speeding vehicle.
Again, I realize that this wasn’t the most prudent thing to do, even in good weather. But I had invested 20 minutes in a soaking rainstorm for this bus, and I was not about to go quietly into that wet night.
The bus stopped. I got on.
At the end of the line, the young driver, who was accompanied by another bus person who I guessed was training the driver, asked me to fill out an accident report.
“You’ve got to be kidding,”‘ I said.
“You threw something at my bus. I’m liable for any damages it might have caused,” the driver said.
“Damages? I threw a GLOVE.”
Still, I filled out his form as passengers waited patiently for the already late bus. Completing my soaking, I walked to the car and drove back to scene of my crime. I collected the evidence from the middle of the street so I could throw it into the washer with the other glove and my squishy jacket.
On Wednesday, I called Randy Rentschler, spokesman and lobbyist for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, to apologize for almost running him down with my bike on the BART stairway.
I attempted to express the depth of my embarrassment:
“You don’t expect to run into to someone you know …”
“When you’re being an a–hole?” my victim cheerfully volunteered.
YouTube video from Skipigeon.