I try to be reading when we go down into the tunnel. If it isn’t too crowded and I can sit, I get out a book.
There is the oppressive change of pressure. I knew a recent arrival once who was quite insistent on how painful this was. He looked around the train car at all of the other people, none of whom, like him, were suffering, and the pain at his eardrums was compounded by the odd sense that he alone was somehow singled out to suffer, and he couldn’t believe what was happening.
He was somewhat melodramatic about it, actually. As we are all prone to the egomaniacal belief that we alone are special, are chosen, I suspected that that egoistic impulse in him was double-edged and he felt singled out in his pain, too. And though it seems he felt panicky he said he didn’t grimace or yell or call out in pain because no one else around him did, until he eventually swallowed, as we all do. Whether driving up into or down out of mountains or even like infants on planes given their bottles to suckle and equalize the pressure, we all swallow and equalize the pressure in our ears. And on we go, through our quiet panics, while the world glides by on normal, rarely ever noticing.
Besides, it isn’t the minor annoyance in my ears as we ride down into the Tube that has me reading to take my mind off where I am.
I’ve read Raymond Chandler recently (Playback), and Graham Greene (A Gun for Sale) and Delmore Schwartz and Stanley Karnow and Jorge Luis Borges and all have served well to preoccupy me, so that I will not think where I am, as the Bay Area Rapid Transit train hurtles through the Tube at 70 miles an hour down along the floor of San Francisco Bay, with all those millions and millions of gallons above us.
It’s when the BART traffic backs up and we stop down there that I cannot help myself, and I put my book down, and there we sit, until whatever congestion in the Embarcadero station in front of us is cleared. I look at all the placid business faces around me, the early morning faces of people reading their books, magazines and newspapers, stoic, dour, facing the day ahead of them, some sleeping, some tapping away at the keyboards of their laptops. I think, This is why I take the ferry most of the time, even if it’s slower, even if it only gets me to the ferry building and I have to walk or take Muni the rest of the way to work.
And I cannot help but imagine of all the cold, brackish water over my head, of the fish and the filth, and I think to myself, please, not now. No earthquake now.