On my first day back from the desert this week, I visited a friend and coworker who told me he had a terrible commute this morning, and got in late. “I believe it,” I answered. “I was there at the beginning of it.”
Have you ever had a first day back from a trip where it wasn’t easy to get going? We had planned on an early commute at our house, but the waking grind in darkness convinced me we should go in later, which means I go in on the BART train. (As an aside: in Arizona the sun came up between 5:30 and 6! It was glorious—and there I was, hundreds of miles away from the dogs I prefer to walk in dawn light … )
I began a new Penelope Fitzgerald book for my commute read, involving the BBC in wartime London, when the train stopped most of the way through the Transbay tube. The conductor came on the intercom to say something about smoke on the tracks at Civic Center, and we would be delayed.
His next announcement had two westbound trains unable to complete their route through San Francisco, dropping all their passengers off downtown and switching tracks to return to the east bay.
He was not sure whether he would be told to drop us off and reverse his route as well. We did the conga dance forward, stop, forward, stop, a couple times. Some guy behind me, in a construction worker voice began complaining loudly. “Do we get our money back? How’m I supposed to get to work?”
The first four stops in San Francisco are Embarcadero (by the waterfront), Montgomery (financial district), Powell (shopping and tourist district), and Civic Center, where I’m headed. So we waited, and I sat there knowing full well what this delay meant for trains on four routes behind us, all funneling in through the Tube to the City. Finally we got to the Embarcadero, and the conductor told us that this train, too, would have to turn around at Montgomery (I suspect to make room for all those trains trying to get in).
I could have waited, or I could have switched to the City’s municipal railway. Plus, I was sleepy—I closed my eyes and stopped reading at one point. I’d taken a mild sedative when I woke up during the night, and could still feel it.
But I also hadn’t walked much down in Phoenix (people drive everywhere), had enjoyed dinner out, so could use the exercise. I decided to walk, and get the blood going.
It had rained that night—which I wasn’t expecting, and after Arizona it felt cold. Not in a bad way, more brisk and invigorating. I hiked in from Montgomery, dressed warmly enough for comfort with just a chill on my cheeks and throat.
A couple hours later I visited my friend and coworker who told me it was one of the worst commutes of his life. He’s in his early 60s now, and has joked a couple times about people offering him seats on the train. (“Do I look older to you? It happened again. Someone offered me a seat,” he laughs.)
It may in part be that he is more infirm, and walks a bit gingerly. This time he got on a crowded train which got stuck in the logjam. He said the standing got to him so bad he almost sat down on the floor of the car.
Ack! I guess I was lucky to come in when I did. Welcome home to California, eh?