About:My name is Alia. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and spend a lot of time on public transit—usually BART, but sometimes buses or Caltrain. It can get old, but there's always something new: I listen in, look over shoulders, and deposit stories here.
I avoid identifying individuals, either in words or pictures—but at the end of the day, public transit is ... well, public. I'm happy to chat about the ethics of eavesdropping (or anything else). Drop me a line.
Credit is given where credit is due; all other words and pictures are my own. Let me know if you see something you like.
Waited then at the dripping terminal with a quiet crowd, our heads bowed beneath hoods and briefcases, beneath torn and splayed umbrellas crippled in the weirdly animate gusts that chased us south from Market. From the bus I watched whitecaps crawl the bottle-green water; in the gloom the bay for once looked like the sea.
(Unrelated, how hard can it possibly be to catch someone who runs down a tunnel? There are just the two ends to the thing, am I right?)
“Because of Dr. Doolittle I always thought llamas had two heads. Then the first time I saw one for real I was like, ooooh shit, what happened to it?”
—Interesting argument for monitoring your child’s media consumption
You guys realize this how we’re all going to die, right? I mean, not this poor man with the measles, but someone on a train ten years from now with Ebola or some nonsense. We’ll see what kind of “whimsical” little vignettes I write when I’m bleeding out of my eyeballs.
Yesterday I stood next to a girl slumped over the pages of a fantasy novel. Her long, fair hair hung over the far side of her face; as the train lurched down the rough track after MacArthur it swayed like a curtain over an open window. I wished for the millionth time that I could draw.
At the precise moment I registered this regret the guy seated on my other side pulled out a sketchbook. He chose a spectacled man in a seat by the door, rendered his face and his life in pencil in a matter of stops.
I saw the artist again today as I got on the train, and once more in line for coffee. He wears fingerless knit gloves.
A older woman barges on at Embarcadero, stands shaking her head and stamping her feet in a sort of mourning dance. She’s clutching an open flip-phone but there’s no one to call, just—”Lord have mercy! I left my purse. I left my purse in the station. Oh, good lord!”
We pull into Montgomery. The train slows and the platform comes into focus and there’s the bag, preserved by God or commuters’ incorrigible lack of curiosity on one of the round marble benches.
"There it is! Oh, lord, there it is, where I left it! Thank you, Jesus! Praise!"
“I got her childcare, I got her transportation, I got her clothes, I got her swimming lessons—that’s $250 every two weeks, every TWO WEEKS!—I got her math camp—that’s Fridays after school, they play math games in the gym, it’s real nice—I got her soccer team, I got her braces, I got her phone, goddamn, a PHONE, isn’t that crazy? I call her little Hundred Thousand. I tell her she’s my little baby Hundred-Thou.”
—Yeah, I’m thinking Cool Aunt status is maybe more my scene.
“The train was a local—the last—taking back to the city people who had been visiting friends and relations. They all seemed tired; some of them were drunk; and, sweating and sleeping fitfully in the overheated coach, they seemed … to share a great commonality of intimacy and weariness. … the looseness of most of the faces he saw made [him] feel as if the coach was some enormous bed or cradle in which they all lay together in a state of unusual innocence. They shared the discomforts of the coach, they shared a destination and for all their shabbiness and fatigue they seemed … to share some beauty of mind and purpose.”
—From The Wapshot Chronicle. (I’m still reading on the train instead of eavesdropping. John Cheever wrote this in 1957, in case you ever for a moment thought the world was new.)
A toddler stands on his seat with both palms flat against the scored and greasy window of the 9L. His mother has one hand around his nearest ankle and the other on a folded newspaper. She gazes into this impassively; the tangled script is Khmer, I think.