On Transit
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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.
to spite your face

Suffocation-hazard-packed morning train. A couple is exchanging Eskimo kisses over my left shoulder, her hair brushing my neck with each little sally onto his sweaty face. They are thirtysomething, neither young nor old enough for this bullshit to conceivably be construed as cute; furthermore their conversation has not strayed from the subject of teeth-whitening methods for the past four stops. I wish them imminent and acrimonious divorce.

“THAT GUY LOOKED LIKE DRAKE!!!” —(Speaker’s friend flings herself valiantly at the window to confirm this, but the man has left the platform, alas.)
“Unfortunately, [Thomas] Edison had terrible taste in music. Everything he bothered to record sucks.” —Ungrateful hipster?

This guy's doing “Never Going to Dance Again,” these guys are loving it, doing a weird sort of hula thing with their hips.


Two big cops and the most beautiful bomb dog. It’s the sleek taupe of Eucalyptus bark wet in the fog; its legs and lean, inquiring head are black. It slinks along the tile with its tongue out and its eyes up. It’s young, I think.  

I don’t speak to police if I can help it, not since the statue incident, but I’ve never seen a dog like this and so I ask what breed it is. “Belgian malahrmmm.… ” the handler mumbles. “Belgian what?” “Maluhhhnrm.”

"Spell it?" I ask. 

"He can’t spell that!" roars his partner. "Dog’ll spell that before he does!"


New busker at Montgomery commits to Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” He’s loud as hell and the majority of the commuter crowd is with me in being not quite awake enough for this. As he approaches the call-and-response section I begin to get nervous for him, but the Peets baristas come through—even providing an admirable falsetto reply to, “Hey, ladies!”

<3 <3 <3

Monday, yeah.

Monday, yeah.


Lebanese chick in a black polyester catsuit, one hand on the boyfriend’s collar and the other around a pink and yellow bouquet. Boyfriend is winning pretty hard and asking a series of leading questions to ensure he receives credit for the flowers on the Internet.

"I bet you’re going to Instagram those, aren’t you?" he sighs. "You’re always Instagramming flowers.”

"Good ideaaaaaa!" she coos. She fishes a phone out of her handbag and deftly selfies with her nose half-buried in the blooms, quickly commences swiping through the filters. He watches her screen surreptitiously while stroking her hair. 

"Isn’t there a way to, like, tag it with people?" he suggests.

BONUS: They had matching cell phone backgrounds o-ooooof …

… the Stanford logo. :D

39 plays

The Chinese violin (or “erhu,” Google informs me) is an instrument I associate most closely with the tortured, screeching variation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” that often greets commuters at Montgomery. But there was one night, late, I ran down the stairs to catch a train at Ashby and heard it played like this.

Extrapolate from the bad recording to the moment of stopping dead in the empty tunnel. I held my breath to listen. A trick of the acoustics, the strange angles of this station? I felt sure I’d turn the corner into the green of a rice terrace, 1000 B.C.

But no—just this man playing by the turnstiles. 

get off my laaaawn

Summer brings three invading armies: tourists, the Irish, and Haas interns. The tourists are economically important and the Irish are entertaining, but damn … I wish the interns would take a schoolbus.

From what I (and anyone else without good headphones) can gather from their giddy, interminable conversations, they spend the workday “liasing” with their “teamies” at an hourly rate I’m fairly sure I’ll never make in my life. Their most pressing concerns are, without fail:

  1. PowerPoint
  2. Who, if anyone, is taking them to lunch tomorrow, and if no lunch is forthcoming, how expensive it will be to purchase lunch, yet, how tedious it would be to pack lunch just in case, additionally, the potential for wasting said packed lunch if fact free lunch is provided, due to, packed lunches just never are any good the second day, and, do they even have time to go grocery shopping, given the PowerPoint, oh my God?
  3. The likelihood of being kept on at the end of the summer. The quest for the one true retention rate of Big Four summer hires is passionate, collaborative, and all-consuming, with individual interns contributing clues garnered from Internet-stalking, cafeteria hearsay, and second cousins who used to work in HR. Alas, the trail stays cold: I have heard hypotheses ranging from 5 to 70 percent.

I know, I swear, that I ought not begrudge the youth that first blush of career enthusiasm. But still I will the train operator to intervene over the intercom: Back away … from the water cooler. I repeat, back away … 

the other cheek

The Jehovah’s Witnesses (I think) have been doing the rounds at BART lately. The volunteers sport buoyant, Botox-y smiles; the posters slick design but haphazard messaging, for example: “GOD’S VIEW OF SMOKING”—I would have thought ATF regulation was below His pay-grade—and, “WHY GO ON?”

The latter I find unsettling: it had never occurred to me that I needed a specific reason to persist in existing until I had to walk past this question several mornings in a row. The sign seems to be accusing me of a lack of intellectual rigor in the decision-making process (or lack thereof) that leads me to get out of bed every morning, and I don’t appreciate it. Why go on? I go on because … because I just feel like it, alright? Damn!

The other evening the Witnesses at Montgomery were approached by a passenger with some variety of dwarfism. I watched appalled as the pamphlet-bearer—big hair and a pantsuit—dropped quickly to her knees, made her eyes and mouth elastic and enormous. She cooed at the passenger as if addressing a five-year-old, or perhaps a dog.

I spent my commute engrossed in a fantasy of Peter Dinklage delivering a caustic speech from atop the turnstiles, humiliating the pantsuit woman—or at least the pantsuit woman’s boss—and then slicing up all the posters with a sword. I don’t even know if this was wrong.

semper vigilans

Three kids sitting cross-legged on the floor amidst various Jansports. There is a low, growling exchange, a plaintive sound from the youngest—pigtailed—and the eldest shoves her away.

It’s a halfhearted, fly-swat of a gesture, not rough, but the man standing next to me is apparently incensed. He rips out his earbuds and lumbers across the car toward the silent, staring trio while hitching up his shorts. “Now, don’t you do that!” he shouts at the eldest. “That’s your sister! You can’t be doing that to your sister!” He kneels, pulls a a dollar bill from the pocket of his hoodie and presents it with a flourish to the youngest child, who takes it wordlessly and turns away.

The man returns to his spot and the eldest hunkers down with her phone, but the lecture isn’t over: he berates her sporadically for the next two stops, sighing dramatically at each ostensible conclusion, then resuming with some new variant on the reprimand. (“I got grandkids and they would never … ” “Just because you’re bigger doesn’t mean …” “You ought to be all about LOVE! I mean, for real!”)

The most baffling aspect of this scene is the presence of what appears to be the children’s mother. She’s standing over the three of them, but her back is to the stranger and she is completely absorbed in a game of Candy Crush. Occasionally her eyes flick backward to the sound of his voice, but at no point does she acknowledge him.

As I’m wrestling with the question of which person I most want to slap in the face—the mother or the man—the latter starts across the car again. He presents the eldest and the middle child with a dollar each. 

Another stop, another silence. Then he approaches the children for the third time. He kneels again; he takes back all the dollar bills. He folds them into rings—George’s face the jewel—and returns them, offboards at Macarthur. 

vocal fry-up of the day

Omigod I love your


are they




… having thus exhausted my reserves of empathy and sisterhood and wonder—this girl engrossed in yoga-pose flashcards needs to get her ponytail out of my face before I cut it off. :) :) :)

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