On Transit
Home    Info    Ask    Submit
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.
do you

I’m sitting next to a guy in a long black skirt. He’s in his early 20s and has buzzed one half of his head; the other anchors a sleek sheet of blonde hair that falls to his narrow shoulders. He’s not especially tall, but he carries himself like a giraffe. The general effect is elegant.

He’s with a friend in the row behind us, invisible to me except through the low purr of his speech. They’re discussing ways to improve BART travel.

"Construction-grade headphones," suggests the voice behind me. "Big-ol’ blackout sunglasses."

"One hundred percent fuck evvvvverybody, child," agrees my seatmate. "One hundred percent fuck evvvvvvvvvveryone."

“I’m the last stand! The last Mohican! Braveheart, man, I’m Ben Hur, I’m all of them, all rolled into one! You feel me?” —Good luck, dude.

Each year, the industry holds local [rail rodeo] events where individuals compete against one another in different mechanical and electrical skill categories. At BART, the three top individual winners join together to compete as a team at the international competition.

This is so awesome. Respect.

“Did I tell you? We decided on a name if it’s a girl. Lake! Do you like it? I just think, like, it’s not a hippie name unless you’re hippie, which I’m not. I mean, obviously. And it’s su-u-per pretty. ‘Lake Marie.’ It sounds like a celebrity name. And it’s original. Nobody else will have it.” —Except, like … all … lakes. (This poor child. Her problems will range from, “Blake?” “No, ‘Lake.’ Like water?” to “Took a dip in the Lake last night, heh-heh-heh.”)

Square-shouldered man in a Hawaiian-print shirt and a a field vest, sitting spread-eagled by the door. From the satchel on his lap he removes a bundle of limp coriander. He selects one stalk and puts the leafy end between his teeth, draws the rest of it into his wiggling mouth slowly, like spaghetti. 

I’mma let you finish

A crowded weekend bus. I have a seat because I boarded some 40 minutes ago in the city’s strange southern reaches, those undulating rows of boxy homes on streets I can’t navigate by looking for water. I’m trying to read and a girl is blasting Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” out of tinny headphones. I look up to try a death-glare and a lone tear slides down her cheek. She’s mouthing the words. Shit! I think. Sorry! Sorry. I didn’t know.

kids these days

I’m having trouble determining the relationship between this pair: she’s maybe 14 and I would assume he was her father—for the affectionate arm around her shoulders and free hand at her little wrist—were it not for the fact that every other word out of her mouth is fuck, fucking, or fucked. 

"Oh, no!" he exclaims, pushing back the chewed-up cuff of her sweatshirt. She’s carved the NorCal star on the inside of her arm. It’s recent and red and a little crooked. "When did you do this?"

"Da-a-a-aaaad," she sighs. "You should be happy that’s all I did. Renee ordered a tattoo gun on eBay and put a huge fucking butterfly on her thigh."

"Oh, she did?"

"Yeah, like, really? What’s that going to look like if you ever get fat? At least I was fucking smart about it."

“Babe. No, babe, I’m not on the train; I’m in the office already. What? No, there’s just a fan on. No, I—” —At this point the operator makes the station announcement for 19th Street, loudly, and our man hangs up.

"Hey man, you like R&B, right?" He doesn’t wait for a reply. "Yeah, you like R&B."

"I’m more of a jazz guy, to be honest."

"You’ll like this one, then. Got a bad sax solo, a bad sax solo. Take a listen."

He does; in fact he hears some part of five or six tracks (some are skipping, sorry, man). The exchange lasts all the way through Oakland but does not end in a transaction, despite the price of the CD dropping $5 per stop. I’m impressed with the graciousness of the jazz fan’s refusals and doggedness of salesman’s indifference to them. I could learn a little from them both.

Like a bad date: late, later, limited service.

Like a bad date: late, later, limited service.

Text alerts to “police activity” could mean anything, really, but on a hunch I opted to sprint for the FS rather than risk BART. Good call, it looks like. (That’s Embarcadero; here’s Montgomery, closed to the crush.)
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?)

Text alerts to “police activity” could mean anything, really, but on a hunch I opted to sprint for the FS rather than risk BART. Good call, it looks like. (That’s Embarcadero; here’s Montgomery, closed to the crush.)

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
BART rider with measles potentially exposed thousands

And you thought the labor strikes were retro.

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.

Uh … carry on, I guess.

the quick draw
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. 
He clapped at the end.

He clapped at the end.

"Spin Madly On" theme by Margarette Bacani. Powered by Tumblr.