Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'm a train commuter now.

Yesterday was my first day on the new job as an Information Cowboy for

Since I live in San Jose and the job is in San Francisco, I’ve decided to take the train to work. This gives me two hours each day to do whatever I want without distraction and without interruption, which hopefully will be spent, at least in part, blogging. I’m writing this on the train as a matter of fact.

My first day as a train commuter went something like this: I arrived at the station about 20 minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive, and it’s a good thing I did, because the stupid parking pass machine wouldn’t take my dollar bills. I spent 15 minutes frantically running up and down the stairs, trying to hit up the other passengers for their dollar bills in exchange for mine (they probably thought I was trying to scam them). Finally I gave up, and put my receipt for the train ticket on the dash, in the hopes of fooling the parking enforcement into thinking I’m just too stupid to turn it the right way (it worked).

At the particular station I was at, it was pretty much just two slabs of concrete next to the track. To get to the Northbound side, you have to walk across the track. They have these little bars that come down to warn you when the train is coming, but that is about all that stops you from walking on the tracks. It’s no wonder there are so many suicides on CalTrain — it’s just so damn easy!

As I walked down the stairs, the little bars were coming down, and I saw everyone running to get to the Northbound side before the bars came all the way down. I assumed this was because the train was coming, so I joined them. It turns out that a Southbound train was coming very quickly, with no intention of stopping. I was so close to the track that I could feel the the pressure of the train pushing me away (see Mythbusters).

About a minute later, a train arrived on the Northbound tracks. I was told that the train number would be printed on the front. I had been lied to. There was a number on the front, but it didn’t match any train number in the schedule. So I turned a guy on the platform, and said, “Is this the 319”. He said yes, and I thanked him and started walking away. Then I turned around and walked back up to him, clearly frightening him, and, being the ever curious person I am, said, “How did you know that?”. I was hoping the answer would be “divine intervention”, but instead it was “the shape of the train”, which frankly isn’t much better!

After boarding the train, I sat down next to a very nice girl, who was in absolutely no mood to exchange pleasantries. As I sat down, I smiled at her and said, “Good morning.” She smiled back at me and said nothing. As I observed others boarding the train, I noticed that this seems to be customary — ignoring the others on the train. From now on I will make no attempts at acknowledging the existence of others on the train, unless they do so first.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful. One thing that I saw on the way back however was a guy with a beer in one hand and a trashy romance novel in the other. I guess that is his way of winding down after a long work day!

For the ride both down and up, I spent about half the time staring out the window, and the other half writing this entry. It always depresses me a little when I ride the train, to see the condition of the houses and businesses near the tracks. I suppose as I become a daily rider, I will become more accustomed to the general lack of upkeep of the buildings and the people walking by, dragging their feet, as though they are ashamed to live so close to the tracks.