Erin Roan MacDonald

Metro Systems

I was reminded today that while I live in San Francisco, the whole Bay Area is home to me. Much of it accessible by Bike and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Even though I don’t go to Oakland often, I’ve done it enough to be in auto-pilot or at least in relaxed bike ride mode like today when I rode around to and from my destination. I don’t really know West Oakland streets but pedal: check, turn right: check, the familiar tracks overhead.

I did help that I had a full belly from grazing all afternoon from one pot luck to another and that the second party had a keg. So yeah, I was a little tipsy. But, getting home from the East Bay was effortless. BART wasn’t crowded at 6 on a Saturday night. Easy, pow. Also, seemed I had wireless on my phone all the way in the tunnel or at least loaded into my cache, leaving to me to continue romancing the BART.

My feeling about public transit wasn’t always this way. I grew up in the country and while I had taken the school bus, walked a mile to get to the county bus to get to another school, underground transportation was scary. My first exposure was the NY Subway. I visited NYC as teenager with my family to sell produce in the famous Union Square Farmers Market. I never went into the subway during any of those visits. We always had a van and on a few occasions took a taxi cab.

I witnessed hoards and hoards of people entering and exiting the stations, coming up out of a hole in the ground, that seemed to my pristine, organic, 13-year-old self– analogous to a hell monster that might suck you up if you didn’t send out the right message. That was what I had been told: to look tough and strong in NY so that no one would mess with you.

When I was 17, I went to Europe for the first time with an older, experienced friend. In Paris, the subway or the Metro and is not dirty or scary like NYC, it was exciting, exotic. By the end of my trip I spent an entire day exploring Paris myself all by Metro. I was so proud. It was easy. Just get on the train in the direction you are going. Some of the stations entrances are more beautiful than houses here. Still to this day I am thrilled when I navigate a strange city on public transit. Less thrilled when I am lost and cannot speak the language but that hasn’t happened much.

It’s all perspective and life experience. In 2004 I returned to NYC for moment to join my friends in a dance vacation. I was living in Seattle at the time and took the train in from a friends in New Jersey to Penn Station and then the subway to meet my friends at a dance studio in Spanish Harlem. I did it, all by myself. The thing is about public transit is: you need to know where you going and where to get off.


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