THE EPIC JOURNEY began on my very first mode of public transport: BART, the behemoth that opened 47 Septembers ago. Yes, Bay Area Rapid Transit was there when I was a carless teen thrilled to get to San Francisco in traffic-free ride, and it was there last week when I needed to go from my mom’s East Bay house to the airport for the many-legged trip back home.
It was a blue-sky, gonna-be-a-scorcher morning when I ascended to the Pleasant Hill BART platform.
As I stepped aboard the train, a memory winked at the back of my mind: In high school, I’d go to the city just to look at people, skyscrapers and swooping bridges. This caused some truancy.
Fortunately I graduated and went on, still wide-eyed, to explore public transit in other cities.
But wait, there’s another memory from even further back.
“Are we going to see fish?” I’d asked Mom when BART’s Transbay Tube was built under San Francisco Bay. I was an 11-year-old imagining a glass tunnel surrounded by sturgeon and sharks. Turns out the tube walls are not transparent — while inside the train lives an interesting ecosystem.
So on this day, just as I did as a kid, I beheld my fellow travelers.
A patrician man with cacao-brown skin and curly black hair wore a navy sport coat and a fuchsia scarf around his neck. A queenly African-American woman also rocked a swath of fabric, this one encircling a beehive of long braids; she had knotted her scarf in a rosette just above her forehead. Stunning.
At the Oakland Airport, I boarded a Delta jet. Beside me sat a 20-something woman with an alabaster complexion and dark brown locks; the book open on her lap was “So You Want to Talk about Race” by Ijeoma Oluo.
Page headings included “Is police brutality really about race?” and “What is intersectionality and why do I need it?”
From SeaTac airport the Link light rail whisked me to Pioneer Square. I sat across from a long-limbed teenage girl in a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, lavender denim shorts, wild-print leggings and Doc Marten boots. She graced me with a big smile, flashing her braces, as she stepped off the train.
You know what’s next: the Washington State Ferry to Bainbridge Island. I shared the boat with a flock of passengers including a beautiful woman in a black burqa and a blonde holding up a personal fan to cool her face.
Kitsap Transit bus No. 390 carried me from Bainbridge to Poulsbo’s Viking Transit Center, where I caught Jefferson Transit’s No. 7 to Port Townsend.
At the back was a tanned busker who’d spent the day playing his violin near the Bainbridge ferry dock. The sun had shone on him, and he’d felt good about his music-making. The passers-by felt it too. Several tossed $20 bills into his case.
“That messes up the math,” he told me, “in a good way.”
We went on to discuss topics including his former job as a truck driver; Port Angeles, his hometown; Port Townsend, where he lives now; gentrification and Victorian houses.
To my surprise and relief, the last No. 7 bus of the night becomes the 11 as it rolls into the Haines Place Park and Ride. This is the city shuttle, meaning I would be delivered directly to my apartment uptown.
I unlocked my front door at 8:10 p.m., 13 hours after boarding BART in California.
I’d covered 832 miles on two trains, two buses, a boat and a plane.
It’s good to be home. It’s also good to travel and to swim the public transit streams of this world.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.
Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Oct. 16.
Reach her at [email protected]