What Riding BART Taught Me About the Pandemic
Sometimes I ride BART around the Bay Area without any particular destination in mind and just people watch. In the last two years I’ve ridden BART less than five times. BART used to be a major part of my life. Most of my early meme material was conjured while perpetually pressed against perfect strangers on BART cars. COVID-19 and consistent remote employment put an end to my aimless transit wanderlust for the most part, but as of writing this I’m between jobs and found myself longing to be on a BART train.
As I sat on a bench at the MacArthur station I watched the trains stop and go without getting on. I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been before so after about 30 minutes watching people walk past me, I settled on a San Jose bound train. Despite being the ‘Bay Area Memes guy,’ I had little knowledge of Silicon Valley or the greater South Bay, and prior to the pandemic, San Jose didn’t have a BART station, so that’s the place I wanted to end up. Typically when I got on BART for no reason I’d always get on an SFO bound train and get off in Daly City and just walk around with my headset on. Daly City was interesting because it was incredibly similar to San Francisco while also being completely different. Pastel-painted houses dotted hilltops and moisture-rich fog filled the air, but it was quiet and the streets were clean. Very few homes had burglar bars installed on the windows and no one seemed to be in a hurry, at least not by San Francisco standards.
When I got on the San Jose train, the first thing I noticed was how empty it was. Prior to the pandemic, BART trains were packed, especially at the Oakland transfer stations like MacArthur. This time it was just me and maybe six or seven others randomly seated around the traincar. One thing that hadn’t changed was BART was still loud as shit.
The trip was uneventful until we got to the Coliseum Station. A man entered the train without a mask and I felt the vibe of the ride change. People who were just scrolling mindlessly on their phones or looking off into space suddenly seemed agitated and I didn’t blame them. When the maskless passenger got on I immediately began to roll my eyes at the sight of his uncovered face. The passenger wasn’t on the train long, he got off at the South Hayward station, but for those few stops, he was patient zero. No one wanted to be around him. He paced around the train and you could feel the tension. No one wanted him to sit near them. Right after the train departed Bayfair he sneezed and a woman sitting relatively close to where the maskless man was standing muttered something under her breath and stormed off into another car.
When the man got off the train, everything returned back to normal. It was like it didn’t happen. I felt relief as the doors closed ensuring he wouldn’t be able to get back on the train. But shortly after, I reflected on what just happened and what it meant. I’m not an anti-masker or an anti-vaxxer, but this experience made me uncertain if there was ever truly going to be a post-pandemic world.
The first COVID case was reported in China roughly two years ago and scientists have already said that the virus is likely here to stay. Despite the proven safety of the vaccines, there are people, even here in the Bay Area, that are cautious of the vaccine and against wearing masks.
Until we get these people on board, we’re never going to live in a world where seeing a stranger’s face in a public place is an experience free from anxiety.