A Lift

Sic Transit Omni. This pseudo-Latinate motto from Britain’s satirical ‘Private Eye’ magazine was directed at London Transport 45 years ago. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. In any case, things have changed. All transit isn’t ‘sic’ (sic). The urban machine is a fine mechanism, its parts meshing as smoothly as gears in a Swiss watch. Right? And think of the teeth in those gears, and then of my own, this very morning, as they worked over a bran muffin at Destination Bakery. Once their job was done, mine was only beginning. Off we went, my teeth and I, to Messrs. BART, the region’s putative Metro system.

Because meshing with my subway trip was my political economics class. Hard to say why politics and economics burst into life in such a daunting our as 10 AM. No, there’s nothing the least bit early about it…but it does follow two hours of my morning exercise/physiotherapy, And something in my 70-year-old body fades just as the class commences. But never mind. Because we are still at the Glen Park station, me hurtling toward my train, when just beyond the fare gates a helpful employee lets me know that the elevator is out. ‘Out?’ On a date with another elevator?

No, under repair. It was on the BART website, the man assures me. Lots of things are on the BART website, such as the location of the El Cerrito Station, the history of the lines and how large a bicycle one can stow. I don’t spend much my life wandering about BART’s website. I have other things to do, such as heading for Powell Station and my class.

Lots of other people are heading for Powell Station, trust me. That’s because increasingly San Francisco has strung itself along Market Street’s succession of BART stops. My San Francisco State University adult education class being just one example. To get there, I roll straight out of the Powell Station into SFSU. As described in an earlier blog. In my class, I can’t believe anyone drives.

But although my mind may be on Market Street, my body is still at the Glen Park station. Listening to the agent tell me why the elevator is under repair for the next four days. He suggests I take the Muni tram, operated by another system. I look at him incredulously. How, I ask. Well, he says, just go down Bosworth Street. A small crowd of transit professionals has gathered. Not all are looking happy with this conversation. Because I am losing it, my patience with dysfunctional transit being what it is, I insist on this man finishing his account of my route to…death. The Muni tram is down 30 steps. There is no lift. And also, Bosworth Street is actually a few meters off Interstate 280, and more or less an offramp. There is no crossing. There is nothing but death. One of the transit workers is now vigorously shaking his head ‘no.’ Not one person present wants to go on record as advising a passenger to die.

An awkward silence falls. This particular silence is made most awkward by the absence of any knowledge among those assembled. BART staff rotate in and out of stations on a seemingly daily basis. Also, what’s not among their job responsibilities is a general knowledge of the city transit system. They do have a sort of formula ready. This involves the promise to phone San Francisco’s para-transit system and arrange a ride…which will occasion a couple of hours’ wait. Fortunately, they can tell I am in no mood. One of the repair guys says he can throw a tarp down on the elevator floor. I say okay and eventually emerge on the platform.

BART is repairing its elevator floors. Not the actual lift mechanisms. And during any day throughout the hundred-mile system four or five elevators are typically dysfunctional. Which means their stations are effectively nonexistent to anyone in a wheelchair. People complain, doubtless, about various constituents pissing on the elevator floors. I get it. It’s just that I would rather have the floor pissing and moving…and do the repairs with the night shift.

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