In my old life, I belonged to a secret club of commuters. I woke up three mornings a week at a quarter to six, caught the 7AM train from Sacramento to Richmond, then took BART to Berkeley and walked to work. Door-to-door, my commute took two hours and twenty minutes each way. I left the house each morning at 6:40 AM and returned each evening a little before 8PM. I only intended to do this for a couple of months, but thanks to the bad economy I did it for almost one year.
A few rides into my new routine, I discovered that I was not alone. There were dozens of people that rode the same route, some taking the train all the way down to San Jose or switching to a bus in Emeryville headed for downtown San Francisco. We were all part of the same club, regardless of the length of our commute. Many riders had been doing it for years, if not decades. All had their own reasons. Cheaper housing, spouses employed in Sacramento, kids attending certain schools, students unwilling to relocate.
The ambassador for the club was a little old Indian man who introduced himself the first time he spotted my 10-ride pass. He asked me questions about my life, sized me up to figure out how long I would last. Many commuters did not make it. They quit before it ever became a routine. But this little old man showed me the way of the train. He made sure I knew about the secret commuter club parties– birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, all celebrated by the veteran commuters on a pre-planned car of the train. They even threw a holiday party, complete with alcohol and dancing. My little old friend was reputed to be quite the drunken dancer.
Introvert that I am, I avoided becoming a true member of the club. I preferred to finish up my daily analyst work, read novels, write, and listen. And, boy did I listen. I heard so much on that train. I listened to men and women start extramarital affairs. I eavesdropped on conversations about healthy eating, train track suicides, inner-club gossip. I knew who was supposed to be the bitch and who was losing custody of their kids. Turns out people talk a lot when they sit on the train. They also do their makeup, curl their hair, and drink, a lot.
I never knew that this little club of commuter warriors existed until I became a temporary interloper. But, if you ever take Amtrak from Sacramento to the Bay Area, they are there, living out a portion of their lives on the train. To make things more bearable, they have formed an eclectic little family. If you stop to look and listen, you will find them. I do not miss my commute, but I am grateful to know the secrets of the train.