I just got off the bus at MacArthur BART, wishing I had my heavy coat on. We're having a dry winter which means sunny days but cold nights. I crossed the street, passed the incense burning man and panhandlers. I was hoping I wouldn't have to wait too long for the train; I wanted to go home, take a bath, then do something intellectually stimulating, like watch The Bachelor.
I walked up the escalator, then saw the BART sign say the Pittsburg/Bay Point train was coming in three minutes. Perfect. I didn't have to wait too long in the cold, and I'd be home soon. Maybe even have a chance to get a seat.
"Platform is closed!"
I looked up to see a BART agent walking around, waving his arms. "Everyone get off this platform NOW!"
At first all of us looked at him as if we wanted to say "Are you kidding us?" The Richmond train was about to come. Pittsburg/Bay Point was about to come. This guy wanted us to miss our train?
"Everyone go downstairs immediately! Medical emergency!"
People started to look at each other. A woman with a pink bakery box said "What now?" I knew what many of us were thinking. We were thinking about Oscar Grant, a man who was killed accidentally by a BART cop three years ago. Grant was African-American, the cop was white. The wounds are still raw. And many of us wondered was it happening again?
Realizing he was serious, we trooped downstairs. I dug out my phone and put it in my pocket. If something odd was going on, I wanted to take pictures, then take notes so if I had to I could send them to Huntington for a blog/story. I noticed many people were doing the same thing. One woman with dreads took out a notebook. Bakery Box lady talked with a friend. A couple of people were calling home. We were all standing around the stairs like kids after a fire drill, waiting to hear what to do next.
"Platform clear!" The agent yelled as several BART cops ran upstairs. "Evacuate the train now!"
In a few minutes, we saw many people walking downstairs. Something was up, of course something was up. I prayed that it was something very minor. I know! A woman was in labor! Oh please let it be something joyous, something beautiful.
All of still stood around. It was so cold. I noticed another woman had a bouquet of daffodils. I was getting nervous. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to take a hot bath, read Nina LaCour's book. I didn't want to be stranded at MacArthur BART for hours on end.
"Everyone go to the other platform now!"
We all trooped to the SFO platform. People were still looking concerned. Behind us fire fighters and paramedics were running up the stairs, then they were closed off. The agent was helping people in wheelchairs get in elevators.
I milled around the crowd. The Richmond train was on the other platform. BART cops were walking around, talking on walkie talkies. "That poor driver," I heard a woman say. "He'll never be able to do his job again." I knew then what it was. In BART terms, it was a trackside fatality. Someone jumped in front of the train. If the train didn't get them, the electric shock would.
I sat down on a bench. When I was a kid I always got scared that someone would push me off the platform on the tracks. I actually had dreams about it. I told Dad about them. "Black Bart dreams?" he said to me. "Here's the thing baby. You can't let Black Bart get to you."
I just read an interview with Marian Keyes, who had a bout of depression so bad she thought of suicide. She tried to figure out a way to make it that when her family found her it wouldn't cause them too much pain. Yet she realized she had a responsibility to them, if nothing else, to live. On a whim, she started baking. Soon she started doing it every day. Although she says she's not completely better, she's managed to write a cookbook, Saved By Cake. Black Bart didn't get to her.
Again, I thought of Neil Hope. I've written about Neil Hope before when people learned of his death two weeks ago. It seemed impossible: How could Wheels on Degrassi be dead? But here's the deal: Hope died four years ago, buried in an unmarked grave. Now even more details are coming out. According to the Toronto Star, he had a drinking problem, compounded by the fact he had diabetes. He drifted from job to job. When he was found dead in a boarding house, he hadn't seen his family in years. His mother died in 2010. One small blessing: She didn't know she outlived another son (Hope's older brother died of cancer) Black Bart got to Neil. He tried several times to turn his life around, but it got to him. And the fact that his family and friends didn't know he died until last month is something that many people should feel guilty about.
I thought about myself. God knows I've dealt with Black Bart in all his forms. But there was always something in me that said no, sorry pal. I've got nieces and nephews to help raise and books to write. Yet I understand Black Bart's allure. Sometimes the day to day living is a challenge. Be it slipping on the escalator and hurting weeks afterward. People being laid off their jobs. Or it can be simple things as well. Not having enough quarters for the washing machine. Realizing the cat who ran away is not coming home. Yet somehow you must keep on going. I know it's easier said than done, but what choice do we have? You can't let Black Bart win.
Finally, my train came. I found a seat. I looked back at the platform. The Richmond train was still there. On the gurney, there was a black body bag. I turned around. Put my phone away. Made the Sign Of The Cross. Said a prayer. I crossed myself again, then resumed reading Nina's book.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries