There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The smell, but not of success

I see myself as an advocate for transit. I am not an unbiased observer. Ride transit; save the world. But some things just really test my ability to play Pollyanna while riding Sacramento Regional Transit.

Tonight, for example, I sat down in the last vacant seat in an otherwise standing-room-only outbound train. No good fortune goes unpunished. I immediately realized why the seat was vacant.

The odor struck me first. Like the shock wave of an explosion arriving before the sound of the blast, I was overwhelmed before I even noticed the guy sitting in the next seat, his back against the wall of the train and his arm hanging over the back of his seat.

This was full body gym sock at the end of the school year never been washed odor. It could have stood up by itself in the corner.

The smell was bad enough, but fate requires that something that bad must be accompanied by a running commentary. At least the guy wasn't loud. Most of what I assumed was a blow by blow description of his living nightmare could hardly be made out above the noise of the train. But then he asked a woman across the aisle from him what she was reading.

"Rolling Stone," she said.

The guy said something in response. It sounded like he was telling her he had once read every word in a magazine.

"Can I read it?" he asked her.

The woman demurred. She had just purchased the magazine and wanted to read it herself, she explained.

The guy's attention span didn't last as long as the woman's response, and he was back into his low-level running commentary by the time she finished.

I kept my head down and tried not to breath through my nose as I read my book.

"What are you reading?"

It took me a couple of beats to realize the question was directed at me.

I looked up to see the guy waiting for the answer.

"Charlie Wilson's War," I told the guy and immediately tried to escape back into the book.

"Show me the cover," he said.

I don't keep the dust jackets on books I read on the bus. The book's cover is blank white. I showed the guy the book's spine.

"That's one of my movies," he said, but his train of thought derailed and he crashed back into commentator mode.

The other day The Bee reported "RT is seeking law to get tougher on troublemakers."

The proposed crackdown, patterned after a Portland, Ore., transit system program, would be one of the toughest remedies in California against nuisance behavior and the riding public's fear of crime on mass transit.

Sacramento RT officials want to make it a misdemeanor crime for offenders to show up at light-rail stations or on trains and buses for a few months.

They can be arrested for trespassing if they violate the ban.
I'm not convinced that a new law is going to make up for the biggest problem: lack of supervision, especially on light rail. If there's no one around to enforce the law, what's the point? RT needs to hire and deploy more fare-checking officers.

Still, do you suppose the legislation could be expanded to cover personal hygiene under the "nuisance" category of grounds for banning? Enforcing that might do a lot to convince riders that RT does care about their comfort.

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