Why I Love Riding BART

March 14th, 2007

So I get on the BART train at Montgomery station yesterday afternoon, about to head back to Berkeley -- and just as the doors are closing, a guy runs on. He's tall and thin, and dressed like David Byrne without irony: well-tailored, old-fashioned suit, black briefcase, and a big, blue-and-gold striped bowtie wrapped around his skinny, R. Crumb-ish throat. I'd guess he was about 55 or so.

So he's just made it onto the train, and he takes a moment to look around gratefully and sweatily, then sits down across from me -- next to a guy roughly his age, but in most other ways his polar opposite: big, bushy gray beard, faded proletarian overalls, reading a section of newspaper that he's probably fished off of the floor. To be honest, the bearded guy looked a bit like he might go off at any minute -- not someone you would necessarily choose to sit next to, unless perhaps you were fixing to get an earful about the Trilateral Commission.

So the train rumbles out of the station. After a few moments, the sweaty skinny guy turns to the bearded guy and says, "This is the Richmond train, right?" Without looking up from his paper, the bearded guy grunts what sounds like "Yeah." The sweaty guy nods, and the train rolls on.

I peek at them covertly as we plunge under the Bay: they're like the Completely Mismatched Duo. One vaguely and irrationally happy, and wearing a big, garish bowtie. The other vaguely disgruntled, possibly due to a life of foiled revolutionary struggle and perhaps exacerbated by the untimely death of Jerry Garcia.

As the train approaches Ashby station, the bearded guy puts his paper back on the floor, stands, and prepares to debark. He stretches, girding himself for the afternoon's continuing struggles. The doors open. Scruffy Dude starts to head out -- then, at the last moment, turns back to Skinny Guy, saying: "Nice tie."

Now here's the thing. I was there. I realize that could read as if it had been said in a mocking way. But it hadn't been. The compliment was genuine -- perhaps with a little ironic spin on it, but not at all malicious or snarky.

Nor was it received as such. Skinny Guy smiles widely and genuinely: "Thanks!"

The doors shut, and the train rolls on towards Downtown Berkeley. The guy with the bowtie is still smiling. So am I.

Entry Filed under: let's digress


  • 1. Julie Bernstein  |  March 14th, 2007 at 8:15 am

    That’s a perfect moment. Makes me *almost* miss commuting on BART. But not quite. ;-)

  • 2. Ravi Shankar  |  April 6th, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Dear Mr. Kornbluth,

    It was such a nice surprise to meet you at Berkeley BART. I commend you for riding public transportation, although you are a famous celebrity! I’ve watched your show and I admire the many unique and special focus you bring to increase people’s awareness.

    JUST WANTED TO SHARE MY SHORT, BUT AMAZING EXPERIENCE WITH THE CONCEPT of GRATITUDE in our lives (always)…The Founders, MATTHEW & TERCES ENGELHART … have undertaken to make it their life work and so successfully spreading it in various communities in Berkeley, San Francisco, Marin and more! You will really like their ABOUNDING RIVER GAME & Terces new COOKBOOK.


    Best wishes to you and your great TV show.

    Ravi C. Shankar


    I could not help notice how you offered and gave up your seat to a young mom with a cute baby in a stroller…riding BART !

    That is a genuine, simple and powerful act of a great AMERICAN and a caring human being.

    It was so ironic and powerful that the baby was saying to
    everyone with a great smile “I love you” ……Thank you Josh for
    the chance to witness such a simple, powerful human event !

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