Sit on It: After a Strike and a Shutdown, Things Are Running Again, but They're Still Filthy

The decision to do up BART trains with carpeting and luxuriantly padded seats has been a generational head-scratcher. But, last week, we learned it's working for someone.

On Monday, Oct. 21, the Public Defender's office trumpeted a favorable verdict for its client, Leslie Bailey, a man whose onboard demeanor managed to stand out, even at 16th Street Station. The off-blue hue and bits of exposed fluff were too much for the 28-year-old, who was soon spotted by a train driver “on his knees, thrusting his hips against the BART seat.” Bailey decamped the train in a flash, but returned — and rekindled his torrid affair with the same seat, “gyrating on his stomach while his feet dangled into the aisle.”

In the afterglow of his coupling with the seat, Bailey was spotted apparently pleasuring himself while smoking crack cocaine. He later saw fit to apologize to the train driver — for smoking.

It's always intriguing to see which societal messages get through, and which don't.

A San Francisco jury — God bless them — declined to convict Bailey for indecent exposure, determining that, as he carried on his tryst with the chair and puffed his post-coital smoke, he was not doing so with an attempt to draw attention to himself. Only hours later, BART and its unions announced an accord, curtailing the system's second strike this year, and allowing hundreds of thousands of commuters to, once again, fill those coquettish seats.

And there was much rejoicing.

The star-crossed affair of Leslie Bailey and his chair illustrates so much about the Bay Area's relationship with Bay Area Rapid Transit. It's always a bad sign when, after reclining in a BART seat, your dog sees fit to sniff your pants for five solid minutes. But it's ever so much better than not having the opportunity to serve as a disease vector in the first place.

In the wake of the latest crippling strike, and the months of posturing and brinksmanship preceding it, much righteous indignation was vented against BART's intransigent management and tone-deaf unions.

It turns out the only thing worse than bitching about BART is bitching about not having BART to bitch about.

Well, fair enough. But the shriek of BART trains once more rolling through the Bay Area figures to drown all that out. You've likely put the terrible transit saga out of your mind already — just as Bailey surely doesn't recall that chair's name.

Among put-upon commuters, one popular hope was that the same terrible fate might await those responsible for derailing BART as that reserved for the congressional Republican troglodytes who derailed the country. It is true they will likely share a fate. But not one any aggrieved BART patron — or American with a passing interest in participatory democracy — would desire.

Nothing is going to happen to them.

Large-scale revulsion, online petitions, newspaper editorials, the will of “The People” — none of these means much in a system bereft of options (and engineered to be so). It doesn't matter how mad you are at Tea Party Congressmen; they like them just fine in their gerrymandered, self-selecting districts of like-minded thinkers. There are few options for constituents in these realms who'd see fit to push for a less stridently knuckle-dragging representative — one who could parse the nuances of Dr. Seuss, say. And there are few feasible options for those hoping to traverse the bay sans BART.

Several years ago, in the wake of Oscar Grant's slaying, your humble narrator covered a “rally” composed of kaffiyeh-obscured anarchists who commuted from the East Bay to San Francisco to protest BART.

While they uncovered their faces to chew their five-dollar Subway foot-longs, they confirmed that, yes, they took BART into the city to protest BART.

They detected no irony or contradiction in doing this; taking BART was utterly second-nature. When asked why they couldn't have hopped the Transbay Bus, one grumbled, “Have you ever tried taking the Transbay Bus from Oakland?”

Having ideals is great — but it doesn't get you from here to there. In the mass-transit game, you'll eat what's dumped in your trough.

Or you'll starve.

The nation is growing ever more like San Francisco. And this is a terrible thing.

Via redistricting and self-segregation, cities, counties, and congressional districts have grown increasingly homogenous politically. Here in San Francisco, an entrepreneurial opportunity awaits the person who can produce urinal cakes resembling Sen. Ted Cruz. But, back in Texas, his unsubtle comparisons of funding Obamacare to the appeasement of Hitler seem to be resonating.

Surely there must be a voting district in which Leslie Bailey's views resonate, too.

No one connected to the BART morass made any friends out of this deal. But, at least for them, that's okay. They had enough friends. Petitions are now being circulated by office-seekers aiming to spur the Legislature to curtail BART workers' right to strike. Strident newspaper op-eds are trumpeting that this “discussion” has now started.

It's not going to be a very long discussion.

The notion that California's overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature would spit in the eye of organized labor — a loyal and heavy Democratic benefactor — is as far-fetched as setting up Bailey with a roomful of Shaker furniture. Even if all the Bay Area called for action, which is hardly the case, the Legislature isn't set up to respond to the mere will of the citizenry.

That would be giving an awful lot of credit to a body that demonstrated how much it respected the views of San Franciscans by rapidly and overwhelmingly approving the efforts of a coterie of Southern California representatives to rename the Bay Bridge after Willie Brown.

Wishing a plague on both BART's houses may make you feel better. But it's not changing BART. And it's not changing the system. If you're deep within a luxuriantly padded seat, BART may well be imparting a plague upon you.

But thank you for not smoking.

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