Lessons Learned While Commuting on BART

BART, the shining beacon of transportation for the Bay Area...right? Right?!

If you’ve ever been in the Bay Area, odds are you jumped on the infamous BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to get around the Bay and into the city. If you haven’t, it’s an interesting experience. Trains run frequently, but there are often extended stops at stations for no apparent reason (though usually it’s to wait for a connecting train). The passengers range from college students on break looking to get lost in the city, professionals headed into work, to retired men and women traveling into the city for the opera or symphony. If there’s a Giants game going on, the car will be packed with excited fans and their rowdy children. Bikes are often crammed in with passengers, and BART is easily accessible for handicapped passengers — in the past two days, I saw a blind man traveling by himself, a paralyzed man in an electric wheelchair, as well as a man whose service dog wagged his tail and panted happily at every passenger in the car. BART is almost always an adventure.

I take BART from my grandparent’s home in the suburbs to get to Livefyre’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco. The ride takes about 38 minutes, and costs $10 round-trip. I do it at least 3 three days a week. So, what have I learned on these excursions, and how have they translated into my internship? Let’s see:

  1. Build in time to be early. Like my grandpa tells me on a weekly basis, “nothing bad ever happens when you’re early!” While I’m sometimes tempted to point out situations where that might not be applicable (who knows, maybe by being five minutes early you’ll be just in time to get in an accident), the Type A in me sits up and nods emphatically in agreement. I like being early in general. 99% of the time my grandpa is right: nothing bad ever happens when you’re early. I generally get to the BART station ten minutes before my train is due in, and I get a great spot in line to board. Sometimes (usually when I get all green lights on the way to the station; huzzah!) I can even catch the train before the one I was planning on catching. And guess what happens then? I’m even earlier to the office. And that, my friends, is something that will never harm you as an intern. In my first few weeks at Livefyre, I’ve usually been fifteen to five minutes early every day. No one has ever been harmed by my showing-up-before-I’m-due antics. Also, if there are any unexpected delays in the trains, you won’t automatically be late to the office. Good planning pays off.
  2. Respect others. Come on. I know you’re a teenager, with your nose buried in a new book, and it’s early in the morning and you really don’t want to stand all the way into the city, but when that pregnant woman boards the train, you should give her your seat. That’s a given. Also, if you see anyone who might remotely be your grandparents’ age, offer them your seat, too. You’re young and you’re spry, even if you don’t feel like it at 8 in the morning on your way to work. Be respectful, be kind, and pay attention to who might deserve that seat for whatever reason. I’m not saying to jump up and give your seat to the next 50-something businessman who walks in the door, but just be alert. Respecting others shows class, dignity, and maturity. You can bet you want to showcase all of those traits at your internship. Keep your head up and eyes open for the next time you can help out around the office and be kind. Go out of your way to do a little extra work on a project when you’re only required to do the bare minimum. Do your part to clean up the office kitchen if you use glasses or dishes. Keep your workspace clean and tidy so you won’t bother others. The little actions add up.
  3. Work diligently. There are a lot of people who stare into the distance while they’re on BART, and they usually end up dozing off (especially if it’s around 4 in the afternoon). As for me, I try to use the time to my advantage: last week, I read a book about finances. Thrilling, right? Actually, it was a fantastic book (Women and Money by Suze Orman). I learned a ton, and it even sparked a conversation with a man who saw my book from across the train and walked over to share the book he was reading — another book about money! As much as I’d like you to think that I only read really informative, wonderful books like Women and Money, that’s not really the case. I read a lot of fiction. But you know what? Reading is reading, and I love reading. It works my brain, keeps me awake, and inspires my own writing. I’m not dozing off on BART; I’m working, and it just so happens to be something I love. If you keep up the work ethic and keep on working diligently, you’ll see results, and other people will notice. As Nike says…just do it.
  4. Know what you’re doing. We’ve all seen those people on public transportation: they don’t know what or where they’re going. They step off at the wrong stop, then backpedal back into the train, running into people as they go. They walk out and head the wrong way down the platform, straight into the stream of people trying to leave. Or, the truly horrible one with BART — they don’t know how to put their tickets into the turnstile to leave the station and a huge line forms as people wait for them. You can avoid this easily by doing a dry-run of your commute: know how to put money on your ticket, how to get in the station, where to go, what the stops are, and how to leave the station at your destination. You’ll thank yourself the first day of your internship/job. The same is true in the workplace: if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing on a given task, don’t be afraid to ask questions. No one will fault you for wanting to learn and being confident enough to speak out.
  5. Know your route and where it’ll take you. It’s good to know what trains head all the way to the end of the line and which ones don’t. Don’t you want to be absolutely certain of your final destination? Or, at the very least, where you’re headed and how long it’ll take to get you there? Don’t be afraid to look up the map of the train lines. Don’t be afraid to look ahead in your internship, either — what projects will you be working on in the future? Is there anything you can get a head-start on early? If this is the field you want to work in, ask questions of your coworkers — how can you get ahead once you’ve had to leave the company? Know if your internship is opening doors or inadvertently closing them.

What has public transportation taught you about your job? What have you learned, and how can you make it last?

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