By Susan E. Bunting
Hayward, California, USA
It was a beautiful October day. Unfortunately I had to work late since I had run a training session for my department. I lucked out and got a train right away. I even got a seat. As the train left the Embarcadero station, it picked up speed to go through the tunnel under San Francisco Bay. We shook and shimmied as we sped through the tube, which was a normal ride. Then the lights went out, the train slowed and came to a stop. No worry — BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) occasionally had system problems and Murphy’s Law required that a rush hour trip have some bumps along the way.
Partial lights came on, then the train operator spoke over the intercom. “I don’t have any power and I can’t reach Central.” Using emergency power, he got us to the next station, West Oakland, where we could see and hear pandemonium. Someone said there had been an earthquake, but it didn’t look bad. I didn’t notice the collapsed Nimitz freeway that’s visible from the train platform.
Since I grew up in Oakland, I knew that if I could get to 14th and Broadway, I could get a bus to anywhere in the Bay Area. My destination was Hayward. I caught a bus that took me to 14th and Broadway. When I arrived, I was directed by transit workers to go across the street and down a block. When I got there, the stop was closed due to flooding. I wandered a few blocks looking for another bus stop. As I walked, I saw fallen masonry. I think I even stepped over a puddle of blood.
I waited at the next stop for over an hour. No bus. Finally, someone noticed a bus with “Bayfair” as the destination sign. It was a block away. We rushed to the bus, shouting at the bus driver, “How much? Where are you going?” She calmly said, “Don’t worry about the fare, just get on the bus. I’m going to Bayfair Mall by way of 14th Street.”
She packed everyone she could on that bus, and there was no charge. She had ended her shift but came back to work to help. By this time the sun was setting, and the city was dark. As we neared East 14th and Fruitvale, we could smell natural gas. She didn’t rush, but did her best to get each of us safely to our destination.
I reached the South Hayward BART station around 9:00 p.m. What was normally an hour commute had taken four hours. I drove crying into my apartment building’s parking lot to find my husband and neighbors waiting for my return, gathered around the barbeque for warmth, light and food. Some people never made it home at all. I was lucky, but I also had vital help. My thanks to all the transit workers who stayed on the job in the spirit of true public service.