Wednesday, November 02, 2005

BART and the Burqa'ed Bandita

So for months, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) has been displaying these posters, showing a pair of eyes, and a message about reporting mysterious packages.

Today, late afternoon, just before rush hour, the Balabusta is on her way into San Francisco to see her therapist and have dinner with her parents. The train arrives at the West Oakland station, last stop before going into the Transbay Tunnel under San Francisco Bay.

As we are on the platform at West Oakland, a woman, African American, perhaps the Balabusta's age, dressed very frum with a long skirt and her hair covered, approaches the car the Balabusta is in, and puts a black plastic shopping bag, not large, inside the car. Then she walks away from the car, back onto the platform leaving the bag behind.

All of us in the car LOOK at it. After a few seconds baffled and concerned pause, a man in a business suit, nearest to the door, gets up, takes the bag, and puts it back out on the platform, on the other side of the door. He sits down.

The woman, now several paces away, realizes what has happened, and returns. She picks up the bag. The Balabusta wonders if she will throw it back into the car--there is time. She does not. Instead, as the doors close, she shouts something along the lines of 'you dumb fuck!' and gives us/the man who put the bag out the finger.

The train starts to move. When we lose sight of her, she is still on the platform, looking quite annoyed.

The Balabusta presses the button that is supposed to summon someone. It turns bright red, but no one responds to it.

Upon arriving at Embarcadero, the Balabusta gets off the train, and goes to find a BART employee, to explain that something odd happened in car 1501. A young man from the car is ahead of her, and is trying to explain to the lady in the BART cube on the station's main floor.

Unfortunately, the lady calls security without understanding that the bag was REMOVED from the train, so she's already called and told them there's a mysterious package on the Millbrae train by the time we explain. She tells the security guy we are now 'changing our story'. We explain some more.

She asks for a description. We give her one, basically similar, except that I think she was wearing a headscarf, and he thinks it was some sort of headress attached to the rest of her costume. The woman's eyes widen slightly. "Like a burqa?" she asks.

The Balabusta, now torn between liberal disgust and some real concern for the safety of BART passengers, wonders what the hell to answer to that. "No, not like a burqa," she finally explains. "Her face wasn't covered at all, just her hair."

"But that kind of outfit?" persists the lady.

"Her hair was covered."

"Well, that makes it more frightening, doesn't it?" the BART employee asks. The Balabusta thinks she may be losing her mind. The lady does not seem to be kidding. She is very earnest about this.

She takes some notes. She does not ask for our names. We tell her what we know and leave. MAN I feel safe on BART!

Kept a sharp eye out on the return trip, but no women with black plastic shopping bags loomed.


Y.Y. said...

very strange story
please follow up on this one

WBS said...

Maybe you should call BART and tell them how ineffective their information gathering employees are.

Barefoot Jewess said...

Geez, that is SO scary! Last year, during a break in High Holiday services, I saw a packsack sitting in the lobby, unattended. I totally freaked (inside).

I told one of the men's club attendants, who promptly inspected it. Some kid had left it behind.

People sometimes are afraid to look like fools. Better to be yelled at than to suffer grievous consequences. The guy and you did the right thing.

Gavin deBecker has a fabulous book on fear and how women especially are taught to poo poo their instincts for self-preservation. That was an epiphany for me. Nowadays, I get off the elevator if I don't feel safe, and never take an unattended bag less than seriously, among other things. I don't know if I would have had the presence of mind to do what the fellow did.

Well done!