Monday, August 23, 2004

Roll Call

Americans love numbers and statistics. 755 home runs. Fantasy football leagues. The Olympic Medal Count. 2.4 kids per household. 1600 SATs. 4 out of 5 dentists agree that 8 out of10 dead hookers buried under my house stood a 30% greater chance of survival had they flossed twice a day. Don't ask me why Americans are so enamored with statistics (because you won't like the answer), just understand that, for better or worse, they have been sewn into the fabric of American social and political discourse.

If you've ever read Harper's Magazine or The Atlantic Monthly, you've probably seen their regular 1 or 2 pages spreads somewhere between the Table of Contents and the first lengthy article that function essentially as laundry lists of quirky-yet-insightful statistics gathered from seemingly disparate sources:

From the September 2004 issue of Harpers

Number of words in the first sentence of Bill Clinton's memoir and that of George W. Bush's, respectively: 49, 5
Percentage of pages in Hillary Clinton's memoir that mention her husband, and vice versa, respectively: 45, 20

While any sensible reader can detect in these quanitfiable quick-cuts the considerable left-leaning tendencies of Harper's, it does not change the fact that they are at once both entertaining and informative (regardless of what it is you take from them) in spite of the sometimes politically self-serving undertones of the figures they present.

Harper's calls their page the "Harper's Index." The Atlantic Monthly's has two pages of this kind quite often called "Primary Sources" and "The List." I've named mine "Roll Call."

"Roll Call" is a statistical snapshot of the passengers in my traincar during my commute home on BART every Monday. Before I begin, though, allow me to set the stage.

A typical BART car seats 68-72 people (depending on how old the car is). During an average rush-hour commute, there are usually 9-10 cars per train and an additional 10-25 people standing in the aisle or around the doors of each car. That translates to--on average--a train carrying 750-950 people. (http://www.geocities.com/transitfan/BART.html)

I travel home on the Richmond Line(http://www.bart.gov/images/quickplanner_map_lg4.gif).
Without delays, my commute lasts 37-40 minutes and takes me from downtown San Francisco, under the bay, through the industrial wasteland of West Oakland, through the commerical wasteland of Downtown Oakland, then kicks almost due north through the hippy haven of downtown Berkeley, the middle-aged ex-hippy haven of North Berkeley, and finally up through El Cerrito and into everyone's favorite pit of despair--Richmond*

The path and time of my commute offers quite a unique cross-section of Bay Area life. At 5:30pm on a Monday, every race, gender, sexual orientation, income tax bracket, and education level is likely to be represented. This hodge-podge of BART commuters is what really makes "Roll Call" possible...well...that AND my baseless, non sequitur, ad hominem attacks on people I've never seen before IN MY LIFE! But that is neither here nor there. With that, the first installment of Roll Call:

--# of people reading a local newspaper: 16
--% of those people actually either asleep or reading the Sports or Entertainment sections: 87.5
--# of women wearing bright orange tops: 3
--# of filthy street people that look like a cross between an unemployed mall Santa and Nick Nolte's mugshot (http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/nolte1.html): 2
--# of those people with wheeled baskets filled with useless shit and hemp products: 2
--likelihood that the two St. Nick Noltes either know each other or have scuffled over prime spots on Market St. to beg for change: 1000%
--# of people listening to iPods: 7
--# of people using PDAs: 3
--# of PDA users who are actually playing solitaire: 3
--% of solitaire-playing PDA users with male-pattern baldness and social circles consisting primarily of regular FARK-party attendeees and local pub trivia afficionados: 100%
--likelihood solitaire-playing PDA users got laid last night: 15%
--likelihood solitaire-playing PDA users got laid last night without a credit card and two forms of ID: 0%
--# of seemingly normal people: 9
--# of large, stunningly handsome, white males listening to music, staring intently at every person on the traincar, and furiously taking copious amounts of short-hand notes: 1
--# of passengers dressed in black from head to toe: 3
--% of black clad passengers that are female: 66.667
--% of black clad passengers that are female by birth: 33.333
--% of black clad passengers that are staring unblinkingly out the traincar window: 100
--% of black clad passengers that like to be bound, gagged, and spanked during sex: 100
--# of black men: 5
--# of black men dressed like Will: 4
--# of black men dressed like Carleton: 1
--% of white women sitting adjacent to black men dressed like Will who reached for their purses or bags when the black men sat down: 75
--% of white women sitting adjacent to black men dressed like Carleton who reached for their purses or bags when the black men sat down: 25
--# of morbidly obese white men sweating profusely, wearing jeans with a cell phone clipped to their belt loops, and sporting backpacks that are way too small for their immense torsos and are, as such, pinning their arms back like butcher's twine around the wings of a Thanksgiving turkey: 4
--# of people who boarded the traincar, saw an open seat, saw an sweaty obese white man sitting next to it, and decided to stand: 11
--# of middle-aged ex-hippies wearing flannel and long unkempt hair pulled sloppily back in a ponytail: 3
--# of those middle-aged ex-hippies also wearing corduroy pants: 2
--likelihood that they are all sitting together: 100%
--# of women I smiled at as they exited the train: 14
--# of women who smiled back: 8
--# of women who smiled back that were engaged or married: 7
--# of women who didn't smile back that were wearing engagement or wedding rings: 0...bitches.


*in high school we played football in the same league as Kennedy High in Richmond. One year--I think my sophomore year--we played Kennedy at their place and had our bus escorted by a phalanx of Richmond PD squad cars because there had recently been a shooting...AT EVERY SINGLE KENNEDY HOME GAME THAT SEASON!



19 Comments:

Blogger Malt said...

Anything you write thats bart related is fucking hillarious. Keep it up.

August 24, 2004 at 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking he has an unhealthy obsession with BART. Good writing though.

August 24, 2004 at 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean to say there weren't any "poorly singing along to their discman" passengers? Man.. I must be picking the wrong cars..

Moneywhore

August 24, 2004 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger NP said...

the poor singers usually can be found in the non-commute hours I have found

August 24, 2004 at 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

--# of large, stunningly handsome, white males listening to music, staring intently at every person on the traincar, and furiously taking copious amounts of short-hand notes: 1Excellent. Please do these every Monday as you stated. This is where the funny is at.

August 24, 2004 at 5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ, this was funny.

August 24, 2004 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger no211312312 said...

Nice. I went back and read it again. Now I'm gonna go read your other stuff. That is one of the funniest things I've read. Touche`. Touche`. - John

August 24, 2004 at 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>the poor singers usually can be found in the non-commute hours I have found


That might explain it. When living in the Bay Area I avoided the BART like how those commuters avoid bathing. Aside from the occasional ball game I haven't commuted during rush hour.

Moneywhore

August 24, 2004 at 7:26 PM  
Blogger ultrabrite99 said...

"8 out of10 dead hookers buried under my house stood a 30% greater chance of survival had they flossed twice a day."

It's things like this that make me love this blog. It also reminds me that I should floss more...And not become a hooker...And never meet you. Anyways, great entry.

August 25, 2004 at 6:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whats wrong with pub trivia? In college we used to go to "Sarah's Rack....Your Brain Trivia" (the girl who ran it had D cups) on Wednesdays for .20c wings and $1 beers. First place got a free 30 person happy hour.

August 25, 2004 at 6:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"# of morbidly obese white men sweating profusely, wearing jeans with a cell phone clipped to their belt loops, and sporting backpacks that are way too small for their immense torsos and are, as such, pinning their arms back like butcher's twine around the wings of a Thanksgiving turkey"

You really shouldn't be that hard on yourself.

August 25, 2004 at 7:37 AM  
Blogger AlwaysSomething said...

thank you. you have put a new perspective on riding the subway for me.

the one thing that always pissed me off about commutin via public transportation is the number of people who are sick as dogs yet drag themselves into work because they don't want to waste sick days. They sneeze and hack up snot all over the place. Especially in the winter.

August 25, 2004 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Z-Money said...

I think a few of the subway crazies are somewhat refreshing. These are the guys that can take a swig out of their bottle of Listerine and then tell the biggest, angriest looking black man you've ever seen that he looks "very pretty today". I've never laughed so hard in my life. Another time, I saw one put a curse on an infant because the mother refused to give him the kid's juice box. His curse consisted of yelling gibberish, shaking his hat at the child, and then pissing himself. The hat probably gave the baby lice though, so I guess the curse worked.

I'm enjoying the BART entries, so don't stop anytime soon.

August 25, 2004 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

You may have covered this before, but why haven't you taken up residence in the city yet? While the commute is a source of endless funny, 80+ minutes a day spent commuting is a pretty big waste of time. I only made it 4 months commuting to SF from San Carlos before I had to move. I applaud your patience.

August 25, 2004 at 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given the entertaining nature of your storytelling, the sky is the limit for material if you move into the city.

When you run out of the bar/club/lounge to catch the last BART, you miss 70% of the entertainment

August 25, 2004 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger anthony pedersen said...

We "played" Kennedy in mock trial in high school. Wasted them, in fact. At least it was in the courthouse in downtown Martinez. Well, kinda "at least"--. Martinez.

August 25, 2004 at 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sure is blissfully wonderful without that pansy ass faggot BrianH around here.

August 25, 2004 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Matt K. said...

way to call someone out anonymously, dumbass.

August 25, 2004 at 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any chance you will tell us why people are so enamored by statistics? You said I won't like it, but I don't like myself, so fire away. Is it some sort of coping mechanism people use?

At any rate, I'll heap onto the pile of praise. Truly intelligent & funny writing, a rare combo. You've been bookmarked.

August 25, 2004 at 8:09 PM  

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