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April 23, 2012 / jocarussell

The Baby Bullet Revealed

Baby Bullet Train

Baby Bullet Train

The same rumor has reached me multiple times from different sources over the past few years: the people on the Baby Bullet are, shall we say, subdued. Quiet. They don’t chat. They don’t form groups and get rowdy.

Now, I find this hard to believe. I know a few people who transfer from the Ancient Turtle to the Baby Bullet in the morning. They talk, laugh, tell stories, exchange news updates (aka gossip), and are generally convivial. I can’t imagine that they undergo some form of personality lobotomy in the few short steps across the Tamien platform. In fact, I have seen them call/text their Bullet Buddies when there was a delay.

Things just don’t add up.

So, in the spirit of investigative journalism, inspired by Woodward and Bernstein and other greats (and with an eye on a possible Pulitzer prize), I decided to go undercover. On a random Wednesday … no, Thursday … uh-uh, it ended up being Friday [they kept sending an old train down to Tamien instead of a new one] morning, I got off of the 217 at Tamien, crossed the platform, and, just like a real person, I boarded the Baby Bullet.

Crossing to the Baby Bullet

Crossing to the Baby Bullet

Pretending to be a passenger, I looked for a seat with a good view of most of the car.

Setback #1: the cars on the Baby Bullet have two real levels. On the Ancient Turtle trains, the upper level is kind of partway there, with a hole in the middle. There is only one seat on each side of the car. (Except at the very back, where there are two seats.)

On the Baby Bullet, there is a whole level, with side by side seating on both sides of the aisle. That means that a spy … er … passenger can either see the lower level, or they can see the upper level. They can’t observe both levels at once. It’s almost like the designers anticipated spies and tried to make it difficult for them.

In the end, I met someone who I knew who was sitting on the lower level, right at the foot of the stairs that go up to the upper level. I explained to her that I was on a mission to discover the Truth About Baby Bullets (capitalizing ‘Truth’ in a blog makes everything more believable) and asked her to watch my briefcase while I roamed around a bit.

Shazam! The Baby Bullet has a lot more 4-seaters than the Ancient Turtle trains do! That must be why my train buddy, H—, always heaves a sigh of disgust when we pull into Tamien and she sees one of OUR trains waiting, instead of a sleek and sexy Baby Bullet train.

4-Seaters Galore!

4-Seaters Galore!

Camera in hand, I started my investigations on the lower level.

Whoa! There are little tables between the seats in the 4-seater sections! You can sit your laptop on the table and avoid the Hot Lap syndrome. You can put things down on something that a hundred unwashed butts haven’t sat upon. Wow! These guys travel in luxury!

No 'Hot Lap' Syndrome

No 'Hot Lap' Syndrome

Going around the corner from where my friend was sitting, I came across more evidence of an opulent life style: each car has its own bathroom, with a more realistic toilet (for those of you who haven’t had the courage to check, on the Ancient Turtle trains, there is a plastic toilet seat attached to a large stainless steel box – not a presentation that invites one to sit down). The door was in two panels, and didn’t weigh as much as a small car. (On the Ancient Turtle train, if the bathroom door were to slam shut on someone, it is heavy enough that it could break or sever a minor limb or appendage.) I’m not positive that this is an advantage, but the bathrooms on the Baby Bullet are nice enough that I can see someone deciding to spend some time in one.

Non-Lethal Bathroom Door

Non-Lethal Bathroom Door

Nice Bathroom!

Nice Bathroom!

Ridership was sparse, at first. There were a lot of empty seats. That changed dramatically at Diridon, where the car really filled up.

At one stop, I got out and checked out the bike car. [W---: I'm still waiting for your article telling the Truth About Bike Cars.] They are significantly smaller on the Baby Bullets than on the Ancient Turtles. (Maybe you can’t be in that much of a hurry if you are riding a bike?) They are nicer, cleaner looking. (The bike cars on the Ancient Turtles look very industrial-warehouse kitsch.) But smaller.

Baby Bullet_Bike Car

Baby Bullet_Bike Car

Back at my seat, I noticed two things about the ride itself:

  1. The ride was a lot smoother than what we get on a Turtle Train
  2. There was a lot less ambient noise

That’s when it struck me: Baby Bullet passengers (also known as “Buckshots”: they shoot out of the train and scatter when they reach their final stop) don’t meet, form groups, and chat on the train as much as they do on the Ancient Turtle train. Yes, I saw a few groups, but fewer of them than there are on the regular trains. From what I could see, the majority of the people were seated with strangers, working, listening to their tunes, or staring into space. (Headline: Zombies on CalTrain!!) No conversations were happening on the lower level. I went upstairs, and only one group of 3 – all coworkers – were chatting.

What could be the reason for such a drastic difference in behavior? I didn’t have time for a full investigation, so I did the next best thing: I made up answers and jumped to conclusions. Here are my theories:

  • The train itself is too quiet: everyone intimidated and they don’t want to break the silence.
  • The ride is shorter, so they don’t have as much time to get to know the people around them.
  • The Baby Bullet attracts riders trying to save every minute (it only shaves 15 to 20 minutes off the arrival time in SF), and they are ultra focused on their coming work day. (I rode in the morning.)
  • The Baby Bullet attracts a larger number of procrastinators: they have to run for the train, so they are trying to catch their breaths, both mentally and physically, while they ride the train.
  • Space aliens (there is a space alien theory to fit any circumstance).

At any rate, investigative reporting paid off, and I was able to reach a definite conclusion: the average Buckshot (remember? name for Baby Bullet passengers?) is dull. Lifeless. Lives to work. Has no conversation. Antisocial. But they probably have good hearts.

And they ride on a cool train.

And they get there faster.

When you envy someone, there’s a good chance that they envy you. Take care

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