This week, commuters dodged a bullet when the second BART strike was averted. But tension is still high between the two sides of the labor dispute, and the strike may happen this Monday. All this hubbub and panic about BART has hit close to home because I ride it everyday to the office from Oakland. But instead of adding to the shit-talk, I'd like to share a feel good BART story that I experienced a couple of weeks ago.
It was Thursday, July 25. I was making my morning commute into San Francisco, minding my own business, silently playing Word with Friends on my iPhone when I heard a man interrupt the silence: "Good morning to everybody on this train..." Part of me already decided it was a desperate panhandler, who was about to ask for donations, but he continued, "My name is Ron, I know what you're thinking. I'm not asking for money, I'm not asking for donations. No, I don't work for BART, and no, I'm not about do anything crazy..." OK, I thought, well what the hell do you want then?
I looked around the train for the source of the voice, but I couldn't see the person speaking through the thick crowd of heads. I listened on, "I know that strangers on the BART don't usually talk to each other, but I'm going to do it anyway. You only have one chance to make today epic, so define what makes you happy. Figure out what you really want out of life. Not somebody else, you. So many times there's that life we could have and all those things we could do, and we kick it down the road. And we say, 'I'll do it later.' Well do it today. Not tomorrow, not next week, today. I'm giving away high fives, hugs... I'm not giving away any kisses because we got to keep it PG-13, unless you want to be the Missus. I'll think about it..."
I then heard what sounded like a series of hands meeting in high fives. The crowd cleared enough for me to see Ron, a young black man dressed in professional business attire who looked like he was on his way to work in the Financial District (he was). I hemmed and hawed about getting up to talk to him and giving him a high five, but I couldn't make up my mind. That is, until I noticed he was about to get off the train at Montgomery, two stations from my usual stop. Inspired by his speech, I got off my ass and ran out the door behind him. Once I caught up to Ron, I tapped him on the shoulder and told him I appreciated his announcement and asked him to share his story. He was on his way to work, too, so we didn't have much time to talk, but I got his card and we spoke a few days later on the phone.
Ron Yorrick, Jr. has lived in Downtown Oakland for the past four years. He works as a technical analyst for a health-care solutions company, but he has dreams of creating his business, and more ambitiously, of achieving greatness. And that's where his BART speech comes in. Ron decided that the journey to greatness begins with facing his fears and overcoming them. When he thought of the scariest thing he could do, it was greeting total strangers on BART for 30 days.
His challenge to himself all started when he began watching motivational speeches on Youtube by famous people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Will Smith. He told me, "It clicked ... Personally, I should do something that scares the crap out of me. Basically, do a self experiment to change my brain and in the process, awaken the person I really am by stretching my comfort zone. I didn't know what it was until one day I thought, 'What if I greeted the BART train?' I got nervous just thinking about it, so I decided, you should greet the BART train."
On day one of his experiment, Ron came up with a 60-second speech on the fly. It was a little clumsy and he was really nervous, but he did it. Day two, he relaxed enough to notice people's reactions – they looked at him like he was crazy, but he continued on, and at the end of his speech, someone came up to him and thanked him. That was exactly what he needed; it inspired him to keep going and do it not only for himself, but for others, who seemed to be reacting to his words.
When I met Ron, it was day 26 and he was obviously a lot more comfortable with greeting strangers on BART. He explained that he has gotten to this point by what he calls "practicing my awesome," or doing the thing he knows he has to do, whether or not he actually wants to do it.
Ron admits he still gets nervous when he makes his speech, but he gets over it quickly, especially once he sees how his message affects the people around him. Smiles, high fives, and hugs every day sound like a great way to start the morning. One of the best reactions happened shortly after the Treyvon Martin verdict had been announced. "There were some black kids sitting a ways away. I made my speech and their faces lit up instantly. I walked over and gave them high fives and told them you don't have to be what the media portrays you to be."
I asked Ron what all this motivation to be great is leading up to. One day, he wants to open a gym. Fitness is important to him, and he wants to spread the message of good health. "I want to impact the world with something meaningful to me. Now I can speak to other people – give useful advice. Because I did it. No one can ever question that Ron Yorrick greeted the BART train for 30 days."
Top image and design by Sarah Han; video and photo of Ron Yorrick courtesy of the man himself.