OAKLAND -- Theresa Helms rose early that September day in 1972. She dressed her toddler, grabbed her coin purse and made her way to the 12th Street BART station in Oakland. She had watched the construction project for more than five years and wanted to be the first person through the station's turnstile.
"It was very exciting to be a part of history and especially BART history and also seeing the other folks who were excited like me," she recalled.
As BART celebrates 40 years of service and looks back on where it's been, it's also looking forward.
While showing off memorabilia and photographs at the Lake Merritt station Wednesday, the agency announced it's giving away BART rides for educational field trips to 40,000 students (up to age 18), teachers and chaperones in the upcoming months.
This was announced Wednesday afternoon as BART officials also shared pictures of famous BART riders (President Richard Nixon), agency uniforms (not far from the duds worn by airline employees circa 1972) and the very first ticket that is stamped "BART Day- One 1972 First Rider Ticket."
The actual BART anniversary -- Sept. 11 -- was pushed back a week to not coincide with 9/11 remembrances.
Thinking back on that day 40 years ago, Helms remembers that she carried her 21-month-old daughter, Mekela, through the BART turnstile and then the little girl sat on her lap as the two rode into Fremont , grabbed another train and rode back to Oakland. The first train to San Francisco was not until 1973.
"She was excited, fascinated," recalled Helms, whose surname was Edwards in 1972.
Once in Fremont, they never left the station.
"If you left the station, you were charged," she said. She thinks her ticket cost about 50 cents round-trip. These days, that same trip would run more than $4..
Helms, who retired from the phone company 11 years ago, rode BART to work for years and took her children on the trains to see concerts and plays. She still sees it as a Bay Area "must see."
"If we have out-of-town guests, that is one of the things we like to do with them -- catch the BART from Oakland and go to (San Francisco) for lunch," Helms said.
She is not alone. On weekdays, roughly 365,000 people ride the 669-train car system. When BART began service on Sept. 11, 1972 about 100,000 passengers rode on the 28 train cars that first week.
Helms' daughter, Mekela Edwards, now 41 and an Oakland blogger and mother of two, has, of course, no memory of that day at the turnstile. But she heard her mother retell the "I was there first" story so many times, she created her own mental picture of the day.
"She used to tell me about it and in my head I thought the (actual photograph) was of me holding her hand and us walking together," Edwards said. "She told me a couple times about being the first customer, and I remember being in high school telling people about it."
The BART trip wasn't their only "first" together. "I remember my first music concert was the Jacksons," Edwards recalled. "We caught the bus and the BART to get to the Coliseum."
On Friday and Saturday, BART riders wearing a "celebratory sticker" are eligible for a $40 BART ticket if spotted by the "BART 40th Anniversary Squad." More info is at www.bart.gov/freetickets. Information on the field trips is at www.bart.gov/fieldtrips.