b Papa Dog's Blog: Another Smooth Commute Day

Papa Dog's Blog

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Another Smooth Commute Day

Worst commute in a while this morning. Got to Rockridge not much later than usual. There was a crowd milling about the Station Agent Hut. Ordinarily that would attract my interest, but I had other things on my mind, so I went through the fare gates, up the escalator, and onto the – mostly empty platform. Mostly empty? That’s odd. The few people on the platform were all talking on cell phones. I looked at the overhead signs and saw a message flashing to the effect that West Oakland station was shut down due to police activity, and that there was no service to San Francisco. Lovely.

I pulled out my own cell and called Mama Dog. She had heard about it on the radio, but had no further information than I did. Less, in fact; she’d only heard that trains weren’t stopping in West Oak, not that service to SF was curtailed entirely. I wandered down to the station level and heard a bit of what the station agent was telling the milling crowds. Bus service was going to be set up in downtown Oakland. I stopped to ponder. I’ve been through situations like this before. It always seems that right when they finally get the bus service working, the train service resumes. Best to sit tight. I went back up to the platform and heard an announcement saying that bus service would be running from 19th Street station, and we should all take the next Fremont train there. That seemed as good a plan as any to me; I was leery of getting on a bus, but the Fremont train would at least get me two stations closer to San Francisco.

After a few minutes, a train showed up showing San Francisco as its destination. No telling what that actually meant, but I got on it anyway. The train operator was making announcements, but as is usual on a BART train, they were inaudible. I wandered from car to car, hoping to find one with the speakers turned up louder, but they were all a fuzzy little whisper. At the last car, I managed to stand under a speaker and by standing on tiptoe I could discern most of what the operator was saying. It was the same information over again; police activity in West Oak, no service to SF, buses from downtown. The only difference was that she was saying buses would be at 12th Street station (where the train was destined to go out of service), not 19th; good enough, that’s even one more stop closer. The train stopped and started, apparently bent on stretching the five-minute ride to MacArthur to infinity.

I noticed a woman with what looked like a walkie talkie standing at the end of the car, an ear to the speaker by the white phone to the train operator. She set down her bag and pulled out a reflective vest. BART employee. She announced the same information I had just re-heard, and her voice was if anything quieter than the crappy speakers. She walked up and down the car, whispering to the people she passed that West Oakland station was closed due to police activity, that there was no service to San Francisco, that the train would go out of service at 12th Street, and that there would be buses there to San Francisco. At least, that’s what I think she was saying. I could only make out scattered words as she passed by.

Somebody asked if she knew what the problem was in West Oakland. “The station’s closed due to police activity,” she said with a strange note of definitiveness. Like she honestly thought that repeating that vague pronouncement answered the question. Here’s a thing I don’t get – it’s like on 24 or any movie or show about terrorist threats or asteroids from outer space or whatever – the first instinct of Authority is to keep the public in the dark so as to avoid Mass Panic. But what possible harm is there in telling a train full of people what precisely it is that’s fucking with their morning commute? Do they think we’ll riot in the cars? Smash windows and loot one another? It really would be helpful to know whether the problem is a vagrant urinating on the third rail vs. a bomb leaving a smouldering crater where the platform should be. Like, it might make a difference to my plans for the rest of the day. Why not tell me?

As we lurched along, another passenger asked nobody in particular, “What’s the next station?” We’d been lurching along so long I’d quite forgotten, and judging from the blank looks around, so had everybody else. I looked out the window and got my bearings. Oh, right. We still haven’t made it one stop to MacArthur. The station agent announced then that the train wouldn’t be going to 12th Street after all. It was going out of service at MacArthur. Due to police activity at West Oakland. Etc.

When in the fullness of time the train finally limped into MacArthur station, we off-boarded onto an already full platform. I couldn’t guess how many trains had already emptied out here. I pulled out my cell and called Mama Dog, who took a look at SF Gate. Bomb scare at West Oakland, it said. No further information. Okay, then. I’d rather not go through a station with a bomb scare. See what I mean? Having just a little clue about the circumstances helps me plan the rest of my day.

Unlike the train speakers, the platform speakers are nice and loud. Even with the babble of several trains’ worth of people yammering on cell phones, the next announcement was clearly audible: “Bus service to San Francisco is beginning now.” Audible, yes; helpful, not really. These buses are to be found where? Last I heard, they were supposed to be at 12th Street. Do I still have to wait for a train? Or are they waiting outside for me? Most of the crowd seemed to think the latter; they started filing down the stairs to the station level. I was torn. Yes, I did want to avoid going through the Bomb Threat Station, but I also wanted to avoid being packed into a sardine bus. There looked to be a very long line ahead of me. I hesitated just long enough to hear the next announcement:

“The police activity at West Oakland station has been resolved, and service to San Francisco is resuming immediately.” True to form. Refer back to the second paragraph of this post. The bit about “I’ve been in situations like this before.” I looked back down the tracks toward Rockridge and saw two trains sitting there trying to decide which direction to go. Then the direction signs on the platform lit up: “10 car train to San Francisco” on Platform 4. I shoved through the crowd and made my way to the end of the platform. The crowd was sparser there and, miraculously, almost nobody was forming a line at the entry points. Everybody was standing around in clumps looking at their Boysenberries and talking on their cell phones. I stepped up to the rearmost entry point and was third in line. Since the approaching train was sure to be empty that meant the happiest news of the day: I was for once going to get to sit down on my morning commute.

The train pulled into the station, and the doors opened on an empty car. Not only did I get to sit down, but I got to site down on the seat next to the wheelchair area, the one with all the legroom. I pulled out my book and commenced to ignore the rest of the world. I barely even noticed when we passed through the Bomb Station. I arrived at work only an hour later and entirely unexploded. The bomb scare was evidently some idjit’s idea of a joke. And so begins another day.


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